God creates humans to enter into the service of others. The necessity of an individual to demonstrate compassion reveals a potency in the one who engages. A helper represents a coming aid, support, and answer to a call of distress. The helper represents a person who is able to offer relief when the one in distress is unable act. The helper immediately represents a woman who God artfully crafts to become the one who aids the man in the tasks of serving as God's vice regents in creation.
We are made to participate in service to one another.
We are made to function as a support system to an individual or group who vocalize distress.
We are made for so many beautiful, powerful, and creative acts. Yet our reality demonstrates there is much ugliness, alienation, and destruction. If we would be honest, much of the distress we observe in our world occurs by the imagination of our minds and the activity of our hands. Our original purpose to participate in the service of others descends into thoughts, behaviors, and actions which harm others. It is no wonder we are so quick to stereotype and alienate those who are dissimilar. We unfortunately spend much time questioning God and his ability to prevent harm, not realizing the greatest perpetuator of evil looks back at each of us in the mirror every morning as we brush our teeth.
This year has been instructive. In my opinion, we are at a place right now in America were many citizens feel as if they are in a sort of exile and yet through the terrible experience of suffering, we have found community. Consider we have been at each others throats about President Trump and Hillary Clinton. We have clashed over Confederate Flags, Confederate statues, and anti-fascism. Christians verbally bludgeon each other regarding statements about sexuality. We cast aspersions on those who want the law upheld in regards to immigration and aspersions on those who are seeking mercy in the law to begin a new life in this country. Yet in the midst of all of this, suffering comes in the name of Harvey.
Harvey takes us all by our tribal, political, religious, and nationalist necks and says,
“This is what it means to be human!”
My worldview communicates a personal God who enters into the suffering of humanity and he stands with humanity in the pain and agony. God runs and essentially demonstrates what it means to be in solidarity with another living being. We vocalize our inability to remedy our suffering and God demonstrates his power by becoming like humanity to triumph over mankind's greatest need so humans would flourish as intended. Regardless of our ethnic, political, religious, or economic backgrounds, Harvey has given us another opportunity to put down our verbal swords to rejoice with one another and suffer with one another. It has been amazing to see the number of persons who have run into suffering. They have jumped off the proverbial horses of comfort and security for the sake of others, in fact strangers.
What kind of people will we now be in the shadow of Harvey? We can not be people who are unchanged. Khalil Gibran reflecting on suffering stated, "out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls, the most massive characters are seared with scars." The Apostle Peter said something similar centuries earlier as suffering was serving as a refining fire to bring about the purity of faith in those who belief (1 Peter 1:6-7). So will we be persons who forget these living examples of compassion and cries of suffering, returning to our tribal corners to continue conflict and exile? Or, will we be people who rediscover the beautiful experience of brotherhood as we stand peaceably with each other and recognize how much better we can become through love, grace, and yes, suffering?
Suffering can communicate exile has come to an end. Compassion is a transformative act in which persons who may have never interacted previously, experience powerful moments of listening, understanding, and cooperation. I encourage you to act compassionately this week. Take a long moment to listen to God speaking through the experiences of Harvey and other types of suffering. Hopefully in the end we will hear what God made us to be; people with the capacity to love.
The news yesterday a grand jury will not indict a Cleveland police officer for the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice is very disturbing to me as a Christian, father, and African American. (You can see a video of the event here). In a period when America is in deep discussions over the 2nd Amendment, access to guns, and the relationship between the African American community and law enforcement, this lack of justice on behalf of Tamir Rice demonstrates the need for action beyond words.
Let me first say I am profoundly sorry and sympathize for the Tamir Rice family. A son was playing in his neighborhood and lost his life. As parents we hope our children can play outside our homes, in recreational areas, and enjoy life. We expect our children to come home when we yell down the street, tell them it is time for lunch, and be in the house when the street lights come home. This would not be the case for Tamir Rice. He was playing in the neighborhood with a toy and he lost his life. A mother lost her twelve-year-old son to violence. Violence which came not from the hands of another African American child, gang member, or drug dealer. He lost his life violently at the hands of one who is sworn to execute his duties in a professional and judicious manner. As a father, I believe I would be in a swirl of emotions ranging from profound sadness to rage. Wouldn’t you as a parent?
Tamir Rice was judged on the basis of his size and the possibility he held a real hand gun which he was never given the opportunity to prove otherwise. What does it mean his size warranted his shooting death? My son is an African American seventeen-year-old, standing 6’1’’ and weighs 200 pounds. How is he to be judged? Now stick a gun-toy or real- in his hand, how then is he to be judged?
Now when I listen to the 2nd Amendment crowd I hear these loud overtures to bear arms, I see pictures of guns popularized, affirmed, and even sexualized. What made Tamir Rice’s situation any different? Let’s assume for a moment it was a live hand gun? The 911 caller reported no shots fired. The film demonstrates a boy in the park with a gun. Therefore, what made this situation different? In this national discussion on the right to bear arms in order to protect oneself, individual property, and the possibility of a government encroachment if the 2nd Amendment crowd remains silent on this injustice they have lost moral authority. A cop shot and killed a young boy for simply carrying a gun.
But it is bigger than the 2nd Amendment.
