Lamenting An Old Story

On Sunday our church took time to consider some of the implications of Trayvon Martin’s murder and George Zimmerman’s acquittal. Paul’s charge to the church in Romans 12:15 was our starting point: “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” The entire tragic story – from the initial profiling to the eventual verdict – has provoked me toward lamentation and other related emotions. It was a gift to bring my lament and questions to our church and to listen to the community talk and listen well to one another.

I’ve not felt especially able to write about this story since the verdict. So that my silence isn’t taken for more or less than it is, let me point you to a few responses that have benefitted me. If you’ve found other helpful responses please leave a link in the comments.

“My Son & Trayvon Martin” by Michael Washington.  I didn’t want to think or write about that place in my inner soul that keeps memories locked away in my heart.  Like the time a woman crossed the street when she saw me approaching her and like the shame I felt when I turned around after passing her only to see her cross back to the same street after I’d gotten beyond her and how downcast I felt because I was headed to a class in seminary where the story of my faith would remind me that I was called to love and serve people just like that woman who clutched her bag while passing a preacher on his way to being better.

“Christian Atheism: The Only Response Worth its Salt to the Zimmerman Verdict” by J. Kameron Carter. And just as we cannot talk about god-in-the-abstract, nor can we speak of idolatry-in-the-abstract. The white, western god-man is an idol that seeks to determine what is normal. It is a norm by which society governs the body politic or regulates, measures, evaluates, and indeed judges what is proper or improper, what is acceptable or suspicious citizenship. It is this idol, the idol of the “American god,” that is the symbolic figure Zimmerman identified himself with and in relationship to which he judged Trayvon Martin as, in effect, religiously wanting—wanting in proper citizenship, and ultimately wanting in humanity.

“A Hispanic Response to the Trayvon Martin Verdict” by Danaís Torres Gilliard. I was not around in the seventies; and thus, was unfortunately unable to witness the time when Coretta Scott King visited Cesar Chavez in Phoenix in order to pray for him. Yet, I still find inspiration from this image today in 2013. I know that the more we die to ourselves in order to submit to the will of the Father, the more fruitful our lives become because it us who no longer live, but Christ within us. The more this becomes a reality within our Hispanic churches the more we cultivate a space for reconciliation and for us to be used by God. The transformative power of the Holy Spirit is capable of creating powerful moments that create space for the presence of God to be truly and fully felt in our generation and in generations to come. These are the moments where truth can be spoken and heard and even understood in surprising ways.

“Reflections on Race, Faith, and Gingrich” by Dominique DuBois Gilliard. I’ve endured because I’ve been blessed, coming from a strong family, resilient community, and rich tradition, which has taught me to navigate the stony road I’ve been forced to trod. However, even this knowledge in and of itself would prove inadequate to sustain such a burden. The truest source of my strength and hope is Jesus Christ. I’m forever grateful for African-American theology teaching me that all people are equally endowed with our Creator’s image and elucidating how living in a fallen world causes people to disregard this truth. Thus, I learned I must inscribe it upon my heart to endure. African-American theology also taught me that “they can kill your body, but not your soul,” and this is the communal truth that we’re forced to cling to, abide by, and trust in. Pastorally, I’ve engendered faith within beleaguered believers using these sentiments following the demoralizing verdict.

“The Zimmerman Case and the Credibility of the Church on Racism” by Mark DeYmaz.  For far too long we have turned a blind eye to the lack of diversity within our congregations; proudly championed homogeneity in church planting; celebrated numeric growth and attendance more than community revitalization and transformation; encouraged the purchase of land and built new buildings instead of repurposing abandoned space in the community as a physical manifestation of the power and message of redemption; refused to empower minority leadership or to share authoritative responsibility in otherwise all-White churches; and the list goes on.

