What happens when the stimulus doesn't match the response? What happens when the punishment doesn't fit the crime? Could it be that we don't have the right information, or that we don't know the whole story, or that we are blinded by the narrowness of our own experiences?
Many Americans think that Officer Wilson deserved punishment of some sort for taking Michael Brown's life. Many Americans think that Michael Brown deserved punishment for stealing cigarillos and assaulting an officer of the law. Many Americans think that rioting and raging is the appropriate response to their perceived injustice. Many others think that the only meaningful and effective response is peaceful demonstrations and discussions. Still others think that there is nothing at all to talk about.
No matter where you land in this spectrum, it is undeniable that there is unrest in America today, and that unrest is about much, much more than the rounds that one white police officer pumped into one black man on one August afternoon. Ferguson has only pulled back the curtains on the tensions that have existed in America for years.
The truth is that this is our inheritance. We aren't responsible for the sins of our fathers, no we aren't. But we are reaping the harvest of what our fathers have sown. Strange fruit has withered and died and fallen from many trees into the soil of our society, where its seeds have taken root and grown into new trees, bearing a different kind of fruit that is no less deadly but is, alarmingly, much less visible to the dominant culture.
So what can we do? What can we do in the face of such longstanding, deep-seated tension? What do we do with this harvest of Distrust, Prejudice, Misunderstanding, Confusion, Fear, and (at best) Voluntary Segregation?
I don't know. I don't have a pat answer for you. Because I'm not YOU. I'm me -- with my own life experiences, my own history, my own family, my own neighborhood, my own job and coworkers, my own roommates and friends, my own fiancé, my own church, my own grocery store, my own positions of influence and power, my own story. But this much is true: Each person can only lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him. God has established and instituted our authorities. Our hearts make plans, but each of our steps must be brought forth by the Lord. And although we may not hold the position in our culture that we desire, we know that God's grace toward us to give us the life that He has chosen for us is not in VAIN, but is to demonstrate His wisdom and power. By the grace of God, I am what I am.
So what can we do? Each of us, in whatever circumstances the Lord has placed us, can take steps each day to tear down the wall of hostility. I'm in my neighborhood, you are in yours. But we will face different moments of decision each day, moments where we can deny our prejudicial inklings; where we can stand up for the cause of justice; where we can refuse to comply with our dominant culture's practices of apathy, indecision, and passive, tacit approval of the status quo. These are moments where we can willfully step outside of our own perspectives, where we can ask questions and engage in conversations with people we normally wouldn't, so that we can become students of what the American experience truly is. These are moments when we can kindly confront someone who is spewing vitriol and senseless hatred and urge them to pursue the path of love and peace. These are moments when you can use your voice -- the voice that the Lord ordained for you to have, for the people the Lord ordained to hear it -- to stand on the side of Justice and Righteousness. Speak for truth. Speak for love.
But the one thing we cannot do -- the one thing that will absolutely, without question, irrevocably cause the most damage -- is to do nothing. To sit idly by while hatred and injustice and division wins. To apathetically let the moment pass us by, to forget about the the seeds that are being planted, to ignore the harvest that will be coming.
America, the trigger has been pulled. We have been asked to see, to learn, to seek to understand, and to change.
How will you respond?
Hate evil, love good,
and establish Justice in the gate.
Let Justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Let it roll.