A range of emotions stir inside us these days and admittedly it’s a challenge sorting through these feelings. We might ask ourselves – ‘what should be the response of Christians in times such as these?’
Thank you, each of you, for your efforts all along at bringing people together. It’s part of our job description as Christian leaders. We cannot rest assured that neighborly regard is structured effectively – even within the Christian community.
As if the health crisis wasn’t enough to stretch nerves to the breaking point; a series of policing incidents around the nation resulting in the deaths of several African Americans have ignited a powder-keg of frustration – exposing wounds festering for months, years and beyond with no clear solutions in sight.
We have so much in common as human beings but are shortchanged by our lack of contact, lack of mutual understanding, people with different experiences, different world views and even different assessments as to the foundations of today’s unrest. We are reminded that bigotry and indifference are woven in the fabric of America. Racial and economic inequality goes on. Systems and institutions and government have historically different approaches to white, black and brown thus erupting in situations out of control.
To make matters worse, COVID-19 alone has left untold numbers unemployed, under-employed, numbers ineligible for government stimulus, leaving people with no money yet with families to feed and mortgages and rents to pay. And when black and brown people push back hard mainstream America wonders why everyone’s upset. The surprise itself becomes an insult.
It is consoling to see the many people from around the country, white, brown, black, Asian, as peaceful protestors in wake of the Breona Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd killings. It is an encouraging sign that the concern is widespread and that there are many people out there wanting to be agents of good-will.
We are faced with the unfinished business of race in this country, the unsolved issues of poverty, opportunity vs lack of opportunity. We have hardly given second thought to the stratified society we live in thinking it to be normal –if you people would just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, it is often commented. But untold numbers of people have no boots with which to pull up straps.
Structures in a materially rich society have left large numbers disenfranchised from life such that they cannot, to use the words, “breathe” the air of a free and prosperous society like ours. While we are all the same, humans with sweat and tears, the differences allowed to fester among us are huge. And some insidious factions looking on are intent on keeping it that way.
We are believers. Instead of focusing on our anger, or attributing blame to whomever, feeling inconvenienced by the recent mayhem, maybe empathy is the right feeling for the moment – for the poor and the displaced and the mistreated and the forgotten are always just around the corner, down the street, and even the next door neighbor. How can law enforcement reorient themselves in face of individuals and communities in crisis so that the dignity of human life remains uppermost with methods of keeping order? How can we re-educate ourselves away from the visual and emotional dissonance provoked by skin color?
Our Church lives and works amidst these realities. Our gestures in all instances must be welcoming of everyone, corrective in face of injustice, formative in bringing people together across neighborhoods and natural boundaries and separate enclaves we have built for ourselves. We should be busy about the business of defying our comfort levels with single-racial churches, ministries and projects and going out of our way to schedule diversity in the things we are and do as church. It’s a daunting task in respects with its own level of fatigue. But we can’t give up. So much is at stake as evidenced by the messages issuing forth from the protests and demonstrations crying for something different. We Catholics can help lead the way.
An old rabbi once asked one of his students, “How can you tell when night is over and day has begun?” The student thought a moment and said, “Could it be when you see an animal in the distance and can tell if it is a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the rabbi, “think again!” The student did, but to no avail. The rabbi then said, ‘It’s when you can look into the face of another and see that it’s your brother or sister. If you can’t see this, it’s still night.”
So, what tends to keep me from seeing a brother or sister in the face of another? We are frightened when the image from close-up or from afar is black! Martin Luther King once said: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
Thank you, each of you, for your efforts all along at bringing people together.
May your gift of the Spirit O God continue to enflame our hearts, that we might bring your peace and justice to a troubled world. Instill in people of every language, race and culture, a commitment to live justly and a desire to be one with you and with your Son, Jesus Christ. We acknowledge You to be Lord, forever and ever. AMEN
Bishop Joseph N Perry