violence

Last Sunday, our church music director opened worship by saying, “It’s been a rough week. Not only the cold, but I have been dealing with two suicides–one an 8th grader at my school and the other a leader of the Black Lives Movement.”

I did not get a chance to ask Tyrone about the young student, but I learned about the activist through a Washington Post article a couple of days later (click here for the story).

MarShawn McCarrel complex com

MarShawn McCarrel complex.com

His name was MarShawn McCarrel, 23. He shot himself on the steps of the Ohio State Capitol in Columbus on February 8. A few hours before the shot, he posted a Facebook message, “My demons won today. I’m sorry.”

By all accounts, this was a talented young man,  dedicated to liberation and justice. He started several nonprofit organizations, a mentorship program called Pursuing Our Dreams and a charity for homeless people called Feeding Our Streets. He had become a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Ohio, following on other activism and writing poetry.

The man was a poet. On paper. And in life. Poets are people for whom words matter. Each word matters. And for this poet, lives mattered, too.

Except he could not sustain his own. He pulled the trigger.

But so did we. We–and when I say “we” I mean all of us who call ourselves white who have so far failed to undo the strangehold white supremacy, white privilege, white racism, have on our national psyche and day in and day out living in this land we claim is free and home to the brave.

As sure as anything, I believe his depression–which had plagued him for some years, after the death of his grandfather–was undone or minimized, but also deepened, by his activism.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me

observer.com

His ability to write and speak and organize and give hope to others helped to keep him going, but it was not enough to overcome the relentless–r e l e n t l e s s, let me say that again, relentless–drumbeat of negativity in his life and the lives of millions of other African American men, women, and children (remember that 8th grader?).

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in his magnificent, also relentless (in a similar but also different way), letter to his son about growing up Black in America, “Between the World and Me,”

To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.

Coates tells us that much of the posing and braggadocio of Black boys and young men on the streets, and the posing and efforts at creating distinct identities for the Black girls and and young women, is really in response to fear, fear for their very lives in the face of what feel like, and are, overwhelming odds against survival for many, if not most, of them in a world run by and for those who call ourselves white.

I cannot speak for MarShawn McCarrel, this lost prince of Black personhood, but I can imagine that he, like many other activists in the Black Lives Matter movement (and many in other movements for human dignity here and around the world), was brought down, depressed, by that fear, and by how little long-term deep, intentional attention is paid to the continuing violation of African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, etc.

Black Lives Matter protest  startribune com

startribune.com

I know I feel that, and I am not (yet, anyway) on the front lines of that struggle. He was on the front lines, and I know from experience on my own front lines (for LGBT equality, e.g.) that there is hope, even exhilaration at moments, when you watch others see new truth, but there also is exhaustion and fear when you realize how many people aren’t paying attention and how many of those who claim they are show no signs of caring (and may even express animosity).

What Coates’ book, and the unnecessary death of MarShawn McCarrel push me into is somehow to join the front lines. I have no desire to do what we who call ourselves white so often do–move in to take over the struggle, or even to make it about me or us. And yet, I know I have and can claim my place to support McCarrell’s surviving colleagues in the movement more than I have done, and to more directly engage my siblings in white privilege so that we all may learn why and how to give it up.

I don’t want to be part of pulling the trigger any more.

I don’t want to participate, even at a distance, in snuffing a life, or silencing a voice, as magnificent as that of MarShawn McCarrel.

It is my belief that he has found peace with the God who loves him unreservedly. But I have yet to find peace in my grief for this beautiful man, and perhaps I will not any time soon, knowing–as I have chanted more than once on the streets of Richmond, New York, Boston, and will undoubtedly do so again on Washington boulevards, and maybe elsewhere–No Justice, No Peace! Know Justice, Know Peace!

The good news, if there is any in this, may be that I have found, thanks to his friends, a powerful poem of truth and life by MarShawn McCarrel. May he have the final word here, today.

Down South by Marshawn McCarrel

Fay Wells, an African American woman who is vice president of strategy at a California company, encountered overwhelming police power at her home in Santa Monica. A neighbor had called police to report what he thought was a break-in at her apartment.

Fay Wells

Fay Wells  ndtv.com

Earlier, she had locked herself out of the apartment on her way to a soccer game. When she returned, she had called a locksmith to let her in and fix the lock, and then had gone inside. It was at that point that seventeen (or nineteen, depending on whose count you accept) officers showed up, and she was ordered out of her home–told to come out with her hands up and walk slowly down the outside stairs, facing a drawn gun and a police dog (and all the other officers).

By her account, she was poorly treated, not by overt physical violence, but by the officers’ refusal to identify themselves or to tell her what had caused their presence. It was a frightening time for her.

Santa_Monica_Police_patch

commons.wikimedia.com

Wells wrote about the incident in The Washington Post (connect here to read it in full). The police actions, and her feelings about that, are the primary focus of her story.

