We recently bought a gas grill for the house to prepare for the arrival of the new young men moving into our community as postulants. As they discern over the course of this year whether God is calling them to be Marist Brothers, they will be taking on the same responsibilities as the professed brothers in the house—this means taking their turn at preparing prayer, but also at preparing meals. We thought that a grill might be an accessible and relatively familiar appliance for these cooks of still undetermined abilities. Because the pre-assembled grills that the store had available for purchase would not fit inside even our most spacious vehicle, we had to find one that was still boxed up. Meaning that I had to put it together myself once we got home. Thankfully, the IKEA-style instructions proved helpful, making the task of assembly a pain-free diversion.
We also live in a world in which some assembly is required. In Genesis 2, God plopped the first human down in a garden paradise in which there was still work to be done. Because the biblical accounts of Creation present wisdom stories to be learned from rather than factual history, we need to ask what message this contains for us: There is always more work to be done. Even God stopped for a rest (on the seventh day) before everything was finished. Even God enlisted the help of others (ourselves) to bring the job to completion.
God calls us to be stewards of Creation, and to care for our sisters and brothers. God calls us to the work of co-Creation. Being a co-Creator requires recognizing the work that remains to be done in order to restore our world to its intended goodness—right now we have the parts spread out in front of us and are struggling to make sense of the instruction manual as we ponder who to ask for help. The task is too complex and massive for any of us to complete at one go, and it is too much for any of us to do by ourselves, even with the help of God’s favor. People need to come together, to get organized.
We assemble in order to participate in the ongoing assembly of the world entrusted to our care and efforts. We do so however and wherever we are able. The powerful assemble in the halls of power. The rest of us often assemble as faith communities or other civil bodies. When human dignity is assaulted and the victims of such offenses perceive no other effective means of seeking redress, they assemble in the one place they have left. They take to the streets.
The reason for hate crime legislation in the USA is to recognize that violence done against marginalized groups possesses an intrinsically political nature. The direct victim is killed, beaten, or otherwise harmed while other members of his or her social group become indirect victims, their lives destabilized by the knowledge that they could be the next target. When plotted by a group, we normally use the term ‘terrorism’ to designate this kind of inherently political violence meant to affect a population beyond the immediate victim.
The unrest in American streets continues because many people don’t experience the American dream which should ensure that all lives matter. Instead they experience a nightmare in which those responsible for public safety too often respond to them with undue suspicion or even unnecessary lethal action. They hope reminding people that “black lives matter” will lead to officials acting like it. Defending the sacredness of life in this context requires greater urgency instead of the mere handwringing that belies craven indifference.
Given the explosive situations that we rely on law enforcement to address, policing may never be devoid of violence. We must however insist that this (and all) violence be minimized as much as possible through preventative measures and that perpetrators of unnecessary violence be held accountable whether or not they happen to carry a badge. Appeals to a thin blue line cannot be used to justify the unjustifiable.
There is objective data to show that, in the USA, black people suffer more police violence than other racial groups: although a greater raw number of white people are shot to death by police in the USA than any other ethnic group, when adjusted for proportion of total population black people are lethally shot by police at a rate that is 2.5 times greater. This does not include deaths by suffocation or other means. Is it any wonder that people feel targeted? How could this reality not have a chilling, terroristic effect, even as too many of the unaffected go safely about their lives, oblivious to any problem?
The founding documents of the USA call us to better:
“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Again, five priorities accompany the formation of a “more perfect Union”: 1) establishing justice; 2) ensuring domestic tranquility; 3) providing for the common defense; 4) promoting the general welfare; 5) securing the blessings of liberty for this generation and the next. When government fails to provide leadership in these areas, people will seek it elsewhere. In order for the various sub-groups in the USA to come together as one, we must be honest about the particular challenges that continue to separate us, including risk factors that endanger some people more than others. The systems we create and sustain must seek to alleviate rather than perpetuate these problems.
To pursue that more perfect union, the people not only have the right to assemble—it is right for us to assemble, especially when our elected leaders woefully demonstrate their inability or unwillingness to meaningfully address the issues of the day. It is a civic duty, and it is a religious duty.
This week’s “ear candy” attempts to lighten the tone of the preceding reflection while sticking thematically with the idea of “assembly.” Please enjoy the song One Piece at a Time by Johnny Cash. The “brain food” is a video recording of Doc Rivers, head coach of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, as he shared some of his thoughts and feeling regarding the scourge of police brutality.
Ear Candy: “One Piece at a Time” by Johnny Cash
Brain Food: “Doc Rivers Delivers Emotional Speech on Jacob Blake” uploaded by Bleacher Report
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!