[excerpted from a status update on my Facebook profile, Monday, September 19, 2016]
“The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the pavement.” Gen 4:10
“Mourn with those who mourn.” Rom 12:15
We are narrative creatures. We resonate most strongly with stories. The facts we receive and deliberate about fit into a space–or spaces–in the story/stories which resonate the strongest with us. When I hear about a black man being gunned down by the police, I respond in ways that are responsible to the stories that I resonate with, as well as those which I have heard that resonate with others whom I love, and also those that resonate with the people associated with the people I know and those that I love.
I know the story of black people in America. I have read and studied it, but most importantly, it has been told to me by others. In their voices, I’ve heard anger, pain, frustration, displacement–but I’ve also heard laughter, strength and resilience, a righteous self-love-and determination, and hope. I respond with anger and frustration at the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers because the story of a people has become my story. I am in their story now.
I also know and have studied the story of Anglo Americans. I have read and studied it, but most importantly, it has been told to me by others. I have heard pride and a sense of appreciation for their storied past, a family pride for their accomplishments throughout history, a deep creativity and work ethic–but also an anxiety, a sense of loss of identity, defensiveness, a feeling of being attacked, and disenfanchisement. When I hear the call to protect police officers’ lives, to advocate for the good cops, I understand where these sentiments come from, because I live in this story as well. What I have learned is that to know, be a part of, and understand both stories is not mutually exclusive, that to empathize with one is not to exclude/deride the other. Each story enhances my (in the words of a resident of mine) eternal perspective. It is from being a part of each story that I can empathize.
Terence Crutcher was shot and killed by the police in Tulsa, OK, on Friday evening. I have waited to respond because I wanted to weigh my words carefully. Gen 4:10 comes to mind as I think about the story of black people in America particularly, and the chapter and page number in which this brother’s life came to an end. It is a long, painful story of loss, but also a story of rugged and sweet faith. Despite their resilience, their struggle today is still a deep one; Crutcher’s life continues an index of names that have been snatched away by white supremacy, stillborn in a world of anti-blackness, de/sub-humanization, and death. When I see his death, I recall the pages in the story which I have read and heard, I remember the faces writhing at the loss of a loved one. In this way, Rom 12:15 resounds: “mourn with those who mourn.”
At a time such as this, those who follow Christ must mourn with those who mourn.
We, however, have been taught, and are being taught not to mourn, but to be “sicut Deus,” “like God.” To be “infallible,” “impassible”–come what may, we will not be moved, not by life or by death. In this way, however, we are not like God, but are like Cain. God was numbered among the transgressors, sat in the house of sinners, is a shepherd to his sheep who wander without guidance and instruction, crowned with the oil of joy. Jesus Christ came to show us how to be human: “Jesus wept.” What does it mean to mourn? To weep? It means to enter into a story, to be a part of a people, starting on the outskirts, on the margins, and being humble and teachable, patiently waiting to enter closer and closer to the middle. What does it mean to mourn? To weep? It means to love the people who Jesus loves. The people who Jesus loved caused people to ask, “Why do you eat with sinners?” Why do you eat with people who support Black Lives Matter? Why do you eat with Blue Lives Matter folk? Why do you eat with Trump supporters? Why do you eat with Hillary people? Or with NRA ideologues? Or Racists? Or Liberals? Or Fundamentalists? Or LGBTQ? Why, Lord, do you sit with them?
Let us remember that Jesus also sits with us, and many wonder why. But neither death nor life, the present or the future, neither Black Lives Matter nor Donald Trump, neither white supremacy nor patriarchy, nor any power, principality, ideology, can separate us or the people that are not in the “us” from Christ’s love. What does it mean to mourn with Terence Crutcher’s family? To weep with them? It means to love the people who Jesus loves. What does it mean to pray for the officer(s) who shot Terence? To place vengeance in God’s hands? It means to love the people who Jesus loves.