Our Common Life

Ferguson, Missouri. A place most of us had never heard of prior to this past August has become the latest symbol of our nation’s confusion about race and civil order and equality and more. Added to that is this week’s grand jury decision in New York not to indict a police officer for the asphyxiation death of an individual in his custody.


We are fond – those of us in the liberal Protestant tradition – of quoting Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”


richreading flipped 20130502But like all human words, those words are only filled with meaning based on the history and experience of the one who hears and speaks the words. In fact, justice has no objective and irrefutable meaning easily and indisputably discernable in each and every human context. Most people actually (and sincerely!) affirm the application of justice to the situations of life! But the ways in which we were raised and the experiences of our various lives and the degree to which we have been privileged or not (by upbringing and socio-economic station and skin color) shape our understandings of “justice.” That which looks plainly to some as “justice” looks like nothing of the sort to others.


Are we therefore destined to endless and subjective wrangling over whether or not the killing of Michael Brown by police office Darren Wilson was an example of fear-based racial profiling or a justifiable act of self-defense by a duly authorized officer of the law?


Here in the Iowa Conference we assert an intentionality about “boldly following Jesus.” Whatever “boldness” might connote in this context, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t imply unwavering certainty. Instead it connotes an unwavering resolution to learn and question and grow.


Perhaps we need to return to that buy flomax selection from Micah and pay as much attention to its third recommendation as to the first – perhaps we need to wonder what role “humility” plays in situations where different children of God find themselves at odds over the application of justice and kindness.


I’ve found that certainty is more often than not an impediment to growth. Are we – are you – willing to learn and grow and be pushed about all that “Ferguson, Missouri” has come to represent?


I’ll not be coy about this – I’m strongly inclined to suspect that deeply ingrained (though frequently unconscious) racism and fear lies at the heart of our nation’s stunningly and disproportionately high incarceration rates of African-American males and consequently incidents like the shooting of Michael Brown and the choking death in NY (and whole lot of other social and economic matters of racial disparity). But I hope I’m willing to question and continue to learn – as I hope you are.


To that end please figure out ways to listen to voices you might not otherwise hear. For those of you in the Des Moines area, you might start with an event sponsored by Iowa Interfaith Alliance on December 19 at Plymouth Church. Dr. Jennifer Harvey, Associate Professor of Religion at Drake University will discuss what might come