Monday, July 15, 2013

Who is my neighbor? His name might be Trayvon or maybe George.

I had absolutely no desire to write anything about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial for a few reasons. First, this blog is about practical lessons from the life of Jesus and the thoughts come more from my personal reading of the scripture than from current events. Secondly, (Alert: I'm about to admit something I'm not proud of), I was a bit scared to touch this topic since I have friends that seem to have strong opinions on both sides of the issue and I want everyone to think well of me. Finally, I believe that the way the media has handled this story has been shameful and I did not want to jump on the bandwagon. So, I was not planning to write anything about the death of Trayvon Martin, the trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman, the injustice (or justice) of it all or anything like that.

Then I got the text. The text came from my literal neighbor. She lives next door and happens to be a person of color. This is what she texted me: This Trayvon case made me think of you....and the humane way in which you handled the suspect! Thank you Al for being an agent of peace, for demonstrating God's love everything you do! I was deeply moved by this text which came out of the blue on a Sunday morning. Later, she posted to Facebook: In my neighborhood (Seattle) a few years ago, there was a series of of my neighbors saw the suspect walking down the street with the laptop case he stole from my neighbor's house just minutes before. My neighbor, who was in his car, took photos of the suspect and handed it over to the police, who then found the suspect and was able to prosecute him. My neighbor is a white man. The suspect is a young black boy. No one died.

My neighbor is definitely a "person of peace".  The text and the Facebook post spurred me to re-read the story that Jesus told in answer to a person who wished to justify himself. That person asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"

Jesus told the story of a man beaten, robbed and left to die who was passed over by two of his own countrymen and was helped by a Samaritan - a member of an ethnic group disdained by the Jewish people. As I read this familiar story, I was struck by what a story of race it is. Jesus makes it clear that the victim was Jewish and that the people who did not help him were also Jewish and religious. He also makes a point to clearly mention the ethnicity of the one who showed mercy, ““But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion”. (Luke 10:33)

Which side are you on in the verdict of not guilty? Was justice served or mocked? A seventeen year old, probably not unlike the teenager who robbed the homes in our neighborhood, is dead. The man who pulled the trigger will have to live with this for the rest of his life. Is it possible for those of us who follow Christ to  at least  feel the compassion that the Samaritan did when he encountered the victim on the side of the road?

Allow me to take the risk of making my friends on both sides of this verdict unhappy by expressing two opinions. First opinion: the presumption of innocence makes it pretty difficult to find George Zimmerman guilty of murder or manslaughter in this case. No one really knows what happened when the two began to wrestle on the ground. Second opinion: Had the story played out in the exact same way, but Trayvon was the person who had a gun and used it that night, I question whether he would have been found "not guilty".

I read several posts on Facebook by friends who are seeking to follow Jesus. They ranged from, "the right verdict was reached, this was never about race" to "who is going to join me tonight at the rally to protest this injustice?". People are taking sides. My friends whose skin color is a darker shade than mine  believe a great injustice was done, so do those who (though white) live and serve in the inner city. My white, evangelical friends (with a couple of exceptions) think that the right verdict was reached.

One friend posted the following statement in which I'm in wholehearted agreement:
We get nowhere so long as we continue to play into a culture of fear, division, and "other." What am I doing to advocate for equality, harmony, love, reconciliation, education, compassion, and understanding? Are the principles and qualities that I integrate into my actions and conversations and thought patterns further stirring up a culture of fear and division, or am I walking in the opposite spirit? What would it look like if we chose radical love and compassion over gut reactions and suspicion?

So why do I look at issues of race and ethnicity? Because Jesus did. You can read about it in Luke 10.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic comments, shared on my Facebook wall by another "person of peace" who has an amazing way of showing love wherever he goes. Thank you for your approach here.