Responding to a Traumatic Week image

Responding to a Traumatic Week

It is difficult to know what to say about the events of the last week. On Monday we saw the story of Amy Cooper go viral, as a young man had the police called on him for being black while birdwatching. The outrage lasted for a day before it was replaced by the far more chilling footage of George Floyd dying of asphyxiation, face down and handcuffed on a city street, after a police officer had kept his knee on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes, for the last two minutes and forty-five seconds of which he was unresponsive. The symbolism, of a white police officer's knee on the throat of a defenceless black man, was hard to miss; the obvious question - how many people have been killed like this without being caught on film? - has been asked by millions (although many African Americans already knew the answer). It has sparked protests across the world, several of which have led to riots, violence, curfews and heightened tensions. And all this is on top of the Covid-19 tragedy, in which we know that black people are several times more likely to die, and the previous recent tragedies of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. It is hard to know what to say.

I have spent much of the week wondering, with every new story making it harder to put into words what is happening. But even when we don’t know what to say - and I certainly don’t, even now - I think there are several things we can do, so that our confused sorrow not become an indifferent silence. Four in particular occur to me.

1. Grieve. We call injustices “grievous” for a reason: they are supposed to be grieved. We are meant to lament, to express sorrow about tragedies like these, without instantly turning them into a solution (we just need to do X) or a debate (let’s wait and see the facts about Y). There is a time to mourn, whether privately, publicly or both. This is one of those times.

2. Learn. White pastors like me, by and large, will be watching these events from the outside, trying to empathise, rather than experiencing them as something happening to our community, as many in our congregations are. One thing we can do is educate ourselves. We need to understand why things are like this, not just in America but in the UK and elsewhere as well. A couple of years ago I pulled together a bunch of resources I’ve found helpful, to which we can add Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise and Ben Lindsay’s We Need To Talk About Race, among others. This thread from Thabiti Anyabwile, posted just a few hours ago, is another excellent example. Learning helps.

3. Speak. You might think that it goes without saying that murder is wrong, that police brutality is a problem, that racism is evil, and that the combination is an abomination. It might feel so obvious that it is not worth verbalising. But there are two reasons you should anyway. The first is that there are plenty of Christians, especially in the West, for whom the events of the last week represent isolated incidents with no underlying pattern of racism in society as a whole, and who are already responding to the situation with what-aboutery and yeah-buttery. The second is that silence, especially from those in the majority, is one of the weapons the enemy has historically used to keep white supremacy in place. Articulating your outrage, grief or prayers can challenge the first and directly confront the second.

4. Pray. I hope this is too obvious to need mentioning, but it might not be. We need to pray, publicly and privately: that God would find a way of bringing comfort to the victims’ families, righteousness into the public square, wisdom to those with civic responsibilities, peace to the cities that are threatened, and justice at both individual and structural levels. If you run out of words, pray in languages. Use the psalms. Try to articulate what you would pray if it had happened within your family - and then remember that, in a very powerful sense, it actually has.

There are many other steps that it may be appropriate to take as well. Giving. Protesting. Campaigning. Voting. But for now, grieve, learn and pray. And don’t lose hope.

Marana tha.

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