A Stubborn Hope

“These things have I spoken to you that in Me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

John 6:33

These words spoke by the Jesus Christ, were meant to comfort His disciples during a challenging, confusing and painful time. His death was imminent, and that death, complete with all of the violence, humiliation and horror that attended all public executions would shock and horrify them all. He wanted to steady them, fortify them for the times to come. He wasn’t asking them to ‘not be afraid’ in the normal sense of the world, but He was instructing them to remember the Words He was speaking to them and find peace in them. Peace – not in the sense of the absence of fear, tension or dismay, but peace in the sense of settled conviction, born of anticipation of something greater than the horrifying ugliness of all they would witness and experience.

We who are Christians believe these words to be instructions in anticipation of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. But there is a sense in which everyone – including those who may not be Christ believing, but who may be ‘peace believing’ – can be steadied by these same words.

We are living in horribly violent times. I’m writing these words as the nation is wrestling with the desire for justice, as it relates to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men shot to death by police officers in ways that have shocked and horrified the nation. Chants of ‘black lives matter’ are becoming controversial to some and a for others a call for others to recognize the precariousness, vulnerability and lack of regard for which they feel black lives have been thought of for nearly 450 years in this country.

In Dallas, the conflict between those two camps reached its nexus as five police officers, were killed. They were among 11 citizens shot when a madman fired upon a police officers protecting a black lives matter demonstration in downtown Dallas. We have been praying all week, there have been further demonstrations as well as outpourings of love and sympathy for the slain officers, their families and law enforcement officials that have poured into our city for more than a week now.

We are a city in search of healing and coming together. Yet it doesn’t mean that a national coming together. Do ‘black lives matter’? Or is it ‘blue lives’? Or is it ‘all lives’? Are black people just complaining – after all there has been all this progress made in the course of the past 50 years or so. And what about Sterling and Castile, both of whom were killed with weapons on them. In the case of Castile, a legally registered gun carrier in a ‘right to carry’ state. Castile, whose shooting was witnessed by his fiancé, in the car next to him, did everything the common sense and the officer told him to do. He told the officer that he had a license to carry and that there was a gun. He was shot to death as he reached for his wallet to produce his driver’s license. Does the state protected right to carry a weapon apply to blacks as well as whites?

We’d scarcely begun to ask these questions, let along find answers, as we found out this morning that three police officers were killed and three others injured in a shoot out in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the same city where Alton Sterling, laid to rest last week, was killed.

“In this world, you will have tribulation…”

If you notice precious little in the way of answers in this sermonic post, you’re right. They’re not here, because I don’t have any. I have participated in a number of different conversations on race, this past week. I’ve called for such conversations in the past. They are necessary. They are needed substantively and repeatedly. But I also know that talking is not enough. Action needs to be taken. Not just demonstrations and protests. But concrete policy actions. We need education, jobs for young minority youth. We need to pay law enforcement officers more money (it’s unconscionable that in a city like Dallas starting pay for officers is only $40,000 a year!). Reasonable starting salaries (at least $55,000) are a way of ensuring accountability. Police officers should also receive regular (at least every six to eight months) mental health screenings, and appropriate care where necessary and appropriate. These are men and women who see some of the ugliest that our society has to offer. Anger, depression, post traumatic shock are all a part of the job and they should receive the necessary mental health care that their stressful jobs call for.

But those aren’t answers per se. They are proposals. What we need are hearts that are willing to listen and care about one another. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all experienced it. We all have black and white friends who care deeply for each one of us. How can we spread that love in a way that others can see that and want it and duplicate it. The answer, for some of us, is salvation through Christ. But we also know of some Christians, who are just as bigoted as the racist non-believer.

The only ‘answer’ I have is hope. For me, that Hope is modeled by Christ, Who literally ‘overcame the world’: the world’s hatred; the world’s violence; the world’s racism; the world’s greed; the world’s suffering; the world’s self-righteousness…He overcame the World.

If you are not a religious person, you can still find that hope. Perhaps it’s in the lives of men like Victor Frankl who overcame the crushing cruelty of imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp; or Mahatma Gandhi, who’s transcendent spirit helped him overcome the bigotry, prejudice and hate institutionalized in the British Empire, conquer that empire and help his people achieve national independence; or maybe it is Nelson Mandela who resisted bitterness, even after 27 years of imprisonment on Robin’s Island and emerged to be supremely instrumental of breaking the yoke of imperialism for South Africa and became that nation’s first President.

I have hope in both God and man, that we can find a way out of this morass of hatred, violence and racism and together achieve a world of Love, Peace and Justice.

What do you think?