Thinking About Ferguson. . . .

My intent is not to make anyone angry. Rather, I simply want to invite you into my head as I attempt to make some sense out of my very limited and very incomplete knowledge of what’s been happening in Ferguson, MO since August. I’m endeavoring to see Ferguson in the larger context of history. Perhaps most important in seeing Ferguson in the context of history is our need to embed the Ferguson story in the larger story. . . one that goes much further back than U.S. History. . . more specifically, God’s story.

Sadly, I remember seeing this kind of thing in the south

I make no claims to having this all figured out. Rather, I’m treading slowly, carefully, and deliberately in an effort to gain understanding before jumping to conclusions on innocence, guilt, justice, and injustice. . . along with the proper measures of each.

Last night, I watched with deep concern as my TV spewed speculation, opinion, and news in the before, during, and after of the grand jury announcement. I also tracked with social media, knowing that a mix of knowledge, ignorance, wisdom, and foolishness would be flooding the online world. As I write this morning, it’s not at all surprising that the top three trends on Twitter are #Ferguson, Wilson, and #MichaelBrown.

And so as I think out loud, please know that I don’t have this thing all figured out. Not at all. It’s incredibly complex. At this point, here’s what’s running through my head. . . and to my youth worker friends, it’s my hope that these thoughts can contribute to your conversations with your kids. . .

  • Everything in our world is broken. That includes people, institutions, and systems. Like me, Michael Brown was horribly broken. Like me, Officer Wilson is horribly broken. And like me, our justice system is broken. The reality is that this is life in our fallen, post-Genesis 3:6 world. In a broken world we not only wind up battling each other, but we battle our selves. This makes things so incredibly complex. This also makes God’s unfolding story of redemption so incredibly remarkable. Yes, one day it will all be fixed. And while Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God and we are called to seek that Kingdom by doing on earth as it is in Heaven, we must realize that our pursuing of those fixes will never be fully realized in this life. And so, we will have Michael Browns, Officer Wilsons, Fergusons, and me. Still, we have to work relentlessly to bring honor and glory to God in the midst of our brokenness. We don’t sit idly by and wait for things to be fixed. We are called to do the will of God.
  • Our longing for justice points to the fact that we know that the world is broken. It points to the fact that we somehow inherently long for things to be fixed. It points to the fact that eternity is written in our hearts. It points to our need for Jesus.
  • Racism in our culture and world is real. . . very real. As a kid, I remember seeing extreme signs of it during trips to the south. Racism is more real than many of us know. It might even be said that it is too real to some, and not real enough to others. Could it be that both of those extremes are counter-productive, with racism begetting racism?
  • It is foolish to speculate on what went on in that grand jury room. Unless you and I were in that room, we just don’t have any idea what happened. We don’t know the facts as the grand jury knows them. What I hope we can agree on and pursue as we carefully craft our reactions is that facts should inform our emotions, rather than letting our emotions inform the facts. If  we do the former, then our efforts to live Kingdom values will be informed. If we do the latter, it’s only a recipe for more misunderstanding and the resulting destructiveness. Emotions can cloud facts. Easier said than done in the complexity of our brokenness. . . I know.
  • Until we know otherwise, it would be foolish to jump to the conclusion that the justice system in this case was not thorough. Each of us must listen to and weigh the facts while battling our preconceived notions. Otherwise, we will simply be letting our emotions take us wherever they will.
  • Regardless of whether or not the justice system is shown to have worked or to not have worked in this case, we still have the greatest justice system in the world. However, when and if we see it breaking/failing, it needs to be fixed.
  • Sadly, the days of innocent until proven guilty and getting a fair trial are largely behind us in this country, thanks to a news media that functions as the justice system, and social media that does the same. For those of us who are older, we remember the days when the news media would patiently wait to report a verdict without speculation. No, the justice system wasn’t perfect then, but it was given the freedom to do what it was created to do. Now, we all have become judge and jury. I fear for ANYONE who has to be funneled through the system in a high-profile case.
  • We love to hear ourselves talk, don’t we? As I tracked with social media last night it seemed to me that so many people were posting simply to gain attention as participants in the conversation. We have to say something just to be a part of the crowd. Isn’t that what we call “slacktivism”? I prefer to listen to those who have been speaking/acting/doing consistently into this issue for a long, long time.
  • Finally, we need to listen. I am a white man. My experience of life in this country is not the experience of an African-American in this country. While I encountered some of the most blatant evidence of racism during childhood trips through the deep south, they were seen and soon forgotten since we were just passing through. While I knew what I was seeing was not right, I still never had a clue regarding what it was like to live like that under discrimination, oppression, and fear. I need to listen and try to understand. Ed Stetzer has written a good challenge to do so on his blog.

Perhaps today we should all prayerfully bury ourselves in Genesis 1-3, the Gospels, and the last couple of chapters of Revelation. Perhaps we should all take a deep breath, reboot ourselves in the Scriptures, and then move our mouths, hands, and feet in the direction God would have them go.

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