Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When they yell: "F@#$ the police" What would Jesus have me do then?

This morning, I read an excellent piece from a baptist pastor, the Rev. Jeff Hood, called "The Violence of Demanding Peaceful Protest: The Missteps of Clergy in Ferguson." I commend it to you. He says in part:

"The work that I do is to ensure that acts of civil disobedience remain nonviolent, not that they remain nonexistent. We must not forget that civil disobedience is an unpeaceful act. Civil disobedience is not intended to create situations of calm. Civil disobedience escalates situations to a point where people have to pay attention to injustice..."

"I don't think you can have an honest conversation about race in our nation when you are always telling people to calm down. If peaceful protest is about controlling people's emotions, then I believe it to be violently taking away the agency of people who have every right to be angry and engaged in resistance. I am for nonviolence. I believe it is by far the most effective and moral way to confront injustice. I am not for the violence of clergy-controlled protests in a space where people have every right to exercise their anger."

This is an excellent article and it resonates with me. I also realize the learning curve I have been and continue to be on over the past three months to get to this point. The first times I was out with demonstrators, I was so much like the clergy the writer talks about - wanting people to calm down. I talked about it being my belief in neighbor love, but I realize now that, for me, at big part of it was my own uncomfortability with the anger and my own fear at its power. But the anger is the natural result of injustice and it must be expressed. White people like me must not only allow it, we must, as I preached on Sunday, allow it to cut us to the core and shake our foundations. We must feel the anger and let it change us.

My job as clergy on the street is to make sure the civil disobedience is nonviolent, not nonexistent. I am always opposed to any physical violence. I believe it is counter to Christ and sets back any movement for change for justice. I will always oppose violence. But I need to guard the space for the anger to be expressed.

The tricky part for me and where I continue to struggle the most is violent words. Specifically, "F#$% the police."

Jesus tells me to love my neighbor and when I stand with people who yell "F^&* the police" it makes me cringe and breaks my heart. It's not so much my uncomfortability with anger (I'm making my peace with that) but with the fact that I know for many officers those words are experienced as violence directed toward them. They are experienced by the officer's family and friends that way, too. I have seen the words create the same hardness of heart and desire to respond in kind that physical violence does -- even as the words themselves are often a response from the young people to the times they have been told "Get the #$&* out of the street" by police. I cringe and my heart breaks because I want the cycle of verbal violence to end, too.

But that is not most of my struggle. Most of my struggle is I have friends and people I care about deeply who are police officers, families of police officers and friends of police officers.  I struggle because not only do I see them as human beings and beloved images of God but because they have let me get to know them, I have seen what good people they are and I have been privileged to call them friends -- some for a long time -- and I truly love them. And when I stand with someone yelling "F#$& the police" it is like standing with someone yelling "F#$& you" at my friend. And I know that they at least sometimes experience it as me standing there yelling "F#$& you" to them, too.  And they are confused and angry with me. And I don't blame them.

I am grateful for my struggle and hope it doesn't go away. The struggle is rooted in my ability to see the police as individual human beings and children of God, to know and to love them the same way I have been so blessed and transformed by getting to know and love some of the young women and men who are the leaders of the demonstrations as individual human beings and children of God. I pray I never slip into seeing either "side" merely as "police" or "demonstrator" but strive always to see the humanity of each individual because that is Jesus' call.

I want the demonstrators to see the police that I know. And I want the police and their family and friends to see the demonstrators I know. I want them to see each other's humanity and beauty. I want them to see each other as I see them. And I want it to happen right now because it hurts so much that they can't. I want it to happen right now because it hurts so bad. And I hate the pain. I want it to happen right now because I want the pain to stop.

And that's where I need to take a deep breath and trust. Trust that some day this will happen. But it will not be right now. It will not be tomorrow. It will not be for a long time. This is healing from deep trauma and my spiritual guides, the women of Magdalene, have taught me that healing from trauma takes a long, long time and that getting the anger out is an indispensable part of the healing.

I need to remember that I can have the love and friendship I have with police officers and their friends and family because I have the privilege of a different relationship with them. I have never felt the police as my oppressor, yet for these women and men growing up black in urban America that has been their relationship with the police their whole lives.

For these demonstrators, the police are not the only sign of how our society has discarded and criminalized these young women and men, but as a body they are the most visible sign and have become the symbol of that oppression. To them, the police are not individuals worthy of being treated as God's image and they are not yet ready to see them as that. They will be someday, but mostly they are not now. They are not now, because they have not experienced that treatment as beloved from the police ... or anyone else in power. And after the stories I have heard of how people have been treated, I have to say screaming "F#$% you" seems not only honest and healthy but downright reasonable.

Is it fair that individual police officers who may have wonderful hearts and are putting themselves in harms way daily and are just trying to make a living have to bear the brunt of the abuse and anger directed toward those officers who are brutally racist police and, indeed toward a "whole damn system that is guilty as hell?" No. But fair went out the window a long time ago.

The truth is the anger coming off the streets directed at the police must be expressed or we will never get to the place where healing is possible. Yes, I understand the police have their own anger, but the truth is as wonderful as they might be individually, as a group they are the symbol of the oppressive power. It's not fair, but it also means they have a transformational opportunity before them - and that is to hear the terrible words directed at them and let those words touch their hearts not as blows directed at them personally but as pain being expressed and let those wonderful compassionate hearts that I have seen in my friends who are police hear that pain and maybe even love the feelers of it.

And what is my role? What would Jesus have me do when the young people begin to yell, "F#$% the police." As I am still struggling with that, all I can say is here's where I am now.

My role is to stand with the nonviolent young women and men who are leading this movement, even when they are shouting "F#$& the police" knowing that their anger is righteous and if we are ever going to get to a place of reconciliation and healing, it must be expressed. Knowing that Christ bids us to stand with those who are oppressed, with those who are "the least of these" knowing that in the Kingdom of God, the last will be first.

My role is trying to do the slow, work of translation -- even as I am growing in my own understanding -- to try to help police and indeed all white people ask the powerful question of "Why?" when we hear these young people yell "F$#% the police" and not be satisfied with simple answers that just reinforce our prejudices and stereotypes.

My role is receiving the confusion, anger and hurt from the wonderful people I have built friendships with over the years who are now seeing me as "anti-cop" and bearing that as part of my own penance and praying our friendships ultimately are strong enough to bear it, but recognizing they may not be.

My role is recognizing that, as a part of that system that privileges white people like me, I have to share in the guilt, and every time I hear ""F#$^ the police" I have to hear "F#$& you, Mike Kinman" because I am part of that system, too. I literally have to make that translation in my head and in my heart and try to have compassion on the voices saying it ... because I am a part of that system, too. I know that is not the same as having it yelled at me, but I need to do it regardless.

My role, as is ours, is to continue to set my eyes on Jesus and try with the rest of you to walk in his steps. To try not to shy away from pain but feel it fully knowing it can be redemptive. To listen deeply to and stand with those who are oppressed and be their shield. To love without counting the cost knowing that the cost of love is often high. And, because I am not Jesus, to do this incredibly imperfectly and rely on the grace and forgiveness of God and others.

Tonight, I have been invited to stand in my Elmer-Fuddish orange vest in front of the Ferguson police department and do these things. Unless I am called elsewhere, I will be there with my dear sister Rebecca Ragland and others. I do not go there lightly. I go there trembling -- in awe mostly over the movement we are all called to be a part of. I go there to try imperfectly to do this work. I bid your prayers ... and I bid you find your role in this work as well. 

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