Growing up in Southern California I became used to living an unsettled way of life. While early in my life I was accustomed to fire drills, moving to California exposed me to a drill and disruption, earthquake drills. Periodically in my public and private school life the alert sounded to get under the desk.
These drills and posturing one’s self in the fetal position did not become real until I finally experienced the rolling of my home during an earthquake. It is quite an event to feel the ground under your feet roll or the building you stand in move with reverberation. There is movement. There is sound. Then all is still and quiet.
Earthquakes shake you out of a sense of normalcy. The life you understood as being solid, static, and serene, offers you very little confidence moving forward. There are earthquakes which cause you to pause for a moment and then there are those movements which challenge your very life existence.
I reflect on my own life to cultivate sympathy for my Caucasian brothers and sisters in America. Their life, no your life, has been founded on some very explicit and implicit understandings about life. The road you have walked on for generations is a pavement which affirms and holds up as the standard, Caucasian life. Explicitly, we have seen in our public school education the dominance of Caucasian males as the center of leadership in the public and private sectors. You have learned explicitly this country began as an act of rebellion and protest due to taxation, military occupation of homes, and unjust acts of a sovereign. Implicitly, after the securing of freedom in 1776, every sphere of this country’s existence framed itself in extolling the virtues of your life, judging every other participant as secondary, the minority. I mean even when I attend Church I am reminded Jesus looks like you. Everywhere you go, what you listen to, and yes, the standard of worship is measured against your Caucasian life as the standard.
So I find myself sympathizing with you because I love you. I sincerely believe you are experiencing periodic earthquakes in your lives which are upsetting the normalcy of the Caucasian standard in America. Much like the child in school, I observe your reaction to the tremors and aftershocks is to run and find comfort under a desk which may not hold up at the end of the day. Your reaction is to assume the fetal position and in some cases rage passively or aggressively against those who are simply seeking to secure the promises of democracy.
What earthquakes do I speak about? The Mexican man, woman, or family returning to their ancestral home. The earthquake of voices steadfastly saying that Black Lives Matter. The earthquake of persons of color moving more boldly to assert their dignity as full participants in this democratic experiment called America. The rumblings of the poor in urban areas tired of being used by politicians. These aftershocks which are moving from worship centers to worship centers, your Evangelical Reformed or Baptist voice is not the standard of Christian thought and practice.
So I sympathize with you. I truly do. Love cultivates sympathy. In order to sympathize with a person or group is to imagine yourself in their shoes and love them right there. I sympathize because I know first hand what it means to have my own world shook because of what I look like. I sympathize because in many cases you have been taught wrong or not been taught everything.
There is movement happening in this country. There are sounds of voices yearning to be free. I hope when all is still and quiet you will come up from out of that desk and discover there is a better way of living.
Martha Nussbaum who writes on the human experience and capabilities, states, “When comparing societies and assessing them for their basic decency or justice, we ask, “What is each person able to do and to be?” We are not means to an end, human beings are the end. There are a multitude of situations which function as barriers at the social, economic, and political level slowing or in some cases stopping human beings from seeing who they truly are and what they can truly accomplish.
Persons in a variety of societal environments play a critical role in either creating barriers or tearing down barriers for persons who are to be considered neighbors. In essence we have a responsibility to each other and we have been granted the opportunity to address life which Nussbaum describes as being “entrenched with social injustice and inequality.”
Engaging in the difficult work of identifying existing barriers requires persons with different perspectives to engage with one another. We can admittedly observe our current climate has produced situations in which people have chosen to assume tribal behaviors, boundaries marked by political ideology, national origins, ethnicities, and yes, even faith.
If our goals are to build an environment to improve the situations of other persons, relieve personal and systemic injustices, and create an environment for successive generations, we must have plans which begin with the end in mind. In other words, humanizing and just outcomes necessitate humanizing and just means.
In the words of Nussbaum, we are capable of such activity in the support of problem of solving many our societal concerns, if we choose to practice them on a daily basis.
Dear President Obama,
I want to begin by thanking you for your service to our country. On one level it has been a personal blessing to see a man who looks like myself and my son, act as the leader of these United States. It demonstrates our country has made some significant strides and offers hope for the future.
I am penning this letter to you on this Thanksgiving Week to appeal to your foundational experience as a community organizer whose experience to pursue justice and relieve oppression can have a benefit for our current situation.
Your vision to welcome thousands of Syrian refugees is very admirable, in fact, I believe it is in the best keeping of Christian principles to create an atmosphere in which those who are experiencing injustice to find a place of relieve. Men, women, and children regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or religion should have the opportunity to flourish as God intended. I believe all humanity has been infused with the sense to create and achieve for the betterment of themselves and the society. Therefore, it is just to welcome Syrian Refugees-Christian and Muslim-who desire to be positive and significant contributors to our American nation.
At the same time, my Christian understanding of justice considers not only the situation of the oppressed and vulnerable but the perpetrators of the unjust situations. If I may be quite clear, I believe this is where you are failing as the leader of our nation. It appears you are very apprehensive to use force to execute justice to relieve oppression. In my opinion, your experience as a community organizer is preventing you from fully using the resources of the United States to bring about full justice. Justice for the oppressed. Justice on ISIS. Justice which protects the people you represent.
God grants to government the use of a sword to execute justice on behalf of its citizens. This righteous use of the sword has two purposes, 1) protection of the innocent and 2) punishment of the guilty. In our American context, you stand as Commander in Chief of the most lethal fighting force on the planet. The United States Military is the swift sword of America’s arm to carry out justice for all persons. It is a justice granted to the government alone and protecting opportunities for human flourishing.
As a former Army Officer I have seen the pains of war. War creates widows, orphans, and the handicapped. War reveals the depth of human depravity but in some strange way uncovers the majesty of courage in the face of death. War and violence should be the last option but it is an option in the face of injustice. I will not impose on you Jesus words to “turn the other cheek” or “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” On the former, this mandate is not appropriate for government which has the charge to protect its citizens. On the latter, this is a warning and not a mandate for pacifism on the part of governments. To the Church I alone would offer these statements. If a government chooses to turn the other cheek, injustice will spread like a cancer. Darkness will consume free ways of life and all persons will die in the suffocating atmosphere of unrighteousness.
So as you contemplate justice on behalf of refugees, please consider justice which will stem back the hand of evil men and women. We all have our part to play in this work of a just society. As the President you lead a government to “establish justice…and provide a common defense.” As a Christian it is my responsibility to encourage justice, turn the other cheek, and to love one’s enemy. It is a reality, you do not have the luxury to tell our nation to turn the other cheek, while I do not have the luxury to tell our society love only those like us. We all have a cross to bear.
I leave you with this sir,
Love justice and walk humbly with God.