Saturday, July 9, 2016

Inadequate Words for Insensible Times

I sat with my computer at various times Thursday, trying to figure out how to write about what I have been reading and seeing in the news about the shootings of two black men by police officers this week, on top of other recent shootings. These recent cases seemed to be especially bad because they began with a broken tail light and selling CDs in front of a convenience store.

As one commentator echoed my dilemma in trying to write sensitively and correctly, he wrote about not knowing how to enter fully into the pain of African Americans while wearing his "protective layer of white skin." He is right. I've spoken to one of our African American members who has had the police called--in our community--when he was seen by someone walking one of our streets wearing a sweatshirt. That doesn't happen to me. Other black friends have told me of how they must warn their sons about special dangers they may face due to the color of their skin. That doesn't happen to my son. How can I say, "I get it" when clearly I don't?

I gave up, and finally went to bed. 

Then I got up Friday morning and read about police officers shot in Dallas--at this moment five officers are reported dead and seven more people wounded (some critically) after a peaceful protest against police violence (especially these last two shootings) turned violent. One shooter--who is dead--claimed he was acting alone in this ambush. His stated reason was that he wanted to kill "white people," and especially white police officers, because of anger over the recent shootings. Three other suspects are in custody and not cooperating.  All of the officers were working to protect the protesters and others.

As a father in law to one police officer, and friend to quite a number of others, I don't know what to say that would enter in to what they must be feeling--I don't wear a badge and choose to protect a public that I don't know other than as citizens of my community. That is a level of sacrifice embraced in a career that most of us don't choose to undertake.

There is no "equivalence" to be found here, nor elevating one devastation over another. To families, friends, and community of a man shot in his car by a police officer, there is only grief and loss--and anger. The same is true for the families, friends, and fellow officers--grief, loss, and anger.

I was already feeling heaviness of heart for the families of these shooting victims in Minnesota and Louisiana, and for the black communities for whom this appears to be too common. My seven years of service in a minority community during my time in an inner city church doesn't make me an expert on this, only one who knows that such communities can have a very different experience of the presence of law enforcement than mine. The witness of my black brothers and sisters in Christ to this difference confirms it. That doesn't mean there aren't reasons, or history, or anything else. It is simply what is true. Far too many of my black brothers and sisters (as well as my Hispanic ones in other places) can tell me stories of those who are supposed to protect instead becoming a threat or danger. That is the day  we live in.

My police friends and family feel under attack, and this morning's evidence is only another confirmation of the elevated dangers they face doing their job. Police and fire officers, along with our military personnel, choose to place themselves in harm's way for others. No one can be prepared for the day when the protectors become the targets of those they are seeking to protect. Heaviness of heart just continues to compound. That is the day we live in. 

I've already written (just last week!) about other tragedies around the world, and this week it was an ISIS-planned suicide bombing in Iraq that killed over 400 people in a marketplace--more victims than any other bombing by this terrorist group. Smaller bombings in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia hardly made the news. That is the day we live in.

As an American, I grieve for the evils perpetrated in our nation, as well as against her. The injustices experienced by minorities are what they are, and none of us who are not a part of those minorities can say it isn't so. 

As a Christian, I have the precious truths of God's Word that become my only source of insight and hope, and they also guide me to know how to lament and interpret the times. They remind me that God's evaluation just before the Flood in Genesis would be true today--the thoughts and intentions of men's hearts are "only evil continually." We are not less evil than those that perished, only those who have received God's covenant that he wouldn't wipe us out with a Flood. Rather, God's great mercies have led to his redemptive purposes being fulfilled in Jesus Christ, where sinners can be changed into saints. It also means that another judgment will come on those who reject God's redemption. God allows the world to continue from bad to worse, but he will, one day, judge the earth in righteousness. The wicked will be punished forever, and the righteous vindicated.

I know this. But how can I, in this moment, be one who brings some sort of grace and comfort to bear?

First, I can pray with a broken heart for the broken hearted. I can ask God to bring comfort that I can't.

Second, I can reach out. I can speak to my black brothers and sisters and say, "I can't 'identify' with what these shootings may mean in your heart, but I ache over this, and I grieve over however much this may resonate in your experience. I'm so sorry. When you are wronged, you should be able to tell that to me without me trying to explain why that isn't really what is going on. I want to be an understanding and faithful brother, and I need you to help me know how to do that."

I can also reach out to my police friends and tell them, "I can't comprehend both the risks you have embraced and the dangers you face and how that must feel some days, but I am thankful for you, and I grieve with you as you mourn the loss of others who, just like you, have chosen to protect others. I want to be a support to you and encourage those I know to honor your courage and sacrifice, and to pray for God's protection and wisdom for you."

Third, I can humble myself before God in these sorrowful times, when the marvels of our technology and media alert us to terrible events in "real time" and barely give us time to contemplate them, let alone grieve over them. I can ask him to do what I cannot in ministry to the broken hearted. I can also ask him to open my eyes to ways that, in my world, I can bring a small measure of grace and comfort to those who may need it. And I also can ask him to help me see ways that I can work in my own setting to address injustices and wrongs to which I may be insensitive or just colorblind.

Finally, I (and all of us) can pray the two word prayer (in Aramaic) that the church has prayed as it faced its evil days throughout history, and looked for the fulfillment of our hope--"Marana-tha": "O Lord, come!"