Saturday, July 9, 2016


There are words and chants and articles and feelings flying around this week in America and in my community here in Minnesota. Police shot black men for rumors of weapons that, by video accounts, appear to be still in pockets. Snipers shot police officers for a system that cannot be cured with bullets. Tensions are high. Emotions are sharp and pointy and fragile.

The vigils and protests in my neck of the woods have been largely peaceful and unifying. People are standing together to cry and listen and prophecy. A 32 year old St. Paul man is being remembered for his gifts, strengths, and relationships. His life is being called worthy, but only after he was shot dead in his car while a four year old girl watched from the backseat. Lord, have mercy. We are failing her and her whole generation.

With every black life lost to police violence and racial injustice, a few are hard at work finding fault with the victim. Criminal records. Domestic abuse. Gang affiliation. Addiction. Unpaid parking tickets. Down to the acne and hangnails!  When specks and logs are discovered, they are paraded as justifiable cause, as proof that his behavior and identity were unworthy of life and dignity, respect, and basic human rights. (All while we reported rapist Brock Turner's swim times, charm, and Olympic potential I might add.) This pattern is fuel for a system and society hell bent on making sure white people like me can sleep at night. Those articles and arguments try to remind me of a great and permeating lie that has powered the quiet hum of my ease and privilege for nearly 35 years:

Some people have to earn their share of respect, belonging, and worthiness.
Some people can lose their share of respect, belonging, and worthiness.
And according to this system you, Meta, are white enough to sit on that jury.

I have the luxury of hearing what someone has done or left undone and then feeling better about whether or not they should have lived. I get to go home to my mostly white neighborhood where late night bangs are probably fireworks. I can turn it all off when I need a break because I'm too tired or sad. I get to, as Jesse Williams would say, go make myself a sandwich.

While abiding in this pattern is convenient and comfortable, it is not remotely Christian. As a preacher, I confess day in and day out that our identity and value are not aligned with what we do or who we are, but whose we are. Philando isn't more deserving of our grief because he was good at his job or well liked by kids or about to win a Nobel Prize, nor is he less worthy if it turns out he didn't have a conceal permit or jaywalked on occasion or was building a fricking bomb in his basement. Philando was and is and will forever be a beloved child of God.  If I tell my children that there is nothing they can do to make God love them any more or any less, then it is most certainly also true for Philando and black lives everywhere.

Being made in God's image and redeemed in Christ Jesus are not exclusive invitations or conditional offers. This is the gospel. It is untamed and Spirit-filled and a holy gift to the black community. But merely knowing that is not enough: white Christians are called to speak and embody this news even in the face of a system that does not encourage or reward such movement. (Poor Meta. So used to encouragement and rewards.)

I will read about the men who have died this week - the black lives and the blue lives, their gifts and faults alike - and then will remember that they belong to God. They are worthy of love, belonging, justice, and life abundant regardless of what they've done or left undone.

We're decades - centuries - overdue, friends. It's high time to put our sandwiches down. This is a call to excuse ourselves from the jury and instead stand accused of our destructive ignorance and perversion of the gospel. Can we trust that grace wide enough for our own specks and logs? Can we listen and feel until we are disrupted and outraged about death where life matters and about conditional worth where Christ's body belongs?

Many of us will hear the story of the Good Samaritan in worship tomorrow. Forget the moralistic reminder about lending a hand and instead listen from the ditch. Watch passersby wave and promise you that Of Course All Lives Matter while you're lying there vulnerable and bleeding out - let it break you into pieces because their generalizing and brief glances are not enough. Wait there in the dust with death and injustice, wondering what or who marks you worthy of life. You might be surprised by the one who shows up and carries you back into belonging.