Oy, what a heavy week. The deaths of Michael Brown and Robin Williams figured heavily in what I read this week, but there are some rays of light in there too.
Rest in Peace Robin Williams
Tragically, Robin Williams lost his long struggle with depression on August 11. This prompted an outpouring of memorials, but also many important discussions about depression and mental illness.
Can prayer cure depression? Yes, I believe so. But it doesn’t always. This is an important distinction, because until we stop viewing depression as a spiritual deficiency, we can’t help those in our communities take those first steps out.
And make no mistake—we are needed. You are needed. If someone you know is drowning inside his or her own head, you are needed to function as lifeguard. You are needed to call her up and tell her you’re taking her kids to the park for the day and cooking dinner besides. You are needed to tell him you found a doctor who can help and will be picking him up at 10. You are needed to do the Googling, to pick up the prescription, to find the health food store with the particular supplement, to refuse to give up until a solution is found. You are needed for your perspective and energy and insistence on your loved one’s worthiness. Your presence can be vital, sometimes in the most literal sense of the word.
Those who don’t struggle with depression, who don’t feel the ongoing darkness, or even those who struggle with depression yet still get the occasional bursts of joy or light, they try to understand and make sense of it. Label it as selfish and the easy way out. Call the suicidal “cowards.” But that’s not the mind of a person in the grips of unrelenting darkness. When depression corners you like that, it makes you believe that suicide is joy. Suicide is relief. And in some instances, it makes you think that suicide is a blessing or a gift to others. It can feel like the brave and noble thing to do.
Like I said, depression is evil.
But there’s another kind of evil lurking around the halls of the depressed, and it’s the belief that those who are stricken with depression (or any mental illness) are suffering because of their lack of faith in Jesus.
Pain like this, pain that abuts futility, it’s exhausting. I have thought for sometime this must be one of the many meanings tied up in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ’s disciples can’t manage to stay awake with him while he prays. I can stay up all night for television marathons; I’m sure the majority of us could manage it at the request of Jesus, but agony is exhausting, it’s draining, it’s especially tiring when it all points toward the great black void of futility, when there’s nothing you can do.
It is tempting, as Christ suggests, to drop off into torpor and give up on matters that seem beyond one’s control. I don’t doubt people in the position of considering suicide feel this exact same way, but I do believe there’s value in recognizing that people considering suicide and people who don’t want them to can suffer that together.
And in Gethsemane Jesus’ example reminds us that suffering together matters, that it means something.
Not long ago, Leadership Journal published a piece written by a convicted sex offender that painted his assaults of a teenage girl as a consensual “affair.” It took hundreds of people pleading with the editors for five days before they removed the article from the Internet. When it was still live, I contacted all the writers that Leadership Journal has published, which includes some of evangelicalism’s biggest names (Francis Chan, Max Lucado, Rick Warren), and asked them to join their voices with those of us asking Leadership Journal to #TakeDownThatPost. None of them responded.
It is extraordinarily rare for a big-name evangelical pastor to even address misogyny and sexism in the church. Instead, the issue is ignored. It is treated as if the lives, voices, and squandered spiritual gifts of women present a problem so insignificant that it is not worthy of their attention.
This has opened the door to an odd development.
Rest in Peace Michael Brown
Sudden death as a result of sickness is one thing; unjust death at the hands of a police officer is quite another. 18-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO was killed by Officer Darren Wilson on Saturday, August 9. It’s a sickeningly familiar situation: a white police officer initiates contact with an unarmed black man, and the black man does not survive the encounter.
A Black person is murdered by cops, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes every 28 hours in the U.S. The killing of an unarmed Black teenager named Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, which has resulted in protests in that town and harsh police push-back and brutality against even more of its citizens, and which, via social media, has gotten the attention of people around the world, probably isn’t even the latest occurrence, at just three days old.
Talking to people on Twitter about Mike Brown and what’s happening in Ferguson right now, I’ve noticed (again) how easily folks get distracted when Black people are murdered by the police. It seems as though every detail is more interesting, more important, more significant—including looting of a Walmart in Ferguson, which a local Fox news station focused its entire coverage on—than the actual life that was taken by police.
So, to get folks back on track to focus on what matters most here—the killing of yet another unarmed Black teenager—I’ve compiled this list of 6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.
Ferguson reminds me of the Arab Spring uprising. The people of Ferguson are rising up against their oppressors and hallelujah for that. I pray for their endurance in the face of state sanctioned violence against their children.
I have hesitated to write about Ferguson because I have preferred to amplify local voices or the voices of those who have been engaged in the real and difficult work of race relations in the United States. After all, Canada has our own issues, particularly with our treatment of First Nations.
But these past four days in Ferguson have broken through my usual resolve: this is absolutely a justice issue. I have waited patiently for more white Christian bloggers to speak up, particularly the Americans, trying to give them precedent to respond, but I have been disheartened by minimal response there. I want to come alongside the African American voices already writing and advocating, even in this small way.
Dear Loved Ones,
I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. As you might imagine, I’ve had a few things on my plate. Thanks for understanding.
I’m also sorry that this letter is going to have to be so direct, but I’m afraid recent events have pushed us far past pleasantries.
Please, throughout the things I have to say in this letter, remember I love you. I do.
I just wish you loved me back.
Oh, I know. I hear you say you love me and that really does mean a lot.
It’s just that…
Well, your actions make me wonder.
We’re still not ready (at least on a large scale) to admit to the existence of systemic racism in America. Just bringing the issue up got me called a “race baiter”, “ignorant”, and all sorts of other stuff– but whatever.
The realization that we’re completely unwilling to admit to the existence of systemic racism saddens me, but something I believe to be true nonetheless. The piece that completely tipped the scale for me was this piece which illustrates the response to protestors in Ferguson compared to protesters at the Bundy Ranch. At the Bundy Ranch, armed whites confronted the government to stand along side a rancher who’s been stealing from the government. They went as far as having weapons drawn on the police– and the response? The government backed down.
Compare that to Ferguson, where protesters have been met with police who were more armed up than the folks I served next to in Operation Allied Force (and I’m not even kidding).
It’s all just so… insane.
The question becomes, why? Why is it so difficult for us to just stop, look around at our country, and humbly admit, “yes, American culture still exhibits systemic racism”?
I am quite used to there not being enough room in the soul of the white church to care about black bodies. There is not enough room in the service, not enough room in the prayers, not enough room in the leadership, not enough room in the values, not enough room in the mission statement, not enough room in political stances, not enough room for lived experiences of African Americans.
I am convinced that the soul of the white church has yet to be ashamed. It is not ashamed of slavery- it only dismisses it. It is not ashamed of Jim Crow- it only claims credit for ending it. It is not ashamed of incarceration rates- it only excuses it. It is not ashamed of ghettos- it pretends to have nothing to do with them. It is not ashamed of segregation- only silently benefits from it. There is no shame for who America has been. I believe that until there is collective shame for who white America has been to people of color, white America will not choose to be something else. If it is fine with who it is, it will continue to do what’s always done.
Today marks 10 years of our being here, and even though NOTHING has gone the way I planned it, I am filled with gratitude. I look around, and my life is unrecognizable from the way I pictured it would be when I was dreaming 20, 15 and even 10 years ago. This life I now live in suburban America is not at all what i imagined, and yet – if I dig a little deeper, while the form may be unrecognizable, the content has been the same all along:
for we love and are loved,
we have work to do wherever we are,
and no matter what – we are kept by a good and gracious God.
These things remain the same. And I am so very, very grateful.