This week has been filled with tragedy, the most recent being Thursday night’s ambush of Dallas Police officers protecting the participants of a Black Lives Matter protest. At this time, 5 officers have been killed and 11 injured in the worst attack on law enforcement since 9/11.
My heart breaks for so many involved in these troubling times. I grieve with friends, colleagues, and loved ones who are black have been so patient with me over the years. See, I grew up in an environment that proudly waved confederate flags and referred to minorities by their first name – only after inserting a “title” containing a slur. Some of my earliest memories of interacting with African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and even Native Americans involved learning terms like, nigger, spook, coon, spick, wet-back, chinc, slant, gook, and in’jun. It wasn’t until friendships were formed with “those people” that my prejudices were challenged and changed. It was long and hard work that involved a great deal of me shutting my mouth unless it was to ask a question, listening, learning, and seeking to understand the stories of these folks as individuals and as a people. In doing so, I learned how many areas of daily life are points of caution, contention, and even confrontation to them while being non-issues to me in my white skin.
None of this was to make me feel guilty. Guilt motivates one to little more than a self-serving act that removes the feeling, but does little to actually produce change. No, the stories of these friends was shared to make me aware of my responsibility. My responsibility as a member of a privileged part of the population to speak up and speak out in support of equality, dignity, and justice for the multi-ethnic members of our singular human race. This has required much of me. I can not only speak of change, I must act in ways that demonstrate change.
I also grew up around first responders. My dad was a firefighter, so those guys were like a group of second fathers to me. Since the police and fire stations were next door to one another in those days, I knew most of the officers. My childhood best friend’s brother was (and still is) a cop, and that same best friend grew up to become a cop himself. I saw these men and women risk it all to serve, protect, rescue, and help members of the community; even those I had been conditioned to despise. Fast forward a couple decades and once again, I’m very close with folks from the military, fire/rescue, and law enforcement. I’ve prayed at the commissioning of military officers, police academy graduates, and led invocations at memorials for fallen soldiers and police officers. As one of my closest friends and active police officer wrote this morning, “The police are the last line between good and evil (thin blue line).” I am grateful for and supportive of the men and women who put their lives on that thin blue line everyday to protect each of us, and I grieve with those who have lost brothers and sisters in blue.
However, I can see and understand that there is a need for serious evaluation and change in aspects of law enforcement regarding their connection to, relationship with, and performance of their responsibilities toward the African-American community. There are simply too many complaints, cases, and confirmations of interactions between law enforcement entities (police, prisons, judicial systems) and African Americans that have resulted in oppression and tragedy.
So here they are. Real people with stories, concerns, responsibilities, and most of all, common humanity. But something has gone very wrong, resulting in the violence we have seen. There are very real points of concern, tension, misunderstanding, and even malice among these folks. The way forward is not with political spin, not with premature speculation, not with misinformed blame, not with useless guilt, and for God’s sake, not with vindictive violence.
As the news was breaking, I wrote a single question in my Facebook status, “How long, O Lord?” It’s a question of lament. A question that calls for change.
Indeed, things must change.
Some advocate for change.
Some will lobby for change.
Some will demand change.
Some will campaign for change.
Some will protest for change.
Many will pray for change … in other people; in THEM.
And we will expect that change to take place … in other people; in THEM.
That kind of change won’t happen. Why?
Until I addressed my own racism, privilege, ignorance, and participation in the problem did God begin to answer my prayers for change. Not until we stop looking through the window at others and look in the mirror at ourselves is change possible.
We will see change not when we merely talk, advocate, lobby, demand, or offer prayers that others change. Only when we take responsibility to embody the changes we seek will anything actually change.
Change must be done. Like justice, mercy, and love, change is an act of the will. It is a decision – an action. I must be and do differently. Is there a prayerful plan of action for that? There is, but I wonder who is serious enough about change to pray it for this will be the most dangerous, uncomfortable, sacrificial, liberating, and effective prayer you will ever pray – because it is answered in your being and doing it.
This is a prayer that can turn red and blue voters to purple, bring gun lobbyists from both sides to the same table, bring black lives matter and blue lives matter to solutions that matter, and bring together diverse perspectives under the unifying hope of peace and common good.
But do we really want to be the embodiment of this prayer? The answer to that question is what will determine where we go from here.
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.” – St. Francis of Assisi
Dare to BE this prayer.