I had a periodontal procedure. #cringealert!!
The periodontist scraped flesh off the roof of my mouth and then grafted it onto my receding gums. I had the same procedure in 2007. That was long enough ago and it worked well enough that I only remembered the success, not the pain. This past fall, I had procedure, and it didn’t quite work. So I had to have it again just a little less than two weeks ago. Let me tell you, right now, the pain is very present.
I had visions of using this as a season of spiritual discipline. I knew what I was getting into and I hoped the throbbing on the roof of my mouth would push me deeper into prayer. That has happened – a little. I have prayed more lately. The throbbing has also pushed me to codeine and ibuprofen and lots of it.
Philip Yancey and Paul Brand wrote a great book called The Gift of Pain. Pain is a messenger. It tells the body something is wrong. The thing that hurts the lepers Dr. Brand worked with in India was lack of pain or feeling of any kind. Numbness in their extremities prevented these poor people from realizing their hand was burning in a fire or being gnawed by a rodent or becoming infected from a wound. Small injuries festered until digits fell off because of a lack of an alert system – pain!
Our nation has been awakened by one of our “pain-induced alert systems” – the pain of our citizens of color who have been abused and murdered by the police who are supposed to protect and serve. Ferguson and the backlash; Staten Island and Eric Garner; Cleveland and Tamir Rice; and now Baltimore and Freddie Gray; each case is an instance of societal pain. Are we in America nearing some kind of tipping point?
Do whites in America (people like me) feel this pain? Middle class whites can pretend that these stories are not relevant to them. But we are all part of the human race. If a person’s skin color or income or zip code makes him feel immune to this pain and thus renders him indifferent to the situation, he is like that leper who cannot feel his numb fingers as rabid rats chew on them. The screams of pain from persecuted communities will eventually bring serious hurt to us all.
We need to react to the alerts the pain is sending. We need to pull our hand away from that which bites or burns it. We need to see that when unarmed people are targeted and killed just because of their skin color, it hurts us all. We need to link black arm in white arm. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder, brother to brother, and sister to sister. We need confront injustice in tangible ways: law enforcement injustice; educational inequality; lack of economic opportunity. We need to say a resounding no to it all.
I know how clichéd this all sounds. I know how easy it is to sit at my keyboard and type. I know how hard it is to transfer these true but tired bromides from wishful thinking into real action. I don’t exactly know how to do it.
So, I am starting with what someone else is doing. May 9 is the Million Mom March on Washington (http://www.mothersforjusticeunited.org/p/march3.html). I know I am not a mom, but I ache for those who have lost their children because their children happened to be African American and caught in the path of the wrong policemen.
There are thousands of good men and women who are officers of the law. One of my best friends in the world going back to when I was 13 is a law enforcement officer. I trust him to be fair and honest, and I hurt for all the honest cops whose names and reputations have been tarnished by the actions of a few of their racist, bullying peers. So many law enforcement officials are heroes who would put their lives on the line to protect the public – everyone in the public. But, a few bad apples have inflicted enormous pain on America.
And it is more than a few bad apples. The bad apples are able to ruin the bunch because our system in America is set up to advantage one group and hold back another. The strongholds that perpetuate this evil are systemic.
Systemic racism is also aided by the lazy, cowardly silence from people like me – middle class whites not interested enough to get involved. But to ignore the problem is to turn my back on Jesus. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, he numbered himself with the abused and the disenfranchised of society. Where was Jesus when death visited Freddy? And Tamir? And Eric? And Michael? And Trayvon? With nail holes in his hands, he wrapped his arms around them and continues to wrap his arms around their families and the communities afflicted by our 21st century manifestation of racism.
I cannot call myself his follower and then now follow. He stands with the victim. So too must I. On May 9th, I will march because I feel the pain. I am part of the body and I feel the creeping of the infection – the infection of violent racism. I cannot ignore the pain nor I can I turn a deaf hear to the wailing of mothers in mourning, nor can I pretend my Lord has not commanded me to step forth. I must join in.
I pray you will join me. If you have plans this Saturday, change them. Come march, and add your voice to chorus singing for justice, equality, and love. Come, be part of a new declaration. Be part of the moment when America declared racism would lose its voice in the 21st century.