If America was sitting in church, and it was that time for communion, when your pastor says, essentially, “All believers are welcome, with an examined heart,” the U.S. would need to stay seated. Our heart, it seems, remains unexplored — and not just its deep corners. The entire surface, right there in the open, lay dusty and ignored, covered in black and white headlines and the messy gore of the oppressed.
Philando Castile’s name has disappeared from headlines this Monday morning. Just another black man killed by police, another police officer gone free. It’s par for the course these days, unworthy of days-long, nation-wide introspection. We can barely even find the energy for a good riot over it. Not that I approve of or think rioting is good or noble or right. But it is understandable, when a group of people is both angry and holding on to the tiniest wisp of hope that, perhaps, a solid night of rioting might elicit a last ditch attempt at change. The silence here is deafening; the seemingly quiet acceptance disturbing. It makes me wonder what’s coming next.
America has never been perfect or innocent. When I say that we’ve lost our soul, some might argue — and I would see their point — that we never had one. I like to think we had a lot of good ideas, what with our belief in liberty and justice for all; it’s just our execution of those beliefs that has needed consistent refinement. Like any human being, our nation’s motives are always a mixed bag of good intentions and selfish pursuit; generosity as long as it serves self-focused greed; holy and righteous, but only for the select few, the American pharisees, the hypocrites in sheep costumes.
Like real, human hearts, America has been reduced to individual chambers where echos bounce off walls, and no one really hears them for the noise. I listen to the soundtrack of Hamilton, and I try to focus on the good in our country’s inception, the noble; I try to look for the helpers, like the saying goes.
What I can’t see is where this is all going, but I know it can’t be good. I know that as long as long as we, as Americans, stay silent over deaths like Philando Castile’s, we are one foot in the grave of our own demise, and all the while we’re happily shopping on Amazon for the latest fidget spinner. We are fidgety in our attempts to ignore the fact that, as a nation, we are at a long, slow war with our self, a sniper-infused ongoing war, and we’re ignoring all the warning shots for the noise.
We are a country who has become unconcerned about the true things of justice, and this, I believe, bother’s God’s heart greatly. Our fundamentalist friends bemoan the so-called war on marriage, hyper-focusing on who people sleep with within the confines of their monogamous relationships, as if other people’s pursuit of happiness through healthy, long-term family ties eats away at the very fabric of our nation’s values.
Meanwhile black men are systematically being killed or riding the pipeline to prison and women are being sexually assaulted with no consequences for their rapists. As a nation, we don’t give a second thought to the fact that young black men drive tight-fisted and tense, their mothers praying the entire time until they get home. As a nation, we don’t explore the fact that our justice system is, as Shaun King says, working exactly as it’s designed to — to continue the oppression of anyone who is not a white American male, and most especially, to imprison black men. This country could stand for some serious navel gazing.
Perhaps the bigger problem is not that America, sitting in the pew, could not in good conscience stand up for communion, but that it’s collective pulpit is not pointing to it’s own hardened heart. Instead of cherry picking so-called sin and removing people from worship teams and leadership positions for being gay, perhaps our churches should be more concerned with seeking the kind of true justice that weighs on the heart of God — caring for the oppressed and the marginalized; the widow. The orphan. The refugee. The prisoner. The poor. The men shot down by the state.
If Jesus weeps, it’s because his prophets have fallen silent.
It’s true that there is a whole movement of Christians who are heartbroken and angry over what is happening in our country, but to quote a progressive Christian leader I once spoke to, we are perpetually bad at self-organizing. My own echo chamber proves to be loud and clear, but there’s no one here but us to hear it. The world out there seems to not know we exist, hand fed as they are by national media tiny little tidbits of the religious right here, veritable feasts of the so called “moral” majority there. I maintain they are not religious, right, moral, or the majority, but that’s just me.
We need a leader to step out from the smoke and rubble and lead us to peace. We need someone who can barter a peace; someone who will pull the plug on the echo chamber and begin a real dialogue, on a national level. That means hard, uncomfortable conversations. It means inviting a lot of people with different opinions to the table. It means finding our common ground.
We need a leader brave enough to bring representatives of the police and Black Lives Matter to the table, to break bread together. We need that person who will hold that angry, fear filled space, and foster healing. We need dialogue, and willing hearts, and ears that have been willing to lay down the echoes for a hot second so they can listen to another person’s truth. I keep seeing Jimmy Carter in my head, and all those peace accord pictures from when I was a young child (very, very young). If that peace could be brokered, surely this one can, too.
But it will take a true peacemaker. The kind that Jesus spoke about. The kind he called blessed.
That’s what I’ll be praying for — that kind of leader. That’s what our country needs more than anything.
I’ll be praying for that, and for the family and friends of Philando Castile — the oppressed, the justice seekers, the resilient heartbroken.