I nitially I wanted to write to celebrate and honor the heroism of three men: Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Micah David-Cole Fletcher, two of whom sacrificed their lives and the other seriously injured while defending two young women of color in Portland, Oregon. Then, more recently in Charlottesville, Virginia, I wanted to celebrate those who came to oppose the white nationalists and their message of hate. I wanted to celebrate in particular, Heather Heyer, who lost her life at the hand of hate while standing for love. I started to share my thoughts on how we should honor heroic actions and encourage them because we lack them in our society.
But then I caught myself, the harassment, bullying and violence in the name of cultural preservation and free speech that caused both of these incidents were inexcusable and beyond any possible justification. How do people filled with such inhumanity and rage get to name bullying and racist posturing as a form of free speech? How is it that in too many of our churches, in too many of our communities and among too many of our leaders, there are those who have yet to hold as inalienable the lives of people who also share America as their home. My heart called forth a different song, one of sadness, a cry for forgiveness, a plea, yes, a lament that we might find a better way.
It goes without saying that all three of these men and Heyer were heroes. Yet I lament because it is we who have created a culture where the need for heroic actions is far too common, so common that we forget these stories soon after they disappear from our headlines; they are so common that we literally come to anticipate, and therefore accept and practically condone, first the cruelty and then the violence it causes. I am haunted by the repeated violence, the unnecessary cruelty, the senselessness of acts that call forth not so much heroes but martyrs to our collective consciousness. Words of vitriol and threats of violence do not begin on street corners with the assaulting strangers. They begin among us. Both of these incidents were the result of evil that should not exist but one we are too willing to tolerate to keep our jobs, to keep our friends, to maintain family harmony or because we just don’t want to get involved. It occurred to me that we do not need to call forth more heroes or martyrs. We need to become people who are more consciously aware of another’s humanity: people who have a no-tolerance policy for those who want to harm or ostracize others for their sex, religion, color or country of origin. We need each person to treasure other people’s rights not simply to exist but to thrive with us and among us and then to speak and act as if that mattered.
How do we do that? Be involved. Being a conscious and truly human person does not require academic, social or economic status. It requires that we care about and oppose injustice and mean spiritedness all the time, not just when the issue confronts us. Be courageous. Fully conscious and aware people do not permit themselves the luxury of feeling that they cannot make some type of impact. Maybe making an impact is not even the first goal, but the willingness to be a change agent – the willingness to help — must be. Be life giving. Conscious and truly human people inspire other actions that set the foundations for a truly just, free and noble society. Giving hope, encouragement and compassion can build a life. Modeling patience, justice and means of reconciliation can rebuild a broken life.
I am a reconciler and a Christian. I lament, my heart breaks and I pray we can rid our world of ugliness of the injustices and hatred poured out both in Portland and in Charlottesville. I lament, my heart breaks and I pray that our culture will wake from its sleep in the darkness of hatred and injustice to a new day when these evils will cease and there will no longer be a need for martyrs. Will you lament — will you pray with me?
David Johnson is the pastor at TriWorship Covenant Church – Multi Ethnic Faith Community. He can be contacted at 206-861-3844, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @Daaron1980.