“Unpopular Grace” by Robin Afrik. Before you leave, you can’t help but notice the familiar faces here. People you know from living in a small town. Friends of colleagues, school mates, parents of kids you grew up with. People who go to your church. Suddenly, your husband becomes that ‘black’ man in the room who might be uncomfortable with the verdict. Suddenly, you must consider all the lessons that must be once again re-taught to your children regarding what it might mean to be black in this situation, then to be a Christian, then to be a black Christian, then to be a good black Christian, and then . . . and then, this is when they watch. Everyone watches to see what you’re going to do next. The children learn from your reaction, your silence and your emotions. The people in the room react to you trying not to react to them.

“George, Trayvon, and the Church” by Efrem Smith. My experiences in a race-based society also led me to a ministry of racial reconciliation and righteousness. This calling is why I can’t ignore George Zimmerman in all of this. Or, I can’t simply be angry with him for getting out of the car and following Trayvon when he was told not to. I have to love him too. I am called to pray for him. Because he is still living, there is an opportunity for his life to be committed to reconciliation in new and powerful ways. As hard as it is, I’m called to minister to those who support Trayvon and those who support George. This is the heavy cost of reconciliation ministry. This is exactly where the Church needs to be right now.

“When the Verdict Hurts” by Howard-John Wesley.

Trayvon, Dr. Land, & the “Myth” of Racism

My latest article for Leadership Journal’s blog has been posted.

On an unseasonably warm Saturday in late March, my 3-year-old son and I took the train from our Chicago neighborhood to a rally downtown for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African American teenager who was killed in Florida a month earlier. The protest itself was predictable: calls for an investigation into the shooting mixed with intense frustrations. I was, however, surprised by one moment. Standing with my son on my shoulders, straining to hear the one of the speakers, I overheard one woman respond to a reporter’s question. “Why is no one paying attention to this,” she asked. “Where are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Why aren’t they speaking out?”

Two weeks later, in glaring contrast to this woman’s frustrations, Dr. Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, weighed in with his own opinion about Trayvon Martin’s death. “[T]his situation is getting out of hand,” Dr. Land opined on his radio program. “And it’s going to be violent. And when there is violence it’s going to be Jesse Jackson’s fault. It’s going to be Al Sharpton’s fault.” In these few sentences, and the many that followed, Dr. Land carelessly exposed the ways race continues to divide our country–and our churches.

Read the rest on the Out of Ur blog.

Trayvon Martin, Patience and Self Reflection

My friend Dr. Vincent Bacote, a theology professor at Wheaton College, offers helpful perspective on Tayvon Martin’s tragic death.

While many changes have occurred in the 150 years since the Civil War began, race consciousness remains in our social and cultural DNA like a stubborn mutation, rendering it difficult for us to truly and consistently regard “others” as equal before the eyes of God and fully human. This problem of otherness is not new, but it has manifested in a particularly malevolent fashion in the construction of racial identity. Today, this means that though great changes have occurred that would have been unimaginable 150 years ago, much more needs to change if we are to really live together as caring neighbors, at least in the church if not elsewhere. Yet this is an area where Christians continue to struggle, and many find themselves exhausted in reconciliation efforts. The stubbornness of our race problem could lead us to despair, but taking a long view in light of where we have come from instead reminds us that we must have great patience as we pursue fundamental change. This patience is not the twin of apathy, but the disposition of steadiness and faithfulness in the face of at times imperceptible transformation. Change has occurred and can occur again.

Be sure to read the entire article.

“He called for help.”

Michael reflects soberly and sorrowfully on the appalling murder of Trayvon Martin.

I didn’t want to think about how similar Trayvon Martin is to the vision I have for my son.  He was a boy, enjoying life, getting good grades, collecting admiration from teachers; he was loved by his family, who over and over called the extremely deceptive police department when he had been missing for three days because his body was cooling on a medical examiner’s table and left like his parents didn’t want him when all they wanted was him.  That young child was so much like my child, the child in my imagination’s future.  He had a girl who liked him.  He ate candy.  He was wise in discerning when trouble showed up.  He called for help.

I hope you’ll visit Michael’s blog to read the entire post.  I hope too that we who are white will take in this unfolding story and feel it for the unjust reality it represents – not always this dramatic, but always devestating.