Sunday, July 10, 2016

Whose Life Matters?

Today’s gospel reading, from the lectionary, is the story often entitled “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-17). It is one of those stories which I think of as a Sunday School story. One of those as a child I heard many times. The details slipped into my sub-conscious. I know the story well. Jesus responding to a question about who is one’s neighbour replies with a tale about an injured traveller who was left at the side of the road. Three people pass by him, but only one stops to tend him.

At this point the story is subverted. It is not those who one would expect to exercise a duty of care who responded. They crossed the road. Sadly, that is a common response, both literally and figuratively. I remember when my children were very small I had a friend whose second baby died at birth. It was a hard time for the young family. Talking with the young mother some time later, she said that as she had tried to make things normal for her toddler son one of the hardest things was to watch people cross the road when they saw her approaching. She realized it was because they did not know what to say to her. For them, it had just been easier to cross the road than face the situation.

In the story the person who responded was the person least expected. It was a Samaritan. Samaritans were looked on with disdain by those to whom Jesus was speaking. Yet, this was the person who was truly a neighbour. Not only did the Samaritan respond to the immediate needs of the injured person but took care of future needs for him to ensure he was fully restored. As with many of the gospel stories this would have had a huge impact on the contemporary listeners. Even the fact that the Samaritan touched the injured person would have caused a ripple of shock. For those who took it seriously it would have been deeply challenging. It would have exposed their biases. They would have had to look at their own prejudices and change. To look at oneself and change deeply ingrained, cultural views is always a courageous thing to have to do, especially when it runs counter-culturally.

This story, which will be read in churches around the world today, seemed especially fitting after yet another week of violence. Violence that took place simply because people look different. It was the sort of violence that left one stunned, in the moment it felt incomprehensible.

Two young Black men, in different States, had been shot and killed by police officers. In response a young Black man had killed five police officers and injured several more. He, in turn, was killed.  Violence always begets more violence.

Slogans have filled social media #Blacklivesmatter, #copslivesmatter, #alllivesmatter

All of the above are true. Indeed, the life of all humanity is important. Yet, at this point in time, at this point in our history, it is the Black lives that need our attention. My thoughts today are how can we help those in the Black community feel safe?  

Please don’t read this as thinking that the lives of those police officers are of secondary importance. I deplore what happened in Dallas. My heart and prayers go out to the families of those killed. I was very moved to see the short video clip of people, Black and White, lining up to hug police officers in Dallas.

I would not want to say that individually all police officers are racist. I think that the police force, by large, do a good job of exercising their duty of care. Yet, the systemic racism is undeniably, many events over the last year have shown that it exists. Statistics of the numbers of Black people in prison show it exists. My personal PhD studies show it exists, Black children receive corporal punishment in schools at a much higher rate than White kids. This is all unacceptable.

In his “I have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King wrote,

“Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning . . . We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

Yet, fifty-tree years later I know the Black community still feel unsafe. And, unsafe even in the presence of police officers who should be offering protection. A few posts from Facebook friends made this abundantly clear. One said, “I feel like these days black and brown people are waking up in the morning asking themselves, "Will I be next?" I know I do.” Others talked about their fears, their isolation and their tears.

Because of our experience as foster parents Andy and I have experienced the difference in the way Black and White teens are treated. We have even seen racism here in Ithaca in our local stores. One Black teen was challenged that he had adjusted the price on a sale garment. He had not, I’d been with him when he found it and he was overjoyed at the reduction. As soon as Andy stepped forward and asked was there a problem the assistant immediately backed down. “Oh no, sir.” We know other foster and adoptive parents who have faced similar challenges raising Black children. It is simply not right, change needs to happen.

At present our Black friends are like the injured man in the Lukan passage, figuratively lying on the side of the road, “stripped, beaten and half-dead (v. 30) So, do Black lives matter? We have a choice. Do we cross the road and walk by? Or do we “pour oil and wine on the wounds, bandage them, take the injured to an inn and pay for care (34).”

King again,

“. . . many of our white brothers . . . have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.”

(I have a Dream.