When I think about this past year, my heart has an ache for the people of Ferguson, Missouri and our nation. Aside from the protests, the violence, and the arrests, I shake my head in sadness over another incident involving the death of an African-American male at the hands of law enforcement. Let me say a few things up front. I know about the autopsy report of Michael Brown, which torpedoed a good portion of the eyewitness accounts. I know that there remains much debate over the events, the sequencing, and ultimately what actually took place.
If there is one thing that I recall about my initial response to the Ferguson incident, it was a deep sense of disbelief over another fatal, encounter between an officer of the law and a person of color. I found myself saying, “Here we go again, a repeat of the Trayvon Martin incident.” This was a hotly contested and protested set of circumstances, too. Apparently, the cycle or the day’s events remain on repeat a la Groundhog Day except our narrative is not a comedy, but a tragedy.
Do I fully understand what my fellow Americans are expressing and saying through the protests and the violence? Part of me would love to think that I am so adept at empathy and sympathy, but who am I kidding? I am an uneasy mix of sadness over another young life lost, anger over the rush to condemn or exonerate either party without concern for the dignity of each, and lastly, hopeful in the gospel through the Spirit to bring reconciliation.
Earlier this morning, I read the assigned chapters for my daily, Bible reading plan. I parked myself on the following passage for a substantial amount of time. Here is the text:
“My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees; my eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the daughters of my city” (Lamentations 3:49-51, ESV).
This verse reminds me of the anguished cries of Michael Brown’s parents and friends. It causes me to think about my heart toward them. Many African-Americans have resonated with Brown’s family and the whole complex of events as proof of a systemic problem with race in the police departments all over the United States. Do I see the tears of my fellow Americans? Am I listening to the cries of their hearts?
I claim to be a follower of Christ, which means that I see things as he sees them. I feel what he feels. The Apostle Paul states in Romans 8:29 that all those who follow Christ are being conformed into his image. Those are fancy words that mean I am becoming like Christ. If this is a reality, then am I able to listen to the anger and the hurt bursting out of them? The Lord hears their cries. For all I know, Michael Brown’s blood might be crying out to the Lord like Abel’s (Genesis 4:10; cf Hebrews 11:4; 12:24, ESV). In the end, I do not know for sure and no one will this side of eternity.
In the meantime, there is a large segment of the American population experiencing grief, anger, despair, and hopelessness. There must be a way to respond that upholds their dignity and worth as human beings made in the image of God. My hope is that the responses acknowledge the past without living there, affirm the hurt without feeding it, and restore the bond of fellowship based upon the cross of Jesus Christ as outlined in Ephesians 2:14-16, ESV. It sounds like a fantasy at times; however, the gospel does give real hope in times like these.