I don’t know when it happened. I can’t get my head around why there are so many people who have so much energy to talk yet such an anemia of action. It is a very uncomfortable position to place oneself in what could bring opposition from a variety of persons.
Maybe its social media. Everything comes at us one hundred miles an hour. One moment a man is shot by a policewoman. In another moment a president with Nobel in hand drone strikes people. In another moment children are being escorted to centers apart from their parents. While another president drops a MOAB on a already turbulent land. As soon as we get outraged about one event, here comes another. Dang it Nike! We return to business as usual.
Maybe we like our comforts. You know business as usual. Selfies. Trips to some resort getaway. Getting all emotional because Cardi-B and Nicki Minaj had blows. We swoon over a Kardashian’s lifestyle and our desire to be part of the rich and famous.
Outrage. Pontification. Normalcy.
Outrage. Pontification. Normalcy.
Maybe outrage is simply a cathartic opportunity to feel as if we care. I mean surely we don’t “want to be on the wrong side of history.” I can’t look like a bigot or a sympathetic nationalist. I pick up my phone. I get on my computer. With furor and anger. With some sense of moral standard and justice, I have to get my thought out there into the universe. I have to say something to show I care. It is the two-hundred and eighty characters who I will employ with my moral outrage to express my shock, put my opposition in a corner, and anxiously await the glorious sound of affirmation.
Now I can go back to my comfort because I have maintained my distance from the Jericho Road.
Looking back on the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, there were many well meaning Caucasian brothers and sisters who wanted to see changes in the society. In the North, there were well meaning persons who rejected segregation and racism. There were those, yes even in the South, who wanted to progress out of the dehumanizing posture towards Black Americans. Inspirational in words. They were outraged about the treatment of courageous young persons facing dogs, hoses, and Sunday school teaching resistance. Yet the level of activism resided in words and lacked any strength to be present, participate, and if needed, have their reputations perish for a greater cause, the cause of justice. Many simply did not want to give up a way of life which was normal. “Life seemed unrecognizable to many white Southerners. Confronted with a reality they had barely contemplated, some whites retaliated with any weapons at their disposal. Others attempted to avoid the upheaval; they tried to maintain cherished ways of life even as the ground shifted beneath their feet. In the end, evasion proved impossible” (Sokol, 64).
History illustrates a point. One can be outraged about the treatment of others or the trajectory of our country, yet in the same experience, we can choose not to act because of the implied changes which would happen to us, our context, and most importantly those we are advocating for in words.
Outrage and intellectual activism which remains in our social media silos or silently discussed around our white chocolate mochas and expensive MacBooks are ineffective knives to cut the chords of injustice.
James Brown opened a song with the following words:
Like a dull knife
Just ain't cutting
Just talking loud
Then saying nothing
Don't tell me
How to do my thing
When you can't, can't
Can't do your own*
The Godfather of Soul has some good instruction for all of us. Outrage and intellectual activism without actions which puts us in the middle of the injustice are ineffective knives. The very design of a knife is have and maintain a sharpness which is then capable of cutting through some object. The knife for a period of time becomes part of the object until it separates the object from whatever it maybe attached. If we would be honest many of us are simply dull knives, creating a lot of noise, fostering incivility, and not willing to offer substantial change.
If you are not moved by James Brown, I would encourage you to hear the voice of a woman. Esther was a Queen who took outrage and words over the treatment of people she identified with, choosing to disrupt normalcy for the sake of justice. In her actions, she went unannounced into the throne room of the King.
Outraged about the impending injustice to kill Jewish people.
Intellectual activism in her discussion with her uncle Mordecai, “I will go to the the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
Action knowing the threat of death, “And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand” (Esther 5:2).
James Brown and Esther still speaks today. We can be men and women who act justly. Yes it means being outraged and discussing the injustice. Yet these two must be accompanied by actions because injustice is tied to people. People whose lives, potentiality, and capability are interrupted by some form of individual or societal injustice. When outrage, intellectual thought, and loving action work together, the chords of injustice are severed and people can move freely.
“Words from James Brown’s Talking Loud and Saying Nothing”
Sokol, Jason, (2007). “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners In the Age of Civil Rights 1945-1975.” Vintage Press.
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?
We are gathered here today to celebrate our common dignity as human beings. We are on a journey together which culminates with us standing in the revelation and full glory of the One who gives all humankind dignity and worth. This is a journey and a truth which was penned powerfully in one of the world's most poignant documents. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Look among us today. While these words, when originally penned, applied only to a certain demographic of persons in practice, today we see a host of different faces, from different backgrounds, and different life experiences who now realize they too have the God given right to live and love as human beings. Yet no where is this more difficult than when we need to stand with someone who is not like us. When we see the suffering of the "other," I submit to you today we must run on the road of life and stand with men, women, and children who are different than us ethnically, economically, nationally, or socially. In doing so we are ushering in a vision of "Neighborly Love."
So who is my neighbor? Every man, woman, and child who is different than me.
"Who is your neighbor Conway resident?"
There was a certain man who traveled down the 40 Freeway towards Little Rock. On his way, several criminals attacked, stole his goods, and left him in the construction area. Some hours passed and a politician passed on the other side. A traditional family saw the man and chose to continue to Wild River Country. Finally, a person (transgender, illegal immigrant, Muslim, Conservative, Progressive, or home schooler) stopped and helped the man. His wounds were bandaged and he was taken to Conway Regional.
At the hospital the stranger gave a card to the doctor and said, "Make sure his bill is put on my account. Make sure he arrives home."
Which of the three was a neighbor to the injured person?
Now this story maybe familiar to some and new to others.
There are cultures, languages, beliefs, behaviors, economics, and ethnicities which divide us within our city. The issue in the Good Samaritan story was a professional person devaluing another individual on the basis of his "otherness" instead of valuing every person because every person is created in the image and likeness of God. How can I go about loving someone who votes different than me, looks different than me, or believes different than me?
There is a concept in South Africa which can help us through our journey of loving our neighbor. It is the concept of "Ubuntu." Everyone said this with me, "Ubuntu. Ubuntu." What is ubuntu? It is the concept one human being should demonstrate humanity to another. Why? There is the belief there is a universal thread which connects all of us. Because of this interrelatedness and because there is this indestructible and powerful dignity which resides in all of us and transcends all of our racial, economic, and social barriers, we have the opportunity to pause on our human journey to stand with someone else.
I can look at my White brother who is suffering and say because he is a human being I will help him. My White sisters can hear the pain of a Black woman who is grieving over the resurgence of a symbol of age old segregation and slavery, and say because she is a human being I will grieve with her. I can look at my Latino brothers who have not arrived here legally enter into the suffering of a White brother who has lost his home and say because he is a human being I will help him. This is the interrelatedness of life. This is ubuntu. I love you and you love me because we are universally tied together by the eternal dignity conferred on us by God.
So we are on a journey. A journey in which we should all stand with one another. It is a journey in which all human beings should experience what life, liberty, and happiness means in their context. We are neighbors who are to demonstrate mercy, love kindness, and walk humbly in the light of Him who has made us powerful, majestic, creative, and above all given us the capacity to love.
Copyright Arrowmakers 2019