The Common Fountain of Grief

O, this violence. O, this division. When will it stop. Will it kill me, someone in my family? Will it kill this country, our communities, our collective life?

After falling asleep earlier than usual Thursday evening, I woke up early Friday morning. I had a nightmare. It was so disturbing I could not get back to sleep. So I went downstairs, and turned on the TV. Then I heard the news of a real, living nightmare. I did not get back to sleep.

I must be honest, these past few years and up till Dallas, I have been really torn. On one hand, I realize how important police officers are to our collective lives. I realize the sacrifice they make and the difficulty of the job. I worked with officers in the ER when I was a resident chaplain and witnessed firsthand their professionalism, their sense of duty, and their dedication. In my role here, there are members of this community that are or have been police officers and whom I really respect and admire. I think of Dan and Dane and Paul. We can not underestimate the role they play in our civic life. And 98% of the time that role is a positive one and we should never forget to thank our police officers for the work they do, for the protection and service they offer, and for the peace they seek to make. They are trying to maintain law and order without which society cannot function.

On the other hand, as someone who grew up with Black neighbors, who played on sports-teams through middle school with Black teammates, who has known deep friendships with Black people, who has intensely studied the Civil Rights Movement and sees Dr. King as a primary spiritual teacher, I feel a profound sense of loss when it comes to the crisis of young Black men being disproportionately killed in confrontations with police officers.

I cannot help but state that it is real. There is data to prove it.

In a recent study that looked at thousands of use-of-force episodes from police departments across the nation, it was shown that "African-Americans are far more likely than whites and other groups to be the victims of use of force by the police, even when racial disparities in crime are taken into account." Behind this, is what researchers and psychologists call "implicit bias." We all have implicit bias, Black or white, but it is extra deadly when it involves stress, confrontation, weapons, and power dynamics (police officers have it - power - and the person pulled-over and/or being questioned does not).

Now, we must be honest. It is all very complicated. There are many factors to be considered and not all of them related to just issues with the police. There are factors of poverty, family dynamics, urban blight and decay, not to mention drug addiction and Black on Black crime. There is a long history and deep division dating back to slavery, a wound still never fully healed.

Yet, we must not avoid the truth – there is a problem rooted in a lack of rapport, trust, and common ground between the Black community and Police. It is a centuries old problem. And it is a problem we must be address honestly and compassionately.

The atrocity in Dallas has, however, caused me to look deeper and see some things I hadn't considered before. I offer you some of these insights.

First of all, I see more and more that social media is not a complete help here. Yes, it has brought some things to light that otherwise would remain mostly in the dark, and it has us talking. However, I worry that the nature of our talking and our reactions, via Social Media, is not always helpful.

In hindsight, I saw this in my self Thursday. It is too easy to be effected by Group Think. It is too easy to want to feel part of the discussion, even if it is not really a discussion. It is too easy to put our two cents out there and to do it too quickly. It is all too easy, isn't it? But it is not really all that helpful, in the scheme of things. It might make us feel good, or others who think like us feel good. On some occasions, yes, it may give others insight. But it is compassion we need more of these days. Insights and insightfulness, this is good. But these are a dime a dozen. We need real, persistent, active compassion, with less speaking and more listening, more than anything else.

Words are not going to do it. Phrases and memes are not going to do it. Facebook posts are not going to do it. Protests are not going to do it.

Sitting together is. A sitting together that begins with meaningful silence and a sincere connection to our common humanity.

I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to bad habits in regard to Social Media. My sin is Facebook. I try to use it well as a citizen and as a minister. But I sometimes fall short. I sometimes fall prey to the groupthink and verbosity it too easily proffers. I sometimes simply add more fleeting words to a sea of fleeting words when what we need is a small pond of reflection and quiet to look deeply at ourselves and our connections to others.

And so I am taking a break maybe even a permanent break from Facebook. The temptation to be too hasty and quick to speak instead of deliberative and wise with my words is too great. And Lord knows we need more deliberation and wisdom.

The other thing that really hit me as I contemplated the tragedies is this: what we really need is to grieve and to do so together. If there is one thing I have learned in my seven years as a hospice chaplain and here as minister amid times of grief is that there is no more common a denominator than loss and grief after loss.

The mother of Philando Castile, the young Black man killed in St. Pauls, Minnesota Wednesday is grieving just as profusely and profoundly and will continue to do so as the mother of Patrick Zamarripa, the Dallas officer killed in the ambush Friday morning, is. Their grief is a mothers grief, the deepest grief one can know. And as Bono of U2 reminds us, "no one cries like a mother cries for peace on earth."

What we need more than anything in our collective American life is to grieve together. To experience the sense of loss and pain of the other and see how it is like our own. We need to do this more than quipping out slogans however true they may be. We need it more than protests or counter-protests, no matter how sincere or real the issues are.

Having sat through a number of Bereavement Groups, I can tell you there is nothing as powerful and healing and unity-building as sharing in the reality of our shared grief. We need to do this as a nation. We have needed to do it since the Civil War, the end of slavery, and Lincoln's assassination. We've missed opportunities all along the way since, especially after the deaths of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy. I hope and pray that we do not pass this chance up. We are all grieving the loss of young men who died much too young at the hands of a gun. Let us do it together. And let it begin to heal our wounds, the ones that are still open, festering, and vulnerable. It may be the last chance we have. As MLK reminds us the choice is not between nonviolence and violence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.


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