Saturday, August 16, 2014

If We Have No Peace

The secret of love is in opening up your heart
It's okay to feel afraid
But don't let it stand in your way
'Cause everyone knows that love is the only road

from "Secret O' Life" on James Taylor's album JT 

Tonight, someone I hardly know accused me of trying to make Michael Brown into a hero. According to this on-line acquaintance, I was attempting to garner popularity and entrance into the in-crowd by sharing a couple blog posts that asked hard questions in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. In this person's view, the recently slain teenager was a 'thug.'

The two posts I shared - one from Rachel Held Evans and another by Sarah Bessey - were written with humility. Both young bloggers admitted that as white women, they felt hesitant to comment. They wondered whether their sincere questions and sadness would be met with derision.

I share their unease. As a white woman who feels unqualified to speak to such horror. As someone whose only interactions with police have been respectful and pleasant. As a friend to half a dozen great law enforcement agents. 

All I can say to my accuser - and to anyone who would care about my inconsequential opinion - is that I believe we are meant to weep with those who mourn. And we are supposed to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Michael Brown, by all accounts, was surrendering when he was shot dead. His family's lawyer has admitted that Michael stole a pack of cigars prior to the confrontation. I have to ask myself - would any 18-year-old white boy I know meet his death for such a crime?  The obvious answer is as crushing as it is unfair.

I am no race-relations expert. Heck, I don't claim to be an expert on much of anything. But I know it is a tragedy and travesty when any young person dies - especially in such a violent manner. 

I don't have any interest in trying to promote anyone as a hero. Or a villain. But I do have a sincere passion for gaining understanding in the aftermath of such a sad, disturbing event.

It's been a challenging few weeks, friends. Likely for all of us. Our nation is reeling from Michael Brown's death, from the refugee children held in limbo at our southern border, from the escalating violence in the Middle East, from the unexpected suicide of the effervescent Robin Williams, from the day-to-day busyness our culture demands. The Avett Brothers' "Winter in My Heart" has been in constant rotation in my head. 

What makes us so eager to choose to think the worst of one another? Why must we suspect ego? Why pull a gun when hands are raised in surrender? Why preemptively strike and perpetuate war? Why assume cowardice in a life-ending act? 

In "Secret O' Life," James Taylor croons, "everyone knows that love is the only road." When given a choice to love or hate - and we are always given a choice - why do we do our best to create our own rocky path that leads to mistrust, meanness, and violence?

I am tired. My soul is worn out, friends. 

So what now? As a curfew and state of emergency are implemented in Ferguson? As pundits and their devotees argue politics while both Israelis and Palestinians die? As refugee children still wait as they're forgotten in the crush of a fresh news cycle? As bombs continue to maim and kill the innocent in so many parts of our hurting world? As insensitive insults are hurled at those dealing with mental illness? What now?

I'm out of answers. Except this: We can't give up, and we can't give in. 

We can't give up on working towards peace. We can't give up on the fight for justice. We can't give up on extending grace and love. We can't give up on ourselves. And we can't give in to the lazy temptation of treating someone as our enemy. We can't give in to the louder voices that advocate violence. 

How? I think sometimes the 'not giving up' and the 'not giving in' are done through the difficult, remarkable act of choosing to live. Really live. 

On August 7, about 140 of my friends - an astonishing number - came out for an hour or so to offer their support at my first solo show. And others who couldn't attend sent sweet notes, flowers, and reminders of their love. I can't remember when I felt so overwhelmed. 

I was excited to show my newest body of work, but I soon discovered that whether or not it was received the way I hoped, I was accepted beyond any expectation. It was an intensely powerful moment for this woman who often feels like an outsider and ragamuffin. My parents, brother, niece, roommate, friends near and faraway - those I cherish most in this world - ministered to my soul with their presence. 
Tie That Binds 4x2.5" intaglio monoprint from my show Fractured Sanctuary

A few days later, I attended a house concert. Quiles and Cloud filled my friends' basement with their groovy, California-based folk music. Then I went to a poetry reading. My friend Bud Caywood shared new poems on the beauty of nature. 

After the workweek, I laughed and laughed with kindred spirits in a friend's back yard. We spent hours talking about justice and our responsibility to work for positive change in the world.

And last night, I enjoyed a perfect, leisurely dinner with inspiring artists. As we lingered over roasted Brussels sprouts and friend green tomatoes, we shared our hopes and frustrations. We parted in a downpour, promising we would all collaborate soon as we embraced with soggy hugs. 

With everything that's going wrong with the world, such pursuits and pastimes seem trivial, even meaningless. But it's precisely those tender moments that remind us of our shared humanity and our need for one another.

My faith teaches me that Jesus came to give us life - abundant life. And that has nothing to do with houses, careers, or cars. Life is only truly rich when we acknowledge our interdependence and universal need for love. I believe Mother Teresa had it right when she said, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."