Ferguson is not new. The cycle of provocation, harassment, and severe punishment to any response is a reality well-documented by African-Americans. We have seen the suspension of people’s rights and wonton abuse of force by the police. But while I and so many others have been lamenting, crying, shouting over television reports and twitter feeds, I can’t help but begin to feel the beginning of the slow wane of public interest. I feel the tiredness of my brothers and sisters. I feel the authorities seemingly trying to wait us out, hoping this story will pass.
But being so far away in Seattle, I have been having to ask what will I do? What will my calling and vocation look like given what I have seen? As a theologian, I occupy the space of the academy and the church. But those spaces are not isolated. They are inhabited by people who are seeking answers to questions about how they will live, who they love, how will they survive and prayerfully flourish. These people are my parish.
What will I do? As theologians we presume to teach about who God is and who we are as God’s children and what is this world that God created and that we inhabit. What will our classes look like this year? Can we really teach about who God is without considering the realities that we have seen throughout the world this summer?
So I am going to teach. My students will be introduced to a God who is transcendent and who is near. They will hear about the theological journey through the words of W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass and Lauryn Hill and Shawn Copeland. They will be asked to consider not only the individual effects of the Fall, but also the structural realities of our fallen condition. They will encounter a Christ who does not save their souls, but in his incarnation tells us that we are more than souls. But even more, that the kingdom of God is not a far away status of safety, but the presence of a kingdom that breaks down the structures of exclusion and suffering. It is not enough for us to include a few “alternative” voices in our classes. We must ask ourselves the dangerous question, “What if they are right?” If they are, you can’t just pin them to the end of the class and say your teaching is diverse. If they are right you will need to reconsider the whole thing.
But I am also going to sit on a committee. Watching the work of all those who protested so diligently at the Moral Monday marches in Raleigh, NC and having seen how the sausage is made in a university, I am beginning to realize moments are like Ferguson are not resolved in the immediate aftermath. Moments like Ferguson become the catalyst for the mundane, everyday work of revising policies, agitating for funding, changing curriculums. So I am going to sit on a committee this year and strategically choose one policy at my university that might begin to make our university more equitable, more diverse, more justice oriented.
And lastly, I am going to learn about my city. I am going to learn the histories of my neighborhoods, become aware of the policies that govern the police, learn about what is already being done and how I can help. But this is not just about policing. This is about education, about the criminal justice system. It is about a legacy of racism in this country that cannot be ignored.
There have been so many words and seemingly so little peace for the people of Ferguson. I am going to continue to prayer, to post, to shout out with them. But I am also going to pray with my life in the coming year, learning about the realities of my neighbors and working to help further the mechanisms, policies, and communities that can testify to God’s presence among us.
What will you do? What will your teaching looking like this year? What will you risk in your committees? In your neighborhoods?