I’m headed home tomorrow. Home for Thanksgiving. There’s no reason you should know that “home” for us is St. Louis: the suburbs in point of fact. My husband and I moved there straight out of college and spent 20 years there, adding my son to those who call themselves native St. Louisans. My husband grew up directly across the river on the Illinois side. So, yeah. Home.
If our international readers will forgive me for bringing up a “local” issue I promise that in the end, you too will find merit in having hung in there.
Watching the extended media coverage last night of the Michael Brown drama in Ferguson made it uncertain whether it was prudent to make the trip home, or if we would even be able to pass through, as we will skirt the fringe of Ferguson on our way across the river. We still plan to go, but with trepidation. And with fearful hearts. Hearts that…well… are heavy with dread. After I went to bed last night, I prayed through semi-wakefulness all night but the only words I could find were “Help us, Lord.” and, “Bring peace, and justice to the evil-doers.” I knew who those evil-doers were, and was certain He did as well. Imagine my surprise when I woke to find the Facebook post of a respected Christian voice who had prayed the same thing through the night, there at the throne side by side with me, pleading for peace, and justice for the evil doers…sure that the evil doers were on the other side.
Let me back up a bit and confess that watching the coverage last night reduced me to rage. I ranted. I yelled at the television. I swore. I name-called. And between all that, I prayed in desperate helplessness and made demands of the Lord that He do something…why wouldn’t He DO SOMETHING? This morning – today – I’ve tried to talk it out with Him rationally and I think I understand some things now, the first being the gob-smacking realization that within me hides the same rage that burned Ferguson last night. Those are the things I want to talk with you about. Put on your big kid pants.
Maybe the Michael Brown report was initially a 3rd page, below the fold media story where you live, but stop for a minute and try to recall your first thought on hearing of the shooting. OK…so it’s not JFK, but humor me. Did your first thought include a “they”? You know, “Well, there ‘they’ go again…” Who was your “they”?
This is your prejudice.
Oh. You thought it was “they” who were prejudiced. Hm. Really?
If you are alive and living in America (the world?) you have experienced prejudice, and have been guilty of it. It is inevitable. My white middle class son experiences the prejudice of not qualifying for scholarships because of the color of his skin. I have experienced prejudice in the corporate world where I was paid less for doing the same work as the men in my company. I’ve experienced the sting of prejudice against the poor, and have felt the shame of it stain my thoughts from the other side of poverty. I’m Christian…’nuff said! I’ve seen the effects of prejudice against the obese, the handicapped, the homosexual, the Muslim, the immigrant, the ugly, and I share the burden of many of those sins myself. Black, white, or purple, we all know prejudice. We all have prejudice. And we are all guilty for what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri.
This morning, my overwhelming response to the pundits and expounders, the preachers and the media, the loud-mouths and the opinionated was: SHUT. UP. Just…shut up. And I actually think (perhaps with more gentleness and respect) it’s the right message, one I would follow with a request that everyone, Christians most needfully, go look at themselves in the mirror to find the guilty party – the evil doer.
While we discussed all of this with our son last night, we were careful to present every aspect of the case as we came to understand it, giving weight equally to both sides and helping him reason to his conclusion rather than jump on his group-text to rant with the unreasoned, uninformed, emotionally unrestrained youth he calls his peers! But what I failed to do in the haze of my own fury was entreat him to examine his heart and expose it to holy light until he unearthed his own prejudice and dealt with it. Because that…THAT… that is the solution to Ferguson. In short, the answer that everyone is looking for is this: shut up, go look in the mirror, deal with your sin before God. Then you will be able to teach unbelievers, and believers alike, how to look past prejudice; love past prejudice; pray past prejudice, and that is how to heal a community one soul at a time.
I wonder how different we all would look stripped down to nothing but our soul. Without the trappings of our flesh, which causes us to sin so grievously against one another, would we all look essentially the same? Would it be impossible then to categorize us into appropriate boxes? Could we then see through the eyes of a white cop? Or a black teenager? Could we see through eyes blind to either one of those appearances? What if that? What if we began to presume that anything that exits within another man is within us as well, in spite of the outer trappings. In other words, what if we began to think of ourselves as equals: sinners, reprobates, thieves, and murderers…guilty. Guilty. Guilty. All needful of the grace and mercy and salvation of a holy God.
In St. Louis, there exists a strange phenomenon that locals find quaint, and helpful to the point of necessity. When you first meet a native St.Louisan, they will ask you, “Where did you go to High School?” I know, right? It’s ridiculous. Who cares? They do. Because they have grown up in a culture and society that pigeon-holes and associates you with your community, and allows them to set themselves apart from the lesser-thans, the other-thans, the different-thans. It’s true in both the black and the white communities, which have remained shamefully divided across decades of time. They will vehemently deny that this is why they ask, but it is the truth. The truth is also that nothing sets them apart. Nothing at all. We are sinners on the inside, every one of us, with only one grace to save.
Post Script - I would entreat you to please add nothing to this conversation until you have well and truly plowed your own ground and unearthed the same potential inside yourself that you can so easily see in your “they”. When you can stand shoulder to shoulder with “them” pleading for mercy, then you can contribute something needful to the discussion. Until then, pray. Pray for yourself. Pray for Ferguson. Pray for the innoncent, and pray for the guilty. Pray that the true evil doer will not succeed in his schemes! Pray for the souls of the lost...and the found. Pray. Without ceasing. Pray.