Do some deaths have a purpose? I have to believe they do. Even the senseless ones. Even the deaths that are the result of evil or hate or mistrust or the ignorant reliance on and belief in stereotypes. Deaths like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Patric Dorismond, Amadou Diallo, Yusef Hawkins, Victor Steen, Ramarley Graham, Kendrec McDade, Latasha Harlin, James Byrd Jr., Emmett Till and so on and so on.
(Yes, I needed to name ALL of them. For all the other names I do not know.)
Death, unfortunately, can be a catalyst for change. So in that, there is purpose.
And if I believe change can come then, I suppose, so can reconciliation. And forgiveness.
*swallows the hard pill*
For all parties.
This I know for sure: Compassion and forgiveness are the most necessary when it’s the hardest to extend. I’ve seen this work itself out in the dark corners of my life. When I finally decided that those dark spaces–the hurt and pain that resulted from other people’s hurt and pain wielded against me–needed a little light, that light could only come from my own willingness to let some stuff go.
But lately, I’ve also found this to be problematic.
Not forgiveness itself. I’m good with that. More of the way some people try to package it.
*takes off halo*
Sometimes I feel like screaming, or breaking something, or hitting someone when brown children and black men…people who look like my nephew, my brother, my baby girl, my hubby, me…can be shot and killed and some folks still have the audacity to give me the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head by telling me that I shouldn’t speak out or protest or do anything about it because the “right thing to do” is to “turn the other cheek” or “forgive seventy times seven.”
“There, there now, Tracey. Don’t you believe Jesus?”
Yes, I believe Jesus. I really do. But what do you tell people who have run out of cheeks to turn? When seventy times seven ran out centuries ago?
You say, “there’s more to it.”
Because there is.
Here’s the thing: Forgiveness, and all the good it facilitates, is NOT the equivalent of blind allowance. Forgiveness does not mandate that I be silent. Forgiveness does not mean neutrality. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t rally around those who are the victims of violence or demand justice from the same people I know I must forgive. At some point, I have to think that a demand for compassion and forgiveness for those who hurt me or my children must somehow meet up with the demand for repentance and justice. While a demand for peace is certainly right, every action has a reaction. There are consequences–some of which will be meted out by those being commanded to be peaceful . This is especially true in a world that increasingly refuses God and His grace.
Yep, there are definite consequences for evil and hate and mistrust and the ignorant reliance on and belief in stereotypes. Consequences that are evident in both the challenges within a community (for all of you “what about black on black crime?” folks) and the challenges externally.
And this unwillingness to even deal with, acknowledge, or *gasp* address both the root and the consequences of American racism (and any other ism for that matter) is the issue I have with many of those within my own faith who would rather just grab a scripture here or there or search their repertoire for religious platitudes in order to suggest that I (and other believers like me) should JUST pray and remain neutral when these “situations” come up.
You should forgive so shut up about it, they say.
Pray don’t protest, they say.
You should forgive so don’t call folks out when they wrong another human being, they say.
No. That’s not how it works. Jesus was never neutral on the issues that mattered. Ever.
I will forgive AND speak out, I say.
I will pray AND protest, I say.
I will forgive AND call folks out when they wrong another human being, I say.
And here is the ironic thing about all of it…it is out of love and compassion that I MUST do the latter even as I’m doing the former. It’s crazy to suggest that my compassion should kick in immediately when those who make the choice (because 6 bullets is a choice) to kill a child is asked to be made accountable for that action BUT suggest that my compassion be placed on hold “until the investigation is complete” or “until all the facts are known” for the family who had to see their baby laying in the street for four hours. As the kids say, bad grammar and all, “Where they do that at?”
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” – Proverbs 31:8-9
Compassion should drive us all to pray for, speak out on behalf of, AND seek justice for those who are regularly–and in this case, very much REGULARLY–treated poorly by anyone…but particularly, a group who’s sole purpose is supposed to be to protect and serve communities.
So umm yeah, all the church folk who have been uncomfortable with my and other believers’ posts and shares on social media, or whose silence on the matter has been DEAFENING, be as quiet about the issue as you like, pray as much as you want, but don’t you dare conveniently use our faith as a justification for telling me to sit idly by as brown and black folks are treated less than human. Worse than dogs even. Doing that will make me model the righteous anger of my Savior for real and start turning up some tables and cracking some whips to drive out the thieves that are trying to sell that crock.
Or maybe, since all I have is my pen right now, I’ll just write more about it. 🙂
And before word gets out that I’m violent or an advocate for riots (because we know how interpretations go), please be clear: Because I understand a thing, does not mean I think it is the best recourse. If a kid is hungry, hasn’t eaten for days, and walks by a fruit stand and steals a banana, I certainly understand it. I don’t have to condone stealing to say that I get WHY a person with such an UNMET NEED and such DESPERATION would resort to such a thing. I get why they wouldn’t care about the consequences. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said. “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
I don’t know about you but I hate when I’m not listened to. When Hubby zones out on me, I talk louder. When bosses in the past ignored me, I MADE my presence known. In hindsight, these were certainly not the best ways to establish my voice but it was what I resorted to in the moment of rage when I felt I had no other option.
And so goes Ferguson, MO. And Brooklyn, NY. And Los Angeles, CA. And if the long-standing, systemic problems of people of color are not acknowledged and addressed, a neighborhood near you. Because diversity comes with a cost even greater than discomfort. It comes with accountability. And differing views on how to enforce said accountability.
You know, I’ll say this, though it may be a bit of tangent: I think a large segment of America, in general, loved the IDEA of having the first African American president. Folks of all races and backgrounds stood in voting lines for hours and came out in record numbers in 2008 and 2012. Afterward, we idealized what President Barack Obama’s election meant with all our talk about post-racial this and the fulfillment of the dream that. But you know what? I don’t think we were spiritually or psychologically ready for what his election would dredge up in our collective consciousness. Love him or hate him, we weren’t ready. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it was just the right time. Maybe it was time to rip off the tiny bandaid we used to cover the gaping wound of racism. As I said, maybe there is a purpose in it all.
If there is any silver lining, it’s this: these horrors can crack our hearts wide open if we let it. That’s where I am right now. It’s the ugly beautiful, I call it. That place that causes you great pain on one hand yet shows you just how capable you are of loving deeply and caring widely for those beyond your domain. For some, that means those who don’t look like you. For most of us, it means those who don’t affect your everyday life one iota. That kind of realization can be pretty amazing if you are willing to see it through.
In the meantime, hang on. I am.
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.