Tonight, like so many, I saw the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case. Soon, my Facebook page and twitter feed were being filled with emotions and reactions. My jaw clenched as I saw post after post, tweet after tweet. My gut churned as I saw the reality of this verdict come to light through my newsfeed.
And then I noticed something, clear as day. Every person of color posting was reacting to this verdict. And many of the posts from white friends were seemingly oblivious. Vacations and ballgames and tv shows.
Maybe it hits me different these days. Before 2012 I’d never known stood at a graveside for a victim of gun violence, I’d never tossed dirt with the words “ashes to ashes.” Before 2012 these tragedies were just that — tragic. But not personal. And last year, and over the past year, and last week and yesterday whenever I stand in the pulpit and dare speak the word “justice” or proclaim “peace” the pain ricochets through my emotions and the room. For some I know 2012 was the same; the first time a shooting became personal. Friends in Oak Creek and Brookfield. But for many, for so many, for too many, 2012 was like 2011 and 2010. Another victim. Another shooting. The same reality.
So I watched as my friends grieved. I read as anger was posted. Numbness. Discontent. Lack of faith — not in God but in the systems God’s chosen creation — a little less than angels — put in place to mimic divine justice. I felt it — not the same, but not entirely different.
And then vacations. And ballgames. And TV shows.
I do not begrudge my friends who posted these things. Any one of them may have a perfectly good reason why that post appeared in the same moments as the verdict was delivered. But as the pattern emerged — white friend after white friend – I realized this case did not mean the same thing to them.
And there it is: this case does not mean the same thing to all of us.
Yes, many of my white friends shared similar posts and reactions of outrage and pain. And there are cries from all walks of life for “justice” and “peace.” A page for clergy asked how this impacts worship tomorrow. There was honest struggle, many preachers feeling ill prepared to handle this. And some, too many, unwilling to wrestle with the pain, sticking to “preaching the Word, leading the liturgy.” This case does not mean the same thing to all of us.
It should surprise very few of us that the first communication throughout the synod came from Venice Williams. She is a tireless warrior for peace. Yes, warrior. Battle hardened, for sure, but never with a heart hardened. And I thought, of course Venice and the Holy Ground of Alice’s Garden, would already have an event planned that would be able to speak those prophetic words of “justice” and “peace.”
I paused for a minute before writing this to say should I write anything? Have I wrestled with this enough to engage my sisters and brothers in Christ with the pain I feel, the struggle I see? Does the white pastor at the insert descriptive phrase here church have anything to say, anything worth reading?
Of all the things to say, let me be clear about this:
This case does not mean the same thing to all of us.
In someways, this is to be expected. With issues of race and violence, it will never affect me the same way it does for many at All Peoples – no matter where I serve, by whom I stand, which neighborhood I call home. I am a white man and the violence of racism will not hit me as it does people of color.
And in other ways, in significant ways, the case does not mean the same to all of us because it doesn’t have to. Clothed in privilege, this is just another media circus. It can cause us to shake our heads, but if we are white this case is not a reinforcement of how dangerous our country is. It does not challenge our understanding of what words like stand and your and ground mean. It does not force us to question if we should be more afraid of neighborhood watchmen, cops or juries. This case does not mean the same thing to all of us.
חֶֽסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלֹום נָשָֽׁקוּ׃
Psalm 85 tells us, “Mercy and Truth shall meet, Justice and Peace shall kiss.” There is a time both promised and coming where our hopes and desires unite in a perfection beyond ourselves. In that moment the truth of pain and violence and even death — for victims and aggressors — shall be met with mercy. In that moment the union of justice and peace shall be consummated.
But what is justice tonight? What shall we say about justice when we gather in our places of worship, our Bible studies, our fellowship hours? How can there be justice so long as some of us are shielded from injustice? How can we know peace while our sisters and brothers are terrorized?
That moment the psalmist cries out for is not yet here. It is my hope that in places where this struggle need not be named — because it does not mean the same thing — that it be spoken anyway. Because there are places across this country where that hope for justice and peace seems distant. Because there are places within this fellowship of the ELCA where the struggle cannot and will not go unnamed.
Because all of us have sisters and brothers hurting, angry, numb, discontent, losing faith. And tonight, in part because of where I serve and by whom I stand, I am one of those brothers. Hurting and angry, and numb. But tonight I am these things moreover not because of where I serve or by whom I stand but because in Christ we bear one another burdens. And in this, the pain becomes genuinely mine. And by stepping into the crucified places of pain, we can begin to emerge in the resurrected glory of mercy and truth meeting.
Let us not be silent. Let us proclaim a time when justice and peace shall kiss.
“Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” – Ella Baker