"Woe to you who are at ease in Zion!" This is the prophet Amos' refrain to the privileged elite of ancient Israel as they ignored the injustice and poverty overtaking their nation. Amos was speaking to those with power, property, wealth, agency and means. These were people who understood themselves as faithful to the covenant, blessed by God and deserving of everything they had - yet, blind to the poor in their midst, the oppressed in their streets and the widows and orphans left vulnerable to the economic and political exploitation of their day.
Woe to us who are at ease in Zion.
It has been almost two months since clergy and faith leaders from across the country answered the Live Free call from our colleagues in Ferguson and St. Louis County to join them as they addressed the killing of Michael Brown and the horrific response from the law enforcement agencies. Our lives have been enriched by the deep relationships we established with young people, forged in the crucible of non-violent protests, militarized police responses, tear-gassing, rubber bullets and civil disobedience.
We learned so much from their stories detailing decades of racial profiling, police brutality, bench warrants, voter intimidation and arrests by police at the voting polls, economic disinvestment, criminalization and so much more. We have been inspired by their daily commitment to make sure things never return to "normal." We learned all of this, because we showed up.
This is why I am convinced every follower of Jesus must show up to Ferguson immediately. I want every follower of Jesus to see what we saw and learn what we've learned. Given the historic nature of Ferguson and its immediate induction in the timeline of struggle for dignity and human rights in America, it can appropriately be understood as a metaphor for every place where violence, marginalization, injustice and civil unrest persists. There is a Ferguson in every community across the country. You may not be able or compelled to make the trip to Ferguson, Missouri, but you can walk across the street. The question for the follower of Jesus, is the same question posed to me when we showed up in Ferguson, Where is the church? Where are the people that follow Jesus?
This continuous refrain by young people and community members requires a response that is not defensive, but humble and conciliatory. I tire of the responses of followers of Jesus who bemoan the lack of outrage related to daily acts of violence among urban communities. This seems to be the greatest example of our absence. Because everywhere where we are present, we know there is no lack of outrage, there is accompanied grief, pain and a resolve to work to change these conditions. The ability to even fathom the absence of a response to gun violence is only possible if you are the one who is are absent from the response. It is only possible to bemoan the supposed absence of a response to gun violence when that absence of response is your own. It's time for us to be incarnate in the pain of Fergusons everywhere by meeting Jesus where he already resides.
I am a follower of Jesus. I believe he came to set the captive free. I am convinced salvation is not just for the soul, but also for the body. The past few months, I must admit my faith has been shaken. To see the state sponsored violence by police and its disregard for the constitutional rights of Ferguson residents has injured me. To read the very racist and dehumanizing rhetoric across social media has troubled me. To hear what Dr. King calls the tranquilizing drug of gradualism become the default response of many clergy colleagues has disappointed me. To observe the slow moving responses of elected officials at the local, state and national level to this human rights crisis has angered me.
As we show up for a weekend of resistance and solidarity, let us remember that the first revolution is always internal and I pray it impacts the many ways followers of Jesus will show up:
• As young people engaging in nonviolent protest, show up committed to not settling for anything less than a transformed city where we can live free from all forms of violence and criminalization.
• As law enforcement officers, show up with best intentions, an acknowledgement of our shared humanity and a commitment to do constitutional policing free from violence fueled by irrational fear and racial bias. And a commitment to expose and expel rogue officers who fall short.
• As clergy leaders, show up with a prophetic edge and acts of solidarity that are just as committed to following on the ground leaders, especially young people, when its not necessary or appropriate for us to lead.
• As mothers and fathers, show up with the courage and commitment to remind everyone that our sons and daughters lives matter.
• As philanthropy and business leaders, show up with the willingness to leverage and scale our collective wealth and resources to empower people and communities with agency and opportunity.
• As elected officials, show up with bold solutions that are grounded in the pain of your constituents and the transformative impulses of values and justice.
As human beings created in the image of God, may we all show up remembering that hate cannot drive out hate. Violence cannot overcome violence. That we must overcome evil with good. And we are all created with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I'd like to believe much of what I've written is true for every person of faith or good will in the world, but I'm convinced this is definitely true for every faithful follower of Jesus. Woe to any of us who are at ease in Zion. We must show up!