As Ferguson Burned

“If you want peace work for justice.”
– Pope Paul VI

I didn’t sleep well last night. As I tried, buildings and cars in a city 20 miles from my own were being burned by the citizens.

The reaction to the announcement that Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown in August filled the airwaves, Twitter, and Facebook through the night last night. In fact – and I believe this is relevant – I’m fairly certain that more friends were posting about this than they did about election day.

How did we get here? Yes, I do believe that decades of ongoing “invisible segregation” from various angles led to a charged situation in reaction to this case. No, I don’t believe that it’s unique to our region, but it is likely amplified here due to the political and social History at play.

I also believe that the media and the 24-hour news cycle continues to play a role in inflaming the situation.

There are injustices to be righted, sure. But I couldn’t sleep because I had seen, in vivid color on the television, how far we had slipped as a society, how much loss of respect for others and for property had evaporated, and how much lack of restraint, self-control, and proper means of justice had been forgotten.

Justice? Justice under the law was announced last night for Officer Wilson. A grand jury of peers, of citizens, met for months, reviewing facts, testimony, and the letter of the law, and they made the decision that there were no charges that could or should be made against the officer.

Justice in our community was turned on its head in the same moment, though. Some with years of pent-up anger at their situations in life, and hatred toward those they perceive as keeping them there, and some who I truly believe are here to professionally incite have now taken over. A decades-old bandage has been removed, and the wound is bleeding profusely.

One tweet that I saw just before bed, in particular, is memorable and disturbs me. It read something like, “Jesus would’ve been at the front of the line of protesters.”

No, on this I beg to disagree.

The Jesus I know would have cared deeply about the situation and the people involved, but I personally believe he would’ve been tending to those injured. He may have been with the family of Michael Brown. He may have been consoling the families who own the businesses that were being destroyed by fire. I don’t think he would’ve been burning down buildings or torching police cars. The only time in Scripture I saw Him angry was in the House of God – the temple, His Father’s house – when it had been turned into a marketplace.

No, the Jesus I know might have asked the protester (remember his friend in the garden?) to “Put your sword back into its sheath” (c.f. Matthew 26:52), and then repaired the ear of the High Priest’s Servant, “…for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Ibid.)

He likely would have been in the neighborhood LONG before this turned to violence in the streets, and would’ve been working to do some of what needs to be done today: Helping youth receive a better education, develop hope, and find a path out of the oppression they’re living in; Helping parents connect with resources to raise families of faith and respect; Dare I say removing some of the layers and levers of government that lead to such imposing economic realities and forceful governance? He would’ve pushed for freedom – true freedom – freedom such as we probably wouldn’t recognize anymore, in our inclination to continue to vote for whomever will legislate taking from another man and giving to us.

There is an organizing principal that has developed through the years in Catholic social teaching, dubbed “Subsidiarity”, in which I strongly believe, and that I think we need to evolve back to (gosh, that constant revolution reminds me of my PoliSci 112 days…) Subsidiarity teaches that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. This ties back to my observation earlier about elections, but it also ties to Jesus, and faith in general.

Poverty and injustice must be solved first and foremost in hearts, then in familes and homes, on blocks within communities, within parishes and other churches, within neighborhoods. Injustice will never be defeated by a law passed by Congress, or by a state, or even by a county government. The further we have asked the government to solve our injustices, the further we have fallen, and the more polarized we have become.

I truly believe that this is the crux of the moment in History at which we stand: The final defining moment in which we must choose whether we will personally take responsibility for ourselves and our brothers, or whether we’ll delegate that responsibility to the government franchise.

This is a big part of why I feel called to the Diaconate, and I hope and pray that my application and formation process might continue. I believe strongly that I’m being called to place myself at the service of our bishop and his successors to help our pastors take Jesus – the real Jesus, the Jesus planted in our hearts and souls and bodies through the Eucharist – our very Church and parishioners – and lead us into the streets and homes and cities to bring all of our resources to bear to right years of wrongs, and to solve our problems as close to home as we possibly can. I feel that my entire life of experience and upbringing has brought me to this moment where I might be able to be a servant leader in trying to do something to right so many wrongs and help so many who are hurting. I certainly don’t even know all of the answers or all of the stops on that journey yet, but I trust that they’ll manifest themselves when it’s time, and that I’ll lead others, and they’ll lead me in the right ways.

In another related post, another friend commented that the ill-placed “Season’s Greetings” banner in Ferguson really needs to read, “Let there be peace on earth.” Yes, let there be.

Reuters image from Ferguson, November 24, 2014
Reuters image from Ferguson, November 24, 2014

If we want peace, we must work for justice, but not a co-opted political version of justice: Justice, first and foremost under the law, and then in a very deep, real way, justice in the hearts and lives of those held down by the constructs of our own society.

It starts with prayer, and then it moves on to looking for ways that YOU can help.

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