This is for #PhilandoCastile. This is for #AltonSterling. This is for Dallas Officer Brent Thompson and the four other yet-unnamed officers. This is for #FreddieGray and #SandraBland. For the 49 in Orlando. This is for all who’ve been executed by hate and fear.
It’s been a week of the unimaginable. A month of the unimaginable. A year of the unimaginable.
A few harrowing snapshots capture the grief and despair perfectly, tragically:
- Alton Sterling’s fifteen year old son, weeping beyond consolation at the press conference announcing his father’s death at the hands of Lousiana police.
- Philando Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, begging God not to take her boyfriend who had just been shot by an officer. “Please don’t tell me this, Lord. Please, Jesus, don’t tell me that he’s gone.”
- This Dallas officer, finding shelter behind a police SUV just so he can find a safe moment to weep over the carnage that left five of his friends dead at the hands of angry snipers.
Something is seriously wrong.
There’s fresh blood in a parking lot in Baton Rouge that can’t be unspilled. There’s fresh blood in a car in Minnesota and on the Dallas streets.
We rush to blame, to cover, to excuse, to recriminate with so much haste the blood never seems to even have time to dry. Daily, we vilify each other’s politics, religions, identities, and moralities and then marvel why there’s still all this blood in the streets. This is a white problem, and it’s also a black problem. A female problem. A male problem. A straight problem, a gay problem, a Mormon problem, a Muslim problem. Your problem and mine.
This is a spiritual problem.
And it demands a spiritual answer. Good policy, though needed, is insufficient to the task. A broken soul isn’t mended with stitches just as a bleeding wound isn’t stitched through prayer. Our noble aspirations of justice, love, and mercy have been supplanted by our own base instincts toward retribution, anger, and fear. Now, we must rescue our souls from ourselves.
To be clear, I’m not saying the answer to our problems is necessarily the Gospel of Jesus Christ (though, I believe dutiful and thoughtful discipleship to Christ would be sufficient). What we need is to start asking ourselves tough questions. Each of us. No matter our race, creed, or gender. Black Lives Matter, Law Enforcement, Mormons, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats. These tough questions deserve more than our standard, pre-screened, focus group tested talking points. Obama, Trump, the media, religion–we cannot afford to, as T.S. Eliot put it, “be distracted from distraction by distraction.” We cannot distract ourselves with scapegoats that direct our focus away from the more pressing, spiritual problems that threaten our souls and our very lives.
How have we allowed so much anger, acrimony, and recrimination into our hearts? How have we let the genetic ties that bind us as brothers and sisters to sever so thoroughly? When did we stop even trying to be our brother’s keeper?
Why do we reward hate with hate? Why is our first instinct “retribution” rather than “redemption”? When did we decide the benefit of the doubt was a luxury too precious to afford those with whom we disagree?
I don’t know the answers yet. But I swear I’m going to search like my life depends on it. Because it does. And so does yours. What I do know is the answers won’t be easy to accept. They’ll demand humility and require a lot of courage. Just because you go to church every week or read the bible daily or volunteer at a food shelter doesn’t mean this is just those other people’s problem.
* * *
On days as dim as this, on the mornings after barbaric displays of moral cowardice, even the best among us could be excused for despairing over the long odds we face. Evil is pounding loudly at the gates―with battering rams and sharpened swords. What can we possibly do?
I find my answer in the cinematic depiction of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a well-worn letter of encouragement for all who face long odds against unfathomable threats (video below). Theoden, King of Rohan, looks around at his castle, all but totally captured by his enemies who are now a few feet from breaking into the last unmolested hall, and despairs: “The fortress is taken. It is over.” That despair and entirely reasonable sense of utter hopelessness then gives breath to a question we’ve all uttered in our dark moments:
“So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?”
Theoden would have been naive not to despair. The fortress was taken, the women and children were seconds from ruthless and mechanized slaughter. His weary band of battle-bruised soldiers was simply too small to hope for victory against that daunting sea of hateful orcs pounding down the door.
But the answer to Theoden’s question, the one you and I must summon the courage to utter as well, comes from Aragorn:
“Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.”
“For death and glory. ”
“For Rohan. For your people.”
* * *
Victor Hugo asked rhetorically in Les Miserables: “Is there not in every human soul . . . a primitive spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world and immortal in the next, which can be developed by goodness, kindled, lit up and made to radiate, and which evil can never entirely extinguish?”
We cannot afford to let the evil in this world snuff out our spark, that light inside us that is our best (and only) hope of crowding out the darkness that haunts us. Strive with me. Ask the hard questions, put in the tough work of change and repentance. And then, by God, do not let The Strivers be silenced by a daunting sea of emboldened hate. Let this be the hour we draw swords together—with courage enough to risk it all for a better, higher way to live and to treat people.
Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.