However, the continuing drama in many communities about the response of police personnel toward African Americans revealed yet again in her story–the violence perpetrated in the name of law enforcement through unwarranted traffic stops, arrests, treatment during incarceration as well as the killing of persons during what should be not lethal encounters–reflects the deep-seated white supremacy still at work in the culture, the DNA, of our nation. It is not just about the police.

Of course, law enforcement agencies need to change. Retraining in the ways of cultural sensitivity is essential. Probably some cops need to be let go. Some municipal authorities–mayors and city councils, police chiefs–are doing the hard work. Others need to step up. Every agency needs a thorough inventory of itself, with outside help, to figure out what it needs to change–and then the willingness to go through transformation.

Is his life worth more less than mine

pinterest.com

 

However, important as that work is, it is only treating part of the problem. Underneath police department attitudes and practices rests the much deeper foundation of white supremacy and privilege which marks our entire national culture. Alongside that rests our national love affair with guns. The truth is that all of us–certainly all of us who are not people of color–are responsible for the police departments that serve us (yes, they serve us, more than they serve others who don’t look like us, even if unintentionally).

The story does not really begin with the large police presence outside her apartment. It begins with the call from the neighbor. What about him? Would he have called them if Wells had been white? Chances are the answer is “no.”

responsibility

larrywinget.com

In her story, she says she spoke to him, and he seemed pretty defensive. Eventually, he identified himself as an attorney. Wells tried to question him, but after a little back and forth, he said,  . . . . “you can go f— yourself,” and walked away.

That sort of says it all . . . . so many people don’t want to take responsibility for their own attitudes as well as their own behavior.

Until more and more of us do, this will not change–even when, or if, the police do.

 

 

How will we ever stop the insanity?

As Paris, and Beirut, and other places too, reel from the attacks, we are facing a world, once again, where no one feels safe.

Paris man mourning ibtimes

ibtimes.com

What that means in the West is that once again, as after 9/11, we experience the world as the other two-thirds do already. And what that means also is that the veneer of safety we purchase through arms and wealth and “civilized behavior” is really just that, a veneer, masking the brutal, and beautiful, fact that we are all connected.

Most of us, thank God, do not have access to armaments with which to destroy ISIL or any other of the terrorists who seem to delight in simply blowing up things and people, mostly people. And I pray we never do. More violence by individuals acting on righteousness is not the answer.

But what we do have are our voices and our feet and our hands. We need to find ways to march together, to hold hands together, to raise our voices together.

I don’t know how this is to be done, and I doubt very much that I am the one to even get it started, but I do want to post here my prayer that somehow more creative minds than mine will find ways to call us, the ones who value every human life as sacred, together for shared action.

We cannot leave this to politicians, statesmen and stateswomen, alone. We are leaders, too. We can speak up against anti-Islam comments, we can insist our government spend more money on humanitarian assistance globally than it does on arms, we can contribute to educating girls and young women in the Middle East and elsewhere, we can support micro-financing in Two Thirds World countries. And we can help bring together imams and rabbis and Christian clergy to talk about, and act on, mutual regard and respect and universal love and citizenship.

I admit it all sounds weak compared to the slaughter of hundreds of innocent people in not much more than a heartbeat, but I believe working peacefully together in these ways, and many things of similar type that I cannot conjure up, is the only answer that will finally work.

War does not bring peace, even if defeats the other side. We may need it to stop something evil but if that is all we do we will have won the battle but lost the war.

War WW II rubbleWar is failure by another name violence too

Instead we glorify both as ways to make movies

and solve what seem like intractable problems

but of course war and violence solve nothing

they only create new opportunities for misunderstanding

and tension and conflict. The world is a crazy mixed up

place where real needs of people for food shelter

health are disregarded in place of profit and opulence

where blowhards can run and maybe even win high office

where Money is God and god is a slogan to be used to

deny humanity to one group or another.

I wrote these rough words the other morning–they need an editor yet–but I am choosing to share them this day as a sign of the times, to hold up a flag not of surrender but of hope and possibility. We must name things for what they are, we must build a politics that is not about a horse race to the White House, not a soccer match for the Senate, but deep discourse that opens up the dream that once was America for all, and claims peace as a primary policy.

I started blogging in 2009, wanting to share with the church community I was serving as well as any others in the wider public who might be interested in the musings of a pastor, theologian, and social activist in Richmond, Virginia.

faithAt the time, I used my longtime signature closing, “In faith and hope,” as the name of the blog. Six years later, no longer pastoring but still theologizing and engaging in activism, and now claiming my vocation as a writer, I want to put a different label on these reflections.

hope sproutI have come to see the great problem in the United States, and throughout the world, as the failure of community. We are, the human race, a much-ravaged people in most every corner of the world. There are bright spots, of course, places and communities where people work and live together for the greater good, but I see a quickening, widening, and deepening trend of being torn apart.

don't shoot I want to grow up

The signs are everywhere: increasing violence in the Middle East as well as on our streets; wars in the name (often falsely labeled) of religion on the rise; the failure to overcome historic oppression to constructively engage and build the power of Africa as well as African Americans; the widening gap between rich and poor people as well as among first, second, and third world nations; the failure of the justice system to really deal with problems it probably cannot solve even as we keep tasking it with that work; the weakness of international structures to make any real difference; the continuing resurgence of totalitarianisms all over the globe; public officials in our nation self-righteously defying the law to deny rights to others and politicians vying to be the most insulting to groups of voters. This is by far only a partial list; one more, though: the failure of our national political system to address serious issues at home and abroad.

Palestinian boys dressed in uniforms of Palestinian security forces and holding plastic toy guns

The failure of community is directly traceable to our failure to grasp and use the power of love. I share the view of Teilhard deChardin that the physical structure of the universe is love, indeed it is the entire structure, meaning that there is an underlying desire for union among all beings. But with a terrifying perversity, we are laying waste to that promise. Just as we are despoiling the ecology we call nature, we are destroying the deeper ecology of love. These two movements are inextricably intertwined, both cause and effect.

IDF soldier and Palestinian woman and children

Ironically, it is love that will save us. The very thing we misuse, under use and abuse is the solution.

Thus, I have decided to rename this blog to more directly embrace the great task before us. We have to make more love in order to build more and better community.

Making love is usually a polite way of saying we are “having sex,” or being sexual, with another person. Sadly, this way of speaking limits love to the encounter between two (or occasionally more) people, usually in private behind closed doors involving intimate touch and genitals.

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But the love we desperately need more of is out in the open, in groups, in whole nations, between and among communities. We as individuals have to be committed to making love everywhere we can–sharing our deepest humanity and care and nurture and compassion and kindness not only with partners but with siblings and parents and children, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, opponents, even enemies, perhaps most with those with whom we disagree. And we have to include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, caring for the sick in our definition of making love.

There already is more than enough love in the world. The problem is that we are not using it. We have locked most of it away, for safe-keeping I guess, or maybe because we are afraid to really let it loose in the world. Too much might change if love really guided us.

Make-Love-Give_Design_final_fullcolor_04We might have to share some of what we have so that everyone, including ourselves, could have more. That is really how love works. The more you share the more you have. But it confounds our limited human understanding; we think about love the way we think about money. If we give too much away, we won’t have enough.

I am choosing to challenge this stingy view of love. I want to make lots of love, and I want to do it with you, my readers. I am a witness for love. But more than that, I am a lover. I want to be your lover, and for you to be mine.

Make love to Uncle SamOh, I am not divorcing my wonderful husband of 18 years. And I am a monogamous kind of guy when it comes to sex. But I am an advocate for free love.

It is not that love is free exactly. It does come with a price. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that in order for love to grow we have to spend it, and trust that more comes.

But it is free in that it is available to all, for the asking, for the taking you might say. But that implies that you have to be aggressive and grab it. The reality is that it comes to you. But you have to be open, you have to want love. You have to, as the ancient mystic Julian of Norwich said of God, “allow” it into yourself.

How to build communityBut even this is not quite right–because our entire being, each one of us, all of us, has more than enough love inside. So in some ways, we have to allow it out, we have to open ourselves not only to receive the love “out there,” but also to share the love “in here.”

This is more introduction than I planned. So I had best stop. There are many blog posts ahead in which to say more.

For now, let me say this: I am here, writing regularly, to help us to Make Love. And to Build Community.

Make Love. Build Community. The life you save may be your own, and surely if we do it together we can save each other, and the whole world.

Make Love. Build Community. Say it a few times.

Then go do it. Wherever, and whenever, and with whomever, and however, you can.

Violence and punishment are the order of the day in so many places. From Syria to Ferguson, and a lot of locations in between and beyond, governments and groups and individuals use murder, mayhem, intimidation, and unjust rules and structures to keep people in their place, meaning of course where others think they belong.

The response to all this is often more of the same. It is the old playground “game” of when you are pushed, you push back.

Of course, such response is usually couched in terms of defense. “We have to defend ourselves.” It seems reasonable enough, except that is what the other folks are saying, too.

If everyone exercises their right to defend themselves, who will ever make peace?

A community in Denmark is trying something different, responding to Islamic warriors who return to their home in that northern European nation not with prison and punishment, but with help to live different, and better, lives.

You can read about it here.

Will it work? Is it practical? Will the effects last? All good questions.

But we can be pretty certain that the usual way–responding to violence and acting out with punishment and prison, perhaps even worse–has not not worked yet. If that way had worked, there would be less violence, not more.