Monday, August 18, 2014

#DONTSHOOT and Other Strategies to Stand with Ferguson

The previous post I made to my blog had everything to do with grappling with the Darkness inside of each of us. But now I'm grappling with what to do about the Darkness in the world around us. Sometimes it feels like we're being hemmed in on all sides and, like I said before, sometimes I'm sure that it's going to overwhelm us. I've certainly been worrying about overwhelming Darkness over the past week.

To be less abstract, Michael Brown was gunned down by a police office in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. As I understand the story, Mike was walking home when he was shot dead, even though he was unarmed, his hands were up and he was trying to tell the office as much. There are plenty of voices on all sides of this issue, but the way I perceive it, Mike's only crime was the color of his skin.

So what are we going to do about that? What am I, as a person of faith, supposed to do when I know that this injustice is going on? When I know of so many injustices throughout my society and in other societies across the world? As I said, sometimes it seems as if the Darkness is threatening to swallow everything up... but I know that I can take a stand.
I know that I can take a stand and be in solidarity with the people at the heart of the injustice. After all, if you can't go to the place where the marching is going on, then you can show your support through the miracle of modern telecommunication.



Some of you (perhaps all of you) will recognize this picture. I had heard about and seen some of the #DONTSHOOT pictures, but the first time I saw this one that started the whole movement was in this article on the Washington Post. The journalist was able to interview Khalil Saadiq, a student at Howard University and from whose Instragram account the above picture was embedded (I found Khalil's remarks very fascinating and observant and I suggest you give them a read). The picture is very effective in what it seeks to do. It calls the issue. Sometimes it's not a matter of what someone does or does not have in their hands; sometimes it is not a matter of what someone is or is not saying or doing. Sometimes it only matters what a person looks like that determines whether or not they are a target. If you don't believe me, please resort to the sarcasm of The Onion and tell me whether or not you see what I mean.

Knowing all this about who can become a target and what it means to stand in solidarity with the victims of violence and oppression, my friend Aaron called on me to organize my faith community to take our own #DONTSHOOT picture, like the one from Howard University and post it online. And I was really gung-ho to do it. 

I was enthusiastic to do it because it was something tangible. It was something I could do here in Minnesota, even though I couldn't travel to Missouri to march and protest with the people there. It would have been a sure sign of solidarity. It also turned out that the right way to go about organizing people at my church would have involved gaining the approval of the rector (priest-in-charge) and the vestry (elected parish council). I have no doubt that they would have approved a timely picture this past Sunday while everyone was there at church, but unfortunately I had two days to prepare and that is far too little time for such a measure at a church. 

So that meant that over the weekend I found myself back at square one, trying to figure out what I can do when faced with a situation like the one in Ferguson, Missouri.

Well, my religion would say 'look to the example of Christ.' And as providence would have it, the Gospel story for Sunday portrayed Jesus in a way that had everything to do with Ferguson.

The story was the one in which Jesus first was teaching about what was and was not a means to ritual cleanliness ("It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles"). He was really going after the Pharisees, telling them that their self-righteous attitude was not the way to go about things. Which, of course, got him into trouble (as per usual). But then, in the next paragraph, Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman and delivers his "it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs" line that preachers groan over. It's not exactly the kind of thing we want to hear from the Savior of the world although it does prove, case in point, the "fully human, fully divine" christology.

To be clear, the Canaanite woman was breaking all kinds of customs and expectations and she knew full well that she was doing it. She was a Gentile, a non-Jew, speaking to a Jewish man. Moreover, she was a woman speaking to a man. Harshly and directly, at that. And she was asking for the healing of her daughter. It was a cry for mercy and justice directed at someone she believed could help. Which is what strikes me about the people of Ferguson, Missouri. They've been crying for mercy and justice because of the things being done to their children. But what does Jesus do with the Canaanite woman at first? He brushes her off and the disciples want her to go away. And if the story stopped there, I do not think that I would have anything to write about the protests in Ferguson.

As I mentioned before, this is a story in which to emphasize the "fully human, fully divine" nature of Christ. He's tired, I'm certain that he was hungry and I think he had a clear sense of what he did and did not want to to do in the time and place of the story. Being bothered by this woman who is in no way, shape, or form a member of his group was not on his to-do list that day. So let's go ahead and name that. It was his cultural bias. Just like the cultural bias against the Black minority citizens in Ferguson by the white-dominated police force.

So what are we to do?

Well, the Canaanite woman gets the better of Christ; when he insults her as a dog, she retorts with "even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table." She got Jesus' attention and refused to be ignored, just as the community in Ferguson is refusing to be ignored and suffer injustices. Jesus had the humility to recognize what he had said to the Canaanite woman and he healed her daughter. So as a part of the white majority, what part do I have the opportunity to play in the healing of Ferguson? In the healing of our nation? How can I help to heal the world?

POSTSCRIPT:
So not to totally ruin the end of this post, but I do want to provide a couple of links to bloggers and preachers who I totally think are better at this than me. I have begun to see that there are many things that can be done to help the healing process, starting with...
"12 things white people can do now because Ferguson" by Janee Woods on Quartz.com (for the record, I guess I have #9 down pat... I'm working on #8 and #6)

Please see also:
"A sermon on Ferguson, Robin Williams and the Canaanite woman" by the Rev. Erik Parker on his blog The Millennial Pastor
"Faithful and Angry" by the Rev. Megan Castellan on her blog Red Shoes, Funny Shirt
"Sermon for Proper 15, Year A" preached by the Rev. Janet MacNally at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church