Like a large family gathered around a bounteous autumn table keeping the peace by not telling the truth, many of us heard more truth from St. Louis County this week two nights ago than we were quite prepared to deal with. And as in a family whose peace has been disturbed by a sudden explosion of truth, some of the truth that has been spoken has more to do with exposing raw emotion than it does helping the family be whole. Some of the sudden truth is more hurtful than helpful. Some of the most recent truth isn't worth remembering. Some of the painful truth is essential to face in order to move on. And some of the truth, well, it remains to be seen what we make of it.
Monday night laid bare a truth about America we all know but we rarely speak. Monday night demonstrated why we are afraid to speak this particular truth, which is this. America is a country deeply scarred by its racial past. That famous first Thanksgiving at Plymouth 393 years ago, though surrounded with the warm glow of mythology, was in truth marked in its very origin by racial tension and ongoing violence between the English settlers and the prior Native American inhabitants of what we know as Massachusetts. That backdrop no doubt contributed to the fact that the indigenous people were not invited the next time the event occurred two years later. Abraham Lincoln established a day of Thanksgiving in the midst of a Civil War that was about racial division down to its core. We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing, but we have rarely talked quite so honestly around the table as we talked Monday night, and it is unlikely that the blessing we seek can be had without the honesty we have learned to fear.
Part of the truth of the nights of this week is the rage that lies not far below the surface in this country. It makes itself known from time to time, but we are usually adept at stuffing it back where it came from, below the surface and in the shadows, back into the closet where all sorts of unspeakable things reside until, that is, they are unexpectedly spoken again. It remains to be seen whether we can shove last night's display of righteous rage, even rage manipulated by thugs and cowards for their own purposes, back into the darkness from which it came. I hope we cannot.
There has been truth spoken in the nights of this week about the legal system in our country, which had little to do with the grand jury. Something is deeply broken. We know that. We do not like to look at it. Whatever questions I have about the process in St. Louis County, I now have no choice but to accept the decision of a judicially authorized grand jury of citizens not to indict Darren Wilson. I do have a choice not to accept the uneven distribution of justice in this country. I do have a choice not to accept the disproportional rates of incarceration among Americans of African descent. I do have a choice not to accept as acceptable that Black parents in this country believe themselves compelled to have "the talk" with their sons about how to respond to police officers in a way that does not put themselves at risk. I do have a choice not to accept the police procedures and tactics that unjustly target those in this country who are not white. I do have a choice not to accept the growing divide in this country between rich and poor, which is no doubt breeding an unspeakable rage of its own.
I do not know whether I heard truth from the grand jury that spoke in the night this week. I am convinced that I heard their truth. And from this point on, that case is closed. I do not know whether I heard truth about Darren Wilson spoken in the night this week. From this point on, Darren Wilson is just irrelevant. He can and should be forgotten.
I do not believe I am hearing the truth in the night about the people of Ferguson. I think Ferguson was caught up in something not of its own making and beyond its ability to control. And I think Ferguson was bearing the weight of a difficult truth for all of us, more than it should be expected to bear, more than any of us would be capable of bearing.
But the truth that concerns me most in the light of the morning after night is the truth of Michael Brown. There are some things about Michael Brown, to tell you my truth, I don't really care about. I don't care that he may have stolen a handful of cigars from a convenience store one hot, summer afternoon, along with a teenage friend. I don't really care in some ways whether shooting him was legally justified or not. I'm afraid it is too late for that. I do care that he is dead. And it is not too late for that.
The truth I do care about is that a young man of promise beyond the mere potential that all of us still have as young men or women died in a violent fury four months ago. I do care that his parents are left without him. I do care that the world is left without him and the contribution he may have made.
I care a lot about whether Michael Brown's truth is swallowed up in more violence and destruction and hatred. I especially care a lot about whether Michael Brown's truth instead might be the occasion when this American family of ours stops spewing forth venom about our racial past and present and decides instead that the day to deal with them has come. I do care a lot that this American family, blessed in so many ways, chooses to take God's blessings, realize they have been given freely to all, and commit itself to forge a future more like the one God intends, one so different from our past.
It remains to be seen what we make of Michael Brown's truth this morning and tomorrow morning, and in the end, the only truth that really matters now is the truth that will be told now.