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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Something is Broken in Me

This was written by my friend, an author and blogger.

I kept waiting to hear from the predominantly white evangelical church in America. I kept waiting for someone from that community to chime in and say something—anything. Even something like, “I see what’s happening in Ferguson. I don’t understand it, but I want to. Can someone help me understand it?” One person contacted me to ask a question that sounded something like that.
But, for the most, part, days passed, and I was hearing nothing (

I respect her so much that when I hear her put out a call for words from “white evangelical church in America,” I feel like the professor has given an assignment.  As a pastor, I consider myself “evangelical.”  Even though the word is freighted with political baggage and is often misunderstood by many who have a secular worldview, I still embrace.  To me, evangelical means one who believes Jesus is the full revelation of the triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit; and salvation is in Him; and finally, the Bible is the true revelation of who He is and is instructive for a believer’s life.  By that definition, I am an evangelical.  I am also a white, middle class, suburban American male.  I don’t think any of those terms require definition or qualification.

Michael Brown, a black teenager, unarmed, was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO.  The officer who killed him will have to live with this the rest of his life.  He shot and killed an unarmed teen.  Whatever the young man did, was it necessary to shoot him?  Every night that he goes to bed, he sleeps with the knowledge that while doing his job, trying to maintain law and order, he pulled his gun and killed a young man/big kid.  I consider 18-year-olds young men and don’t accept calling them ‘kids’ as so many sports commentators like to do, but that’s for another column.  This policeman killed someone whose whole life was ahead of him. 
Why could he not resolve the confrontation with Michael Brown in another way?  Call for back up.  Use a Taser.  Use pepper spray.  Shoot the kid in the knee.  I am not a policeman.  I do not know the techniques.  I do not know what happened that day in his confrontation with Michael.  One of the reasons I have not commented is I do not know happened in this specific instance.  Maybe this was entirely a race-related event.  Maybe race had nothing to do with it.  Maybe it did.  Did Michael Brown provoke a policeman who has been disrespected one too many times by one too many young persons?  Was this about an overaggressive cop, or was it racism through and through?  It is just as possible that what happened was an example of racism that still lurks like a demonic agent of destruction bent on bringing our society down.  I just don’t know.  

I don’t know Michael Brown.  I don’t know the officer.  I wasn't there.  And I don’t know how trustworthy the news reports are.

I do know that it is tragic when a teen dies.  Truly, someone’s baby died.  Even if he did something wrong, it should not have come to this.  It is very sad that a young man died in this way.  Our culture’s violent reaction is an extension of the tragedy as well as an expression of wounds that continue to afflict America with pain.  The death of Michael Brown is awful for his family and at another level it is awful for America.
We have to acknowledge that something is broken.  Inside all of us, sin arises because we are apart from God.  We choose our way instead of God’s way.  Given Eve’s opportunity, every one of us eats the forbidden fruit willingly.  Something inside Michael Brown was broken.  
Something broken in the police officer led him to pull that trigger.  I know the voices who defend law enforcement officials would cry out that the policeman did nothing wrong.  He was using the necessary force to do his job.  I cannot deny or affirm that.  But I know that before he shot Michael Brown, something in him was broken – and now that which was broken has shattered even more. 
Deep in me, I know there is much that is broken.  Every time I demand my wife be someone other than who she is it is an example of my brokenness spilling out.  She is remarkably strong and loving to endure my self-centered, shallow tirades.  Every time I yell at my kids when a calmer response would accomplish more and be less destructive to their psyches, I know it is my brokenness on display.  Deep in every human, something is broken.
Jesus did not come to fix what is broken in us.  Jesus came to show what was always true – that which is broken in us leads to death.  This is why in baptism we go under the water.  Every time I baptize, as I sink the believer under I say, “Dead in sin.”  As I bring her up I say, “Raised to new life in Jesus.”  Jesus did not come to mend us.  Jesus’ arrival sheds light on already true fact: we are already dead.  But in Him, we are born again. 
The wounds of Trayvon Martin have not yet healed, and Michael Brown is upon us, awakening us to what is broken in all of us.  By the way, this means we (and here I mean “we whites,”) cannot, cannot, cannot talk about Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown as “they” (as in “those blacks”).  “We” and “they” does not work in this conversation.  This conversation will never gain any traction in drawing humanity together if “we” and “they” continue to be used.  We are heartsick about Michael Brown because he is one of us.  He is a human being.  He was made in the image of God.  Jesus died on the cross to cover his sins.  I feel my brother has died. 
As we have moved from Trayvon to Michael (and all the awful news that has popped up in between), Michael will barely fade from our lips when another incident will arise.  What can we (“we humans”) do?  Maybe we start with a question. 
The next time a tragedy happens, ask what is broken in each person involved.  What is broken in the victim?  What is broken in perpetrator?  What is broken in our system that allows such rush-to-judgment news reporting?  What is broken in social media that makes it such fertile ground for creative expressions of hatred and evil?  What is broken in me that I react the way I do, feel the way I do?
If, instead of anger, we recognize brokenness, we may feel compassion before we feel rage.  The compassion in us may have greater pull on how we express ourselves.  We may be more inclined to pray than we are to vomit our rage with confrontational posts and tweets.  And maybe, if we make asking what is broken in him an everyday practice, we might be more compassionate all the time.  We (“we humans”) might be intentional about seeking ways to be compassionate with each other all the time, and not just in times of turmoil like our current crisis. 

That is my thought.  I don’t know anyone in Ferguson, MO.  Beyond praying, I cannot do much there.  But in my life, in my town, in my interactions with people, I can be guided by the question what is broken in him or her.  As I process that question, I hope, no I pray, it will lead me to be compassionate.   In compassion, maybe I can do my part to present the world with an alternative story one in which people turn to Jesus and are born again to live forever with each other in God’s love.