This past Sunday, 30 hours after seven people were shot down the street from our church after an apparent argument turned into a shootout, I reflected on what Christ-like response might look like. (You can listen to the full sermon [7/6/14 “Out of Control”] here.) Here are the key points:
- For disciples of the God who chose incarnation and solidarity with suffering people, caring is the first step. Feeling connected to the events and the people involved and letting it grieve us is much easier said than done. Actually caring is harder when I don’t know them personally. Caring is harder because of the fact that I see the world through racial lenses; when the images of the scene show that many of the wounded and other innocent bystanders were African American, my immediate thought is to feel separated from the events (“it wasn’t us”). That’s the legacy of racism deep in me: a tribalism based on skin color even within my own neighborhood. Maybe that’s not as much of an issue for you (though I’d encourage you not to dismiss that possibility too quickly…); maybe the source of separation is cultural: “that’s not me; it’s those people who waste their energy getting drunk and loitering”. Or maybe it’s generational (“that’s not me; it’s those young people”). The challenge of recognizing the connection we have with all humanity is a spiritual challenge. Can I let the truth of our common Creator overrule the sin that tells me ‘they’ are not part of me? The truth is my little brother was shot last Friday night. My little sister was nearly killed on Broad Ripple Ave. And it was my other little brothers who pulled out their guns in response to being insulted and shot several people. It was my brother Major who killed my other brother Perry on Saturday night. The deep truth of God’s reality is that there is no ’them.’ Every human being is ‘us’. Can I let that sink in? If so, I grieve violence like this past weekend’s in a deeper way. I care.
- My inclination is to be grateful for my separation from the violence; I’m relieved that Broad Ripple by day is a very different place from Broad Ripple late at night on a holiday weekend. I keep my distance from violence and suffering; I’m tempted to ignore it, because I can. But Jesus is moving toward it. Jesus draws near—to embrace and to share the suffering of his sisters and brothers, both the victims and the perpetrators. That’s what Jesus is up to. And he invites us, the Body of Christ, to be part of that presence, that work of redemption and reconciliation. God’s work of healing brokenness in our society is in full swing; the choice I have is whether I will join in. The river of God’s love and grace is flowing, now as ever; the question is whether I am standing on the bank watching it go by, sitting on the side with a toe in the water, or floating down the river.
I’m looking for ways to join in. I changed our church sign—our primary communication with our neighbors—Sunday afternoon. I will be standing on the street tomorrow along the route of IMPD Officer Perry Renn’s funeral procession as part of our city’s expression of grief and solidarity in the face of violence. I have reached out to IMPD in an effort to join their meeting with Broad Ripple business owners to discuss how to reduce the likelihood of future shootings. I’ll reach out to a Broad Ripple bar owner through a mutual friend. When we gather for worship, there are photos of Broad Ripple on our walls as a call to prayer. In particular, there’s one of street signs at the corner nearest the shootings last weekend. I’ll encourage our congregation to let seeing it prompt compassion and prayer for the business owners and workers and the community that gathers down the street late at night. That’s why those images are on our walls: to help bring our neighborhood into our collective heart when we gather in God’s presence. And I’m leading our church cluster is planning an interfaith gathering for peace in Broad Ripple Park at the end of the summer (a process which started long before last weekend’s shootings).
But all that activity doesn’t fix the pain of acknowledging the truth about the racism deep inside me. It’s painful to recognize how comfortable I am with the separation I enjoy from the suffering in my city. It hurts to be real about how much I enjoy standing on the bank, watching the river of God’s abundant life go by, safe from getting wet.
I hope I can welcome God’s persistent invitation into the depths of abundant life through courageous discipleship continuing to coax me into the water. Because the deepest part of me knows the water’s a joyful, connected place to be!