I love pastoring my church. It’s the hardest thing my wife and I have ever done but we are blessed to have planted Quest Church in 2001. One of our visions for Quest was that it would grow to be a multiethnic and multigenerational church – not for any other reason than it reflects the vision of the Kingdom of God.
The challenges are real but one of the blessings of such a community is that it exposes the blind spots that we all have. All of us. And if you don’t think you have any, that’s proof you have blind spots. Imagine a church if only men were in leadership? Or if only women were in leadership? Imagine a church if only the older folks were in leadership? Or the entire church was completely homogeneous?
We would simply see things through a particular narrative or filter of lens.
And such is the general case, in my opinion, of how many are “seeing” the case and verdict of George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin.
I have encouraged my readers to consider taking the time to listen, seek to understand, and mourn with those who mourn.
I would additionally encourage you to not fall for the bait of the extremists or idiots on polar opposites. And by that, I’m talking about those that would resort to mayhem and violence or [shaking my head] those that would show up at a peaceful protest of young adults and kids…wearing a “Ni**er” shirt. These are rare stories and we would be wise not to allow them to hijack the large narratives of how people are genuinely seeking to process, understand, make sense, seek justice, and form their respective convictions.
But since we all have blind spots, we have to have the courage to examine our blind spots – perhaps even to begin by acknowledging we have them. Some of you insist you have none. We have to consider how we all choose (or have it be chosen for us) the filters by which we see and process things. This is why many have chosen to see the verdict purely from a legal or “evidence” perspective. As such, many of my readers or social media following have pushed back,
“Where is the concrete evidence that race was ever an issue?“
And that’s my point.
You’re asking the wrong questions.
It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced the nuances of being “an other”. I’ll write more of this another time but for now, I think we would all be amiss if we all don’t take the time to consider our respective blind spots. I have those blind spots, too, so I have been personally compelled to do so with all the respective comments, emails, and conversations that have been generated by the verdict.
As I shared earlier, I’m privileged to be a pastor to an imperfectly amazing church. Very imperfect. Very amazing. I wanted to share with you a very honest and raw piece written by one of my church folk. Her name is Wendi. Yes, she’s black. And yes, she has a son. And yes, he’s 17. And by the way, his name is Messiah. And yes, Wendi’s brilliant but I don’t need to spew her resume.
Read her story and I hope it illuminates:
I spent the weekend talking to my son and with friends and family who work in the criminal justice system. Trying to make sense out of this verdict. Heart sunk but not surprised. The prosecution over reached and witnesses were inadequately prepped. But nothing contributed more to this verdict than that subtle undertone of the scary Black male ready to snatch a purse and rape a daughter at the slightest provocation. Despite best efforts, Trayvon was not seen as a teenage victim who was stalked by a strange man. His humanity was eradicated and he became the pot smoking boogeyman that waits in the shadows for good, law abiding citizens.
Little has changed since the 1930s. Know your place. Be grateful for inclusion but not so arrogant to believe that you actually belong. Never respond aggressively. Even when provoked you do not have a right to defend yourself. Stop complaining. You have a vote, right? Provided you can pass the tests.
Too often our survival – physical, emotional, financial- depends upon these rules. Whether it is walking through quiet suburban streets where neighbors eye us with suspicion, driving down the freeways in cars we couldn’t possibly afford or sitting in conference rooms with colleagues who resent our presence and fear our competence. Despite the growing Black middle class, the upsurge in interracial relationships, or the prevalence of Black music, fashion and slang, the rules remain the same. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that these rules, this double-standard, is so ingrained into the very fabric of society that it is often subconsciously enforced by even the lowest rung. This is how a working class brown man claiming some Afro-Latino descent can see a dark skin Black child walking through his neighborhood and immediately assume the worse – and be justified by our legal system for that assumption.
Trayvon Martin’s murder and trial are just a symptom of a disease that has been rotting America since our Founding Fathers wrote, “all men are created equal” with one hand while wielding a whip against Black backs in another. Humanity is a fickle condition determined by the whims of the political power structure. This is a rot that we find in most nations across where the many are expendable for the safety and comfort of the paranoid few.
When I asked supporters of Zimmerman, “What if Trayvon was my son?” they all responded with indignation. “Well, we know your son.” “We love him.” “He would never do that?”
Do what? Beat up a man that was stalking him through dark rainy streets? I can’t promise that. But I am reminded here that for we “others” our humanity is acknowledged through familiarity. So, I cautiously introduce my tall, 240 pound dark-skin son to any new neighbors so they will remember that this is my child.
His name is Messiah. He likes to laugh, watch anime and play football. He won’t admit it but he also likes to hug his mom. His favorite color is red. His favorite TV show is Big Bang Theory. He’s seventeen so he’s prone to foolishness. But he is not a criminal. He’s just coming home. Please let him pass.
And so we continue to prepare our children for this world … My prayers go out to the parents of Trayvon Martin. How do you mourn the death of your child, how do you move on, when your child’s killer walks free? I would not wish that torment on any parent.