On Wednesday morning I woke up early and heard reports coming out of Baton Rouge, that a 37 year old black man named Alton Sterling had been killed by police officers. Then I saw the tape. Hours later, an incredible father from Willow who is black reached out to tell me that he’s fearful of something terrible like what just occurred happening to him. I listened and was reminded of what Bill has taught us over the years about the power of a dual narrative.
I have friends from both perspectives. I have family and friends who have worked in law enforcement. My dad did payroll for the Grand Rapids Police department and when he was diagnosed with leukemia, police officers donated their personal sick time so my dad didn’t lose his job while battling cancer. He accrued hundreds of hours worth of sick time thanks to their selfless generosity. I grew up seeing police officers as kind and always there to protect me. And some of my black friends, when they share the narrative they grew up with, its easy to see that there is a gap in my experience compared with theirs.
So when my friend shared his fears with me, I leaned in and paid attention because I know his fear is valid. Many would say there has been a pattern of systemic injustice and abuse of power in parts of our country. I can’t deny that, even if it hasn’t been my personal experience. So the best way to be with my friend in this, is to simply listen, get curious, and seek to understand the best I can.
Then thursday morning I woke up to hear that Philando Castile, a 32 year old black man in St. Paul who was stopped by police for a broken tail light, was shot on the scene, right in front of his girlfriend and four year old daughter. The exact fear my friend had expressed 24 hours earlier had just occurred. I watched the video and fell apart.
Like many of you, I had a hard time sleeping that night. I vacillated from anxiety to anger to grief. Tossing and turning, I finally gave up and grabbed my phone, eager for a distraction. But as I scrolled the latest Twitter feed, reports of an attack on police officers in Dallas started trending. As I watched the footage and the number of officers pronounced dead went from one to five, my heart sank. A peaceful protest had been interrupted by senseless, deadly violence.
I picked up my bible and remembered the time Jesus approached Jerusalem, saw the city and started weeping over it. I couldn’t shake the thought that Jesus has been weeping over our country this past week. Weeping over the loss of life, weeping over kids growing up without parents, weeping over the injustice, weeping over the violence, weeping over the racism, weeping…
And as Jesus stands overlooking Jerusalem, wiping the tears from his face he says, “if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”
And it just feels like what will bring sustainable peace has become hidden to eyes of people. I imagine many of you feel a mixture of emotions just as I do: sadness, lament, anger, fear, frustration, grief, helplessness… What can bring us peace? What can truly heal this broken world?
Friends, Peace begins at the cross and moves towards us. Peace must live in our own homes and neighborhoods. Peace is in the grudges we hold or let go of, the judgements or the grace we silently consider as we pass people in the store and in our office buildings. I love these words from Jen Hatmaker, who says, “Do what you can today to create peace. Forgive someone. Call someone you’ve been meaning to encourage. Eat lunch in a different part of town and tip 40%. Offer kind words to someone that may be especially hurting and scared this week. Pray deeply and sincerely. Believe the peaceful man from Nazareth knew what he was talking about when he told us to forgive, love our enemies, defend the innocent, and lay down our rights for others.”
It’s that last line, forgive, love, defend and lay down our rights for others that is at the heart of the gospel and central to incarnating Peace.
The hope I find in those words of Jesus, “If you had only known what would bring you peace…” is that there is peace to be found. It does exist. It is possible. We just can’t find it on our own. We need to ask God to help us find the path back to peace. We must humble ourselves out of desperation and a deep desire for this violence to stop, so that we can listen and learn from our Creator. We need to intercede for those who have lost loved ones this week, we need to find ways to help carry their grief so they’re not left to do it alone. We need to call out institutional injustice and seek to rectify it. We need to do whatever we can to ensure that this senseless violence ends. We need to stand for peace. Let’s take time to pause and pray deeply and sincerely.
+this is an excerpt from a part of the service at Willow Creek, you can view the service in it’s entirety here.