I am really getting tired of having to address the violence and fear in our culture in these reflections. Yesterday, there was yet another shooting of an unarmed black man. This time it was in Florida, and the black man was trying to protect a man with autism who had wandered off from the facility he was in. A neighbor called the cops thinking the man with Autism was some kind of threat, and when one of the therapists at the facility came to try to calm the man with autism down, the police reacted thinking he was a threat. The therapist laid down on the street next to the man with autism and put his hands up. He tried to explain the situation to the police to deescalate the situation, and instead, he was shot. Don’t take my word for it, watch the video here
This is a tricky issue, and I may have already lost a few of you who insist politics can never enter into our faith. But I hope you will bear with me, as ultimately, this is not about politics—it is about faith.
I have been watching for the past few weeks as friends drew their lines in the sand on Facebook. Some have been all about Black Lives Matter and have passionately gone after anyone who hasn’t changed their profile picture to some sort of logo supporting such views. On the other side, I have seen many doing the same with Blue Lives Matter. The problem is, this whole situation is not about Black vs. Blue; this situation is about how Black and Blue we all feel.
For decades, arguably centuries, this has been the norm for Black communities, and minority communities in this country. This is nothing new. As a friend of mine put it, “The violence isn’t new, the easy access to camera phones is.” For the first time, the white community is witnessing the long standing experience of minority communities in this country, and it is disturbing. The problem is, that we have all been so attached to an identity that says we are above the insidious evils, prejudices and violence of other less civilized peoples of the world. Now we are discovering, we are human, just like everyone else. We are discovering that we haven’t moved on from the sins of our forefathers. We aren’t somehow more enlightened. We haven’t held to our ideals of equality, justice, liberty and freedom. It hurts to come to terms with this, but it is essential.
At the same time, police are feeling more threatened than ever. They have every right to feel that way too. There is no question, that in the last few weeks, police have become targets. There is no question, that the role of police in society has come into question in a big and threatening way. There is no question that our culture has embraced a “blow up the bad guy mentality,” that is coming into question. We have told them, that this is what we want them to do. We tell them that every time we spend our money on the next “charming-rogue-cop-who-won’t-play-by-the-rules, but-always-gets-the-bad-guy” movie. We tell them that, every time that we embrace a shoot-first-ask-questions-later ideology. We have told them what we want, and now we condemn them for acting the way that we have told them to act. We have created this culture together. We have continued to make decisions as a society that put their lives on the line. And now we are surprised when they feel threatened.
Our communal sins are so much deeper than the context of the shooting of black men by police, or police by black men, but this is the most visible place that these sins are on display right now. The problem is, if we simply make this about police vs. black people—which is the rhetoric of the day—it lets all of the rest of us feel like we are off the hook. We haven’t shot any black people. We haven’t shot any police. This isn’t about us. At least, that is what we like to tell ourselves. That is exactly why this issue isn’t about politics. Politics in this day and age is too much about drawing lines and choosing sides. As long as we handle this issue politically, it will essentially break down to an intractable conflict. We will continue to beat on each other, rather than work toward reconciliation. We will continue to be black vs. blue, and we will continue to all feel black and blue.
But that is the insidious nature of communal sin—because it is about all of us, it makes it easier for any one of us to avoid responsibility and blame it all on those “other” people. This isn’t about them. It is about you. This isn’t about them. This is about all of us. Every time we load up and unleash on the “other side,” we make the problem worse, and more unlikely to be resolved. Every time we try to pretend this isn’t our problem, we continue to draw lines in the sand between ourselves and everyone else. We are all complicit in the devaluing of black and minority lives. We are all complicit in the culture of violence we have created that places ever greater threat on the lives of our peace officers.
So what do we do about this? I think the first step is to stop dividing about the issue. Do not demonize the people that you see as the “other side.” Listen to them. They have real fears. They have real pains. They hurt just like you. They feel black and blue too.
Second, stop thinking there is one side to any story—the world is more complex than that. Don’t just watch Fox News. Don’t just watch MSNBC. Don’t only pay attention to your Facebook feed—it is simply an echo chamber. And whatever you do, don’t just add to the cacophony of voices shouting for someone’s head. Don’t post the nasty memes that are meant to make others feel bad for believing what they do. Every time you join that noise, you have essentially joined the crowd around Pilate shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Is that really the noise you want to be making? Seek out voices that disagree with you, and find out why. Be generous. The people that disagree with you are not idiots. The people that disagree with you are not uninformed. The people that disagree with you are not evil. The people that disagree with you are not malicious. They got to where they are for a reason. Once you figure out that reason, you will be on the path towards understanding and reconciliation.
Third, ask forgiveness often. The latest shooting may not be directly your fault, but we have all played a part in making that situation more likely to happen. We all need to embrace a kind of humility that remembers this mess belongs to all of us. This Sunday, we are focusing on the Lord’s prayer. I find it interesting that the line of the Lord’s Prayer that seems to vary the most between churches is “Forgive us our ______ as we forgive _________.” Debts, trespasses, sins—we are so overwhelmed by our own brokenness, we can’t even agree what to call it (believe it or not—all three are scriptural!). Notice that I didn’t say, be more ready to forgive, but instead, focused on asking of forgiveness. I think asking forgiveness is much harder to do, and if you can begin to ask forgiveness more often, I believe you will be much more ready to grant forgiveness when the time comes because you will remember how hard it was to acknowledge your own faults.
Finally, act. Stop sitting on the fence. Stop praying about it and do something. As the old African proverb says, “When you pray, move your feet.” Or as the meme I passed along on Facebook this week says, “Faith can move mountains, but don’t be surprised when God hands you a shovel.” One note on acting though. Whatever way you choose to act, do so with grace. Don’t just go join the front lines and shout at those you believe are wrong. Be the voice of reason that is willing to listen and seek reconciliation. If you go march with Black Lives Matter, or Blue Lives Matter, be the ones who seek out the other side to take pictures together or hold cookouts together like these stories. Again, don’t add to the shouts of, “Crucify them!” Add to the quiet that is ready to listen.
Do all of this knowing full well that you do it not because of politics, but because your faith taught you to do so. Christ taught us all to do so. That is who we are called to be in this world—the reconcilers, the listeners, the lovers, the peacemakers. It is a lot harder to act this way, but that is exactly who Jesus has called us to be.