As an African American father with an African American son who is a 6’1’’ 200-pound male, I need to communicate he cannot enjoy his constitutional right to bear arms. The murder of Tamir Rice demonstrates to me I must sit with my son once again and remind him the nation looks at him differently. While people pontificate over the virtues of gun ownership, concealed carry licenses, and open carry to protect themselves from ISIS, I need to tell my son to have no such weapon because “you may be seen as a threat because of your size and be killed by an American!” This is the reality in which I live and I must raise my son to live in as well.
I want my son to succeed in life and flourish. I want him to have greater opportunities than I have If that means telling him never owning a firearm so that his life has the same probability of existence as his counter parts then so be it. I wish desperately others could see life and hear life as we hear it. What I fear though is Tamir will be blamed, statistics on black on black crime will be put forward again, and another life will be implicitly deemed as forgotten.
But Tamir's life like my son's life matters.
Tamir Rice’s black life matters because he is a human being. His life matters because God made him beautiful. It matters because he was playing and pretending to live out his 2nd Amendment right which is supposed to be for all American citizens. His black life matters and he deserves a full hearing in order for justice to be truly served. His life matters because it powerfully reminds me that I must guard my son’s life and let him know he can enjoy nine of the ten amendments as an African American male.
So with all that said, how should we act?
The African American experience from its earliest days was characterized by the Exodus narrative. From the African slaves to the Negros who struggled with Civil Rights, these men and women looked to the events of the Israelite deliverance and found in that historical narrative an experience which expressed hope in a God who hears, an event known as liberation, and a long march to the Promise Land of equality. The African American grounded his or her experiences in song, long groans, prayers, and the expectation that the foreign land in which he or she dwelt would be transformed into a land flowing with milk and honey.
In the middle of the Israelites long journey from the darkness of Egyptian slavery to dwelling in the bright shining light of God’s presence, the nation’s disobedience took them around a mountain. Forty years, God disciplined the people through wanderings in a wilderness and circles around a mountain. Imagine day after day, year after year, seeing the same bush, observing the same landmark, never arriving at the destination you heard so long ago. “Where is this place the prophet spoke of?” “Have we come out here only to die?!” “How many times must we go around this mountain?”
Last Saturday, a young Michael Brown tragically lost his life at the hands of a police officer. I can’t imagine what his parents are experiencing. As a father of a young African American male, I know I would be sad, angry, and full of questions. Beyond that, I can only sympathize with the Brown family and pray that God’s healing grace would envelope them. As with all previous events in which an African American male has been killed by a non-African American, the usual statements begin to erupt that America hates blacks, cops want to kill blacks, so on and so forth. Surely we’ve seen it before. Surely we have heard it again and again. We only see and smell this bush when one of our own is killed by another ethnic group. And strangely, we remain silent (including myself) when there is interracial violence. We will see angst and despair in Ferguson and within two weeks move on.
We will travel around this mountain and never reach our destination.
I debated putting data and citations in this post concerning interracial violence as it relates to African Americans and contrasting those numbers with how many African Americans are killed by cops and non-African Americans. Why? People don’t want to hear objective data right now. A person only wants to read data that confirms his or her presuppositions. What needs to happen is a dissection of our hearts. What happened on the streets of Ferguson and what happens on the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles or here in the last two months in Conway simply reflects one person’s disregard for the life of another. We continue to wander around this mountain, as media promulgates a narrative that seeks to divide ethnic groups. We wander around this mountain, as persons advocate for riots and agitate a sensitive situation. We wander around this mountain, as police play a role in excessive force. We continue to travel around this mountain and we don’t realize we are being hustled by the sinful desires of our own hearts.
The Israelites were hustled by their desires for Egypt, food, drink, and idols. These men and women had tasted the first fruits of deliverance and started what should have been a short journey to the Promise Land. Instead, they complained, rebelled, and made a god of their own liking which contributed to their wandering. African American people I ask, “Are we any different?” We long for and affirm so many things which have been detrimental to our progress. We are angry about the violence of Michael Brown or Trayvon? When will we demand Worldstar HipHop to stop broadcasting our sons and daughters beating one another? We are angry about violence? When will we stop sharing violent videos on Facebook? We are angry about how African Americans are viewed, when will we demand of our own artists to stop portraying themselves as whores and misogynistic pimps? Do we truly regard ourselves as people to be valued?
God has been gracious to us. He gave us a prophet who led us to seize a dream. We have seen many of our people become business owners, professors, Secretaries of State, and yes, the President. At the same time, we have forgotten the Prophet. The singular person whose name characterized our ancestors hope through the long suffering of slavery to the Civil Rights Movement was Jesus Christ himself. When will we stop traveling around this mountain? When we heed his voice “to turn northward” and proceed up to the freedom he has prepared for us.
When we turn northward and follow after him what will we do?
Let’s stop going around this mountain and move northward up the mountain. For on this mountain is a luxurious feast prepared for all people. It is a feast of rich food and rich wine for all to enjoy. It is on the top of this mountain that we have circled around for generations where our sorrow will be wiped away and we will rejoice and be glad in his salvation.
If you live in Conway join me Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at Simon Park and Kris Allen Stage where we will pray for our own city, our citizens, law enforcement, and all authorities.