It’s almost too risky to join the chorus of reactions in the wake of the Zimmerman trial. It seems everyone has an opinion–most strongly held and some volatile.
Some voices loudly declare justice has been thwarted. Some other voices quietly doubt the injustice is as great as claimed. These latter voices tend not to speak up for fear of being labeled and harangued. Christian voices make excellent appeals to Scripture, to forgiveness, prayer and a host of other spiritual virtues–all of which can sound hollow to unsatisfied viewers hungering for justice, for a verdict that seems to affirm Black life and exonerates the country of its racist past.
Words fail us. World-renown columnist Nicholas Kristoff tweeted pictures in place of prose:
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) July 14, 2013
I suppose it’s twitter’s version of that powerfully moving closing argument in “A Time to Kill.”
President Obama offered prose instead of policy:
The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.
Charges of racism are met with quick agreement or stony fatigue. Calls for peace get met with skeptical stare and suspicion. Calls for action get met with anger and apathy. Calls to empathy are met with hardened face. It’s a situation that defies an easy match of feeling and action. It’s a situation where feeling becomes an act–and for some an end–in itself.
But We Need More Than Feeling
We cannot do less than feel. But somehow in our corner of the world we’ve got to do more than feel. We cannot do everything, but we must not do nothing. But what?
I shouldn’t write this post because I don’t have any more answers than you. I have as many questions as you. I’m likely as suspicious as you–suspicious of the verdict, suspicious of a system that seems to miss the obvious, suspicious of the obvious, suspicious of race and class and geography and how they conspire to create situations like this, suspicious of my own heart–but not nearly enough. So what to do?
I’m thinking of several things for my own soul’s sake. I’d be happy to hear what you’re planning to do, how this might make things different for you.
1. I’m going to play with my son.
I neglect this too much. And I know how deeply broken I would be if I expected him to come home from the store or the basketball court or a ride with his mother only to open the door to uniformed policemen telling me he had been killed. The words would be an atomic bomb in my ears and heart, its blast radius multiplied by the many moments I missed with him. It’s not that I feel more vulnerable or that I fear more for him in the wake of Martin and Zimmerman. I don’t. It’s that I’m aware of how precious he is and how precious little time we have in this life. It’s also time I realized how precious his little friends are and played with them, too. Some have dads. Some don’t. All can use one more arm around their shoulders. So, first, I’m going to play with my son and his friends.
2. I’m going to remember 1950.
It could just as easily be 1940 or 1850. But I’m going to pick a year not that long ago and remember what it was like for African Americans and White Americans then. In 1950 there would not likely have been a Zimmerman trial. In 1950 there might not have been an opportunity for Trayvon’s family to bring suit or seek justice. In 1950 Martin wouldn’t have been able to walk as freely in a White downtown area or neighborhood, and his parents would not have been free to move in those areas either. In 1950 there would have been zero media coverage. And though you can’t tell it by the widespread public reactions in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, in 1950 there would have been no outcry or protest. Most likely deflated Martin supporters would have only been able to huddle with their grief in very quiet homes or church services filled with muffled sobs and primordial groans of “How long, O Lord?”. I’m going to remember 1950 because we couldn’t vote, assemble without repercussion, or tell a White person to their faces what we thought without being another Trayvon. In 1950, many (most?) Whites would have hardly noticed Martin’s death. Many might even have co-signed his death with a “Serves him right” or “He shoulda kept his place” or “He shouldn’t have sassed a White man.” I’m going to remember 1950 because while Whites were suckled on the breast of racism then, it’s not the same now. I’m going to remember 1950 because we–African Americans and America as a country–have traveled an incredible distance. I need 1950 to help me with the distance left to travel and to help me with my perspective.
3. I’m going to finally commit myself to a Quixotic quest to rid the world of “race” as a category of human identity.
I’ve been avoiding this… all the while knowing its inevitability. I’ll be jousting one of the largest and longest operating windmills in human history. To mix metaphors, I’ll be spitting in the wind–especially as so many right now have recommitted themselves to the seeming reality of “race.” I suspect I’ll be largely alone. And I suspect that any Whites who join this cause will make the cause suspect in the eyes of angry racialists, and any African-Americans or ethnic minorities who join will draw the ire of the same. But what does my Bible tell me? And how does our fixation on “race” square with its pages? “From one man God made every nation (ethnicity) of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth…” (Acts 17:26). African-American fathers and mothers valiantly used that same passage to fight for the full humanity of both African Americans and every White people in this country. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “race,” a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of race-based theory, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “race” from ethnicity and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling class, privilege, and cowardice. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current categories they can’t imagine life differently. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view skin the way we do, most of us are already misunderstood. I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding.
4. I’m going to pray and preach.
It’s what I currently do. It’s what I can do. The airwaves will be filled with proposals and solutions. Some will be good. Some won’t work. I applaud them all and say, “Let a 1,000 flowers bloom!” But I can pray. And I have the privilege of preaching. And I believe those are the two most powerful weapons in the world. I believe God hears my prayers in Christ. I believe he makes my words powerful when I preach Christ. I believe mountains get moved, hearts get changed, hands are put to work, and heaven comes down again when I pray and when I preach. I’m so weak. I’m so foolish. I’m so limited. But God is not. The Lord is so strong. The Lord is all-wise. The Lord is unlimited, unstoppable, unshakable, unchanging, and un-anything else that might be a human handicap. So I’m going to God. Not as a means of escape or simply to lament and mourn. Lamentation and mourning have their place. I’m going to God because He is God. He can fix it. He does all things well. He is great. He reigns. And He will do all what I can’t. He’ll even do what I can do far better than if I did it in my own wisdom or strength. Actually, apart from Him I can do nothing. Apart from Him I don’t want to do anything. In fact, I don’t want to be apart from Him. So with faith and desire I’m going to God in prayer and gospel preaching.
No doubt there are better plans. Certainly there are folks with stronger feelings and louder voices. But this is what I can do living on a Caribbean island and looking for the coming consummation of the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns. Because He is coming, I’m hopeful.