Friday, August 29, 2014

Finding the grace of God in Ferguson, Missouri

Harmon Smith, emeritus professor of theological ethics at Duke University, once told me to seek the grace of God in all things. That simple directive has gone a long way in shaping the way I approach theodicy – the presence of evil in this broken world.

It’s safe to say that few have inspired me more than Smith.  His love for me, coupled with his passion for the Church, have significantly impacted the way I think about God beyond the madness that I write about, and attempt to eradicate through my teaching and preaching.

It has been difficult to locate grace lately.  The misfortune that launched Ferguson, Missouri into the national spotlight reminds me of the massive layers of dysfunction that challenges us in communicating a consistent message.  Smith’s teaching compels me to articulate in a way that leaves those who listen with a pronounced awareness of the function of the Church within the chaos.

My personal skirmish is partially related to the glaring illogicality that smears both the image and message of the Church.  The call for peace is mired by the presence of extreme evil that is grounded in tons of historical dung.  The doctrine of the Church calls for nonviolent resistance. 

Our call for peace must be juxtaposed within the context of enduring pain.  How do we defy the broken not to fight back?  What are the implications related to measuring their defiance as counter intuitive to the teaching of our faith?  What are the conclusions elevated from our assumptions, and how do these claims impact the spirituality of those devoid of a place to be heard?

Central to my theology is the notion that resistance is an ethical decision.  This presupposition allows broader space for the terming of valid resistance.  It is assumed that resistance is a justifiable action when nations are confronted with evil opposition.  It’s deemed ethical to go to war against the enemy of our national agenda. 

Our theology and ethics compels us to measure our views from the context of patriotism. We should be careful not to merge a national agenda with a Christian ethic.  With that being said, conversations involving domestic resistance should be measured from the milieu of our assumptions related to national resistance.

The argument opposing black rage, as a justifiable ethical decision, controverts the assumption of national privilege.  This is not a new argument, but one that has impacted black resistance dating back to slavery.  When is it appropriate for a segment of American citizenry to battle systems that enforce their subjugation? 

What terns do we use to translate meaning of the rage that leads to resistance?  Is it ethical to demean and dismiss the integrity of those willing to die to end such tyranny?  Should we assume that all forms of resistance are fixed within the context of deviant thinking that demands force to restrain?

This is how Smith simple message helps me.  Where is the grace of God in all of this?

We can begin by questioning the ethics related to our judgment of resistance.  Rather than questioning the morality of this form of resistance, the ethics that molds our faith demands that we consider the pain that stirs the rage.

So, where is the grace of God in all of this?

It shows up in two ways. The first involves the construction of a radial street ethic. The pain in the streets has resulted in the unification of forces once in opposition.  Street gangs have decided to work together.  They have stood together in protest.  They now fight against their common enemy – the police. Their act of deviance can be used to begin conversations about restoring what has been lost.

During their resistance, the tension elevated so high that many were willing to die for their cause.  This is the second place where the grace of God shows up.  It shows up in the reconstruction of sacred space.

“I might as well fight back, since you gonna kill us anyway,” onlookers heard someone yell as tear gas filled the air.

They were willing to die.  It’s an important subtext that gets lost in the moralizing related to the form of resistance.  As gang members fought back, they stood beside those wearing the colors of competitive gangs.  They embrace a new battle.  No longer was the enemy a Blood or Crip, but those fighting against a perceived common enemy.

Then it happened.  In the crowd were others watching the escalation of rage.  They heard the cries for death. Then it happened.

The others formed a wall to protect them from their wish.  They - ministers, residents, men and women  tired of watching young men cry - formed a wall to save them from death.

This is the grace within the chaos.  This is the message of hope.  It’s found in the pain of those unwilling to live another day.  The grace is in what we hear.  When we listen to them give up on life, we show up.  When they no longer care about the hope in the coming of a new day, we build a wall to protect them.

This is the grace of God. This is where a new community emergence from the valley of dried bones.

We hear you.  We got you in this.  Get behind us now.  We’ve seen enough of your pain.

This is the grace of God.

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