There is a wicked monotony to the righteous rage sparked by unjust deaths that lights up Facebook for a few days, which then subsides after a few days when we get distracted again. George Floyd, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown... Who can remember them all? Everyone is SO upset. We trot out our justice memes and strut our credentials as crusaders for justice - and then nothing changes until another name is added to the roll call that condemns, not the police or anybody else, but all of us.
We get the society we are. We get the institutions we ask for. It's a Democracy. "We the people..." The racism is ours, not somebody else's. The willingness to keep institutions that do unjust harm is ours. The patience with bizarre unacceptability is ours. We complain about our leaders. We get the leaders we vote for.
Every time there is a mass shooting, we hear the droning chorus of “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims." God must laugh, weep or yawn. Do something! Such prayers are a pathetic salve to make ourselves feel better, while we wait for the next mass shooting to tickle our praying fancy once more.
So after another race-based, unjust death, filmed for the world to witness, we launch our righteous memes, we shake our heads and shudder with like-minded friends, maybe a sermon dares to express contempt for the sin of racism. God watches, listens – and then God laughs, weeps, or yawns. Surely God, if we could get quiet enough to hear God, is saying Friends, I gave you dominion and freedom. If you're serious, which I question, then change your world. The injustice of unjust deaths, and the injustice of outraged chatter are killing me.
How innocuously we then ask What can one person do? The powerful secret of a Democracy is that one person actually does matter. So a few questions for us individuals who plead feeling overwhelmed and unable: whom do you vote for and why? Where do you hang out? What streets do you walk down? Whom do you have real relationships with? Have you phoned anybody? Have you probed deeply into yourself to detect white privilege and unnoticed bias? What vapid diversion will grab your attention in a few days as George Floyd slides out of mind?
The answer to What can one person do? is Everything. Look at your whole life and ask questions. Keep asking questions. Converse with others, not the day after a death but three weeks later. Name injustice everywhere. Struggle to sleep at night. Keep shuddering.
I wonder about repentance. I spoke at a local synagogue’s Kristallnacht service a couple of years ago. I veered off from my notes, and found myself saying to the Jewish community, On behalf of Christendom, we are so very sorry. Tellingly, quite a few Jews embraced me in gratitude - but three Christians in the crowd told me I had zero authority to say such a meaningless thing. Isn’t it time for good white Christians, not to condemn racism out there somewhere, but to take a knee in humility before one African American, and then another, maybe whole communities or churches, and say On behalf of white Christendom, we are so very sorry. I don’t think God would laugh, or weep, or yawn. I think God would then say This. Finally. Thank you. So what’s next?