A Response

A response from Hope Brooklyn on the recent violence in this country…

I believe my friend Dan put it so well that I’m quoting him here:

Friends, it's perfectly fine to lament the tragic deaths of people wherever, however they died. When did lamenting the sadness that envelops our world and our relationships require narrow political alignment? Who took away our God-given call to see correctly? Why can't people--especially people of faith--decry violence and injustice in all its forms, wherever it is found? How are we to live in a world, or raise children in a world, in which lamenting what can only be lamented becomes "choosing a side" in an endless, self-perpetuating failure of imagination. Be free, all. Be free and lament for it may be the only way we'll learn to see correctly again.

What’s he saying?

He’s saying that as Christians we are not confined by a broken imagination which is unable to make sense of a world outside of an “us” versus “them” mentality.

He’s saying that if the story of the Murdered God means anything, it surely means that we must mourn and lament violence, racism, and injustice everywhere, especially the violence and racism in ourselves. And that if somehow, our lamenting senseless death and destruction is not allowed, then we do not understand the story of Jesus, then our imagination has been conditioned more by the American narrative—premised on power and fear—than by Christ’s.

Friends, to be a follower of Jesus means that I must first learn all the ways I am broken, I am racist, I am a murderer. The ways my privilege as a white man clouds my vision of the injustices in this nation.

But to be a follower of Jesus is to confess all of these terrible, heinous faults that are lodged into the very marrow of my soul, and yet hear the one I murdered look at me and say, “Your sins are forgiven. You’re free to go and ask forgiveness from those you’ve wronged. You’re free to go and forgive those who have wronged you.”

To be a Christian is to first and foremost learn to beg for forgiveness. [1]

At Hope Brooklyn, this process begins when we come to the table. And all are welcomed to the table.

White and Black and Asian and Latino cops who are maliciously racist. White and Black and Asian and Latino cops who are racist simply because they are American. White and Black and Asian and Latino Americans who are having and raising children and indirectly passing on prejudiced imaginations (that's my category).

White men and women who are learning about the privilege their whiteness affords them in this country. Black men and women who are teaching their white brothers and sisters that “The history of the American Negro is the history of… simply wishing to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American.”[2]

Latino and Asian Americans who are teaching their white and black American brothers and sisters all the ways that silent acts of personal and systemic racism are committed against them and no one speaks out on their behalf.

And at the table, we tell our stories and we mourn.

We mourn that we’re ignorant. We mourn that we’re afraid to speak out. We mourn that we inflict wounds on each other daily through pride or cowardice or fear or malice. We tell our stories, we mourn and then we ask for forgiveness.

And that we ask each other for forgiveness is possible only because we have first learned that we have been forgiven by the One who all have wronged.

And if forgiveness is not some “crude exchange bargain to get on with life,”[3] but is actually the kind of forgiveness we see in the cross of Jesus, then it never ends with lamenting. It starts there.

The forgiveness of the cross means that if we can work to repair a system that privileges one group of people over another, we should. It means that if it’s true that “because white men can’t police their imaginations, black men are dying,”[4] then we should work to amend the narrative that gives rise to this deadly imagination.

For such working names the new creation that we are as “church”. It is a new creation birthed out of the bloody forgiveness of the cross; which “if this whole Christian stuff means anything, surely it means that the Son would rather die on the cross than for the world to be redeemed by violence.”[5]

But it doesn’t mean that if we mourn for the lives of black Americans that we’re not also on the side of the police officers who sacrifice their lives daily to serve and protect.

It’s not mutually exclusive. It’s both/and.

It’s both/and because our God is not exclusive. The gift of His Son is for all.

We are for all. And because we are for all, we say black lives matter. And because we are for all, we say we support our police officers.

And because we are for all, we come to the table and say to you, whoever you are, “tell me your story.” And if I am indicted in your story as a perpetrator of violence against you, as I most likely will be, I will weep and lament and beg that you forgive me.

That is the charge placed upon this people called ‘church’. This is the gift that lament and forgiveness brings. This is the gift of the cross. Such painful and glorious work.

 

[1] “Commentary on Matthew,” Stanley Hauerwas

[2] “The Souls of Black Folk,” WEB Dubois.

[3] “Commentary on Matthew,” Stanley Hauerwas

[4] Claudia Rankine

[5] “Politics of Jesus,” John Howard Yoder. (Via Stanley Hauerwas)