"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had." (Romans 15:5)
I feel like I am in some sort of apocalypse movie! Manhattan is boarded up and abandoned. Last week looters, co-mingled with legitimate demonstrators, became a force of terror for the denizens of the city. The elderly are routinely mugged and intimated. The thought of business as usual is a far-fetched dream. Thousands of restaurants are closed; many will not reopen. Many Manhattanites are fleeing the sorrow, illness and confusion of the city. Each day on our block moving vans roll up and still another person leaves. A recent article about NYC pointed out those who have resources can replant themselves, still others embrace the “sea change“ of current social and economic challenges and wait for the day of the city’s renewal, as we do.
Uncertainty seems to be the common denominator, but there is a deeper, often unspoken, concern that permeates the front page story. How do people stand by and do nothing as a man cannot breathe and dies? What happened to our sense of mercy and justice? One man’s tragic death is more than a banner to be raised, a demonstration to be formed, or a riot to be incurred. This is about getting it right. It is about a common man whose life was a struggle, who loved his family, and needlessly was murdered before our eyes.
In the 1960’s, I was involved in the anti-war movement. It meant something to me, and to millions of Americans, that the unjust and quasi-imperialist war had to end. It was a cause--a real effort where millions were coming together to say “Stop.” During college, I had two black roommates for two years. When Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, grief and rage washed over me. I wanted to be helpful as I sat with my friends and asked “what can I do?” Both in tears, they said “B.J. you cannot understand...you are not black.” Maybe that is true today as well. I see the injustice. I want to see people held accountable. It is my hope that I can do more than march or be in solidarity with people of color. But what? Leading up to the 1968 Democratic Convention, our heroes Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were murdered. We marched for change, to get it right, to stop the war. The power brokers at the convention ended our hopes as our favorite candidate Eugene McCarthy was pushed aside for a more mainline candidate. The ensuing demonstrations were being crushed by Mayor Daley’s cops. Demonstrators were bloodied and battered (hey, I was a rugby guy--a couple of stitches seemed normal). We cried out “the whole world is watching.” Indeed the whole world was watching; and a generation later, once again, the whole world is watching.
In the midst of all the confusion of the Chicago convention, I noticed a rather diminutive black guy wearing a clergy collar and holding up a 4-foot wooden cross. As the waves of that crowd ebbed and flowed, he stood untouched as both demonstrators and cops allowed a circle of safety around him. Unmoved with head bowed, he held the cross high and planted himself in the middle of the storm. Speaking not a word, the cross said it all. I was only 23-years-old at the time and still years away from being found by Christ, but I remembered that moment. That cross is locked in my memory.
I don’t have any real answers right now, except to show up and love people who are in your life, and to not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and ask the question: how can we do a better job to work and live together in peace and harmony?
The peace of Christ be with you,