There is a sentence later in these thoughts that will be hard to read. It has heavy, shocking words that our minds might initially reject because 1) we can’t imagine the problem is as horrific as the stories being told and 2) we might feel the words are pointing right at us and accusing us. But stay with me for a few more sentences. Maybe we feel accused and can’t imagine because we have never been proximate to the stories we are hearing or the people crying out for justice and change. Maybe we don’t know what we don’t know. But, the Black community is trying to help us know.
It’s like the story of the Good Samaritan. As he traveled along a common trade route known for perilous bends in the road where travelers were vulnerable to attack, he wasn’t expecting to come upon a man beaten half to death. He did nothing to cause the man harm. He didn’t know him, but the Samaritan did recognize that this victim one was from the community he had been taught not to trust.
The Samaritan may have never been this close to someone so different from him in belief and life experience. He may have thought that any other day in a different situation, they would avoid each other altogether and not wade into the differences. But this day, if he doesn’t wade into the deep end of their differences, the wounded man will die.
So he wades in. He crosses the road. He chooses to get close and get involved. It requires him to talk to the man and offer words of comfort. He realizes the victim needs more than just a few minutes of a stranger taking note of his injuries on his way to somewhere else. The Samaritan must change his plans. His priorities have to shift. His well-organized life and structure have been interrupted by the intentional harm and abuse inflicted by someone who came before him. But if he passes by, he becomes a part of the harm and abuse. He must use his resources to get the man medical help and give him safe space for restoration to health and flourishing. He must see the victim as his neighbor–someone who matters to God, and who matters to him.
Now here come the sentences I warned might be hard to read: Over the past several weeks, we have heard a litany of stories emerging where Black men and women have lost their lives at the hands of White individuals who abused their authority & position with stunning brutality. In all these cases, the person in authority was also a law enforcement officer or had strong connections to law enforcement. Just to read this may feel like one group is being pitted against each other. But please don’t shy away from the discomfort.
That discomfort is knowing deep down that something is very broken in our communities. Our nation is waking up to a pattern of abuse and injustice by individuals misusing the power entrusted to them and by old systems built to oppress that still perpetuate obstacles to the Black community. If that truth sounds foreign, it’s because many of us have never experienced or been close to such a reality. But even if we haven’t seen it ourselves, the undeniable stories must be heard and finally recognized.
You may say, “I have not done anything intentional to harm the Black community.” You may argue that we can’t live in the past, slavery isn’t a construct anymore. You may feel like the challenging words on tv and at rallies are directed right at you and now you are on the defensive. But the Good Samaritan teaches us that the first two individuals who came upon the wounded man passed by. They were not willing to find out more and really understand what happened to the victim. They were not willing to give up their priorities in order to get proximate. The place and privilege they enjoyed was their excuse for not offering compassion. They didn’t think they owed the stranger anything. It wasn’t a problem they created. And since they weren’t there, maybe this man brought it upon himself…
The question asked by the story of the Good Samaritan is “Will I be a neighbor?” Will I wade in as God nudges me to? Will I cross the road of indifference and distance to be close and proximate before I dismiss it as “not my problem?” Am I willing to have hard conversations and listen so I understand how we got to this place and how it has left so many lying on the side of the road without hope of change and healing? Will I give more than just a few minutes of taking note of the situation before going on my way and putting the uncomfortable images out of mind? Will I change my plans and give up privileges I enjoy for no other reason than the color of my skin so that someone who needs what I easily enjoy can flourish? Will I work alongside others who can help to set things right so these violent tragedies and repeating oppressions no longer have systematic oxygen to keep fires of injustice burning? Will I realize, that if I just pass by this moment in our history and do nothing, if I don’t try to get closer and understand and do something– anything, I become a part of the harm and abuse?
Will I cross the road and move closer to them to see what needs to be done so that no one else dies? Do I understand that justice is so much more than payment for wrongdoing? It is giving what is needed to restore people to each other in right relationship. Will I take this sacred opportunity to be a neighbor so that the people crying out for justice know their lives indeed matter to me?