Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson: The Violence Within

Fires light up the night sky outside of an American city.

I have no special insights into the particulars of the Grand Jury decision in Missouri. There is an underlying sadness, however, that afflicts our society and it stems from something greater than any particular event.

The event itself obviously was weighted with tragedy, and nothing can be done to restore a young man to life. As for the complicated juridical proceedings, I don't know enough about civil law to have an opinion worth expressing.

That doesn't mean I'm not paying attention. I'm reading, watching, listening, remembering the explosions of civil chaos in various American cities throughout my life. The problem of racism is as old as America (older, of course), and it's one of the elephants-in-the-room of the "American experiment" from its very beginning.

Martin Luther King was right in 1963 to refer to the American Founding as a "promissory note" that an entire group of American people had hitherto been unable to draw upon. 51 years have brought some progress, and yet racism is still with us.

There are other fundamental questions as well -- questions about what was actually promised in America's charter. One might wonder if there are other more profoundly ambivalent features in this brilliantly conceived, eclectic, tirelessly energetic, reckless, generous, visionary, gifted, disturbed, blessed, awesome, materialistic, free, full of possibilities, success-driven, rootless, magnificent, deeply flawed and dramatically human society called the United States of America.

I do not know what these features are, or how they have affected our history and our current national life. Much remains to be considered and verified.

I do know that on that August afternoon last summer, something went terribly wrong.

It is so easy to turn from the Ferguson shooting and its aftermath to broader categories of problems that trouble many people: racial tensions and prejudice, faulty law enforcement practices, abuse of power, pretexts for looting and stirring up riots, drug abuse, the dangers of the streets, the militarization of the police.

These are real problems that cast great shadows over the lives of people. But the explosion of violence is not just in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

There is a violence of the emotions and of the mind that swirls inside all of us. Some of us express outrage, others seek to take advantage of things for profit or political advantage, and others try to escape through apathy or simply take sensationalistic interest in the latest news as an anecdote to chronic boredom.

I don't know who exactly is guilty of what in Ferguson, or in the many reactions to it, or in all the various other acts of open or hidden violence that occur every day. But none of us is innocent.

We are all implicated and taken up into this dysfunctional social spiral. The external violence of brutality, crime, and war are a reflection of the internal violence and disorientation that we carry around inside ourselves and that so often poisons our relationships with others.

None of the "isms" on our political or social spectrum can resolve this fundamental problem.

Our hope is that the real reason for living -- for being focused in our energies as human beings -- can take hold of our lives and then remind us of the value of each moment we live. Only if we encounter a reason for hope that is greater than our fears will we emerge from the dark and become creative, constructive, and able to help one another.