Yesterday night, George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin. I read about it, watched it on TV, saw the Facebook posts, and disbelief led to anger led to tears. I am still not sure how to feel or what to say or if anything should be said at all. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the case and its aftermath are stark reminders that things just aren’t right, that this world is groaning for its renewal.
This morning we had church. I had planned to sing four songs in our worship set; the sermon was on freedom. But after the decision came out, I asked myself, “How can I sing these songs? How can I pretend that everything is ok? That God is in control? As if there was indeed freedom for all of us.” Am I supposed to fool myself into believing in a benevolent God who cares about freedom and liberation when justice is lying dead in the streets? I scrapped the set. I ended up throwing in a song that had the lines, “Father heal your world, make all things new. Make all things new.” It still felt cheap.
I stopped the music after the third song. Trying not to be political I said clumsily, “Sorry… um, if you would allow me… my heart is heavy this morning.” And I told everyone in our congregation that I couldn’t keep worshiping without acknowledging the injustice surrounding the Trayvon Martin case, that I believed that God wanted us to lament. No other time during service was Trayvon’s name mentioned. Not during the prayer time, not during communal confession, not during the sermon. “Christ has made us free!” was the message from the pulpit.
Well aren’t we lucky. We’re free! We’re so free that we don’t have to think about things like race and injustice. And a God who cares for the oppressed doesn’t have to be included in our theology because, hey, that’s not our problem. What a luxury it is to contemplate about things like freedom and atonement without ever having to think about those who are trapped in cycles of poverty and oppression, which, by the way, are spiritual issues. What freedom do we proclaim to them? The freedom to repent of the “bad” decisions that led them into poverty? What atonement do we proclaim to them? That God forgives them for their sins while doing absolutely nothing about a racist system that strangles them? How fortunate it is that we live in a reality completely separate from these people. Thank God we don’t ever have to think about these questions! Thank. God.
As a Chinese American male in the Bay Area, I have the privilege of rarely having to think about race and discrimination. I am not followed in stores. People do not cross the street to avoid me. Last week, I got a suit tailored by an old Italian man who said in his thick accent, “I love Chinese people! Do you know why? Because when I see them on the streets, I feel safe!” That is privilege. I will never know what it’s like to be a black man in this country. I will never know what it’s like to be feared, hated, and distrusted. I will never fully understand why my friend, who is black, was so reluctant to go shopping with me, saying, “I don’t belong in places like Target.” For me, engaging with issues of race and injustice are a choice. I can go to work, to the store, around the neighborhood and not once have to think about what my Chinese-ness means to people who see me. If I don’t feel like thinking about race today–guess what?–I don’t have to. Some people don’t have that choice. Some people are reminded everywhere they go that they do not belong because of the color of their skin.
So I guess I shouldn’t be mad at those who simply don’t care, who see racism as a thing of the past, who, even if they acknowledge the existence of racism, don’t think God has anything to say about it. If you hang out with people who look just like you, and you’ve never really seen or experienced discrimination, why should I expect you to care? If the status quo has benefited you (as it has for many (East) Asian Americans), why would I expect you to challenge it?
Today I lament. I lament for Trayvon Martin. I lament for George Zimmerman. I lament over our country, our justice system, and our desperate addiction to violence. I lament for our churches, for our silence, apathy, inaction, and our compliance with and support of injustice. I lament over our inability to lament. I lament over my own ignorance and inaction, for the prejudice I harbor in my own heart.
Church, let us wake up. Let us cry and fight and feel and rage and break out of the robotic patterns that keep us doing a whole lot of nothing. Let us realize that we are oppressed by the very existence of oppression. These are our issues. We cannot fence ourselves off from other hurting communities. In these moments, our silence speaks volumes.
Lord have mercy.
So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes.
At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;
among the strong, we are like the dead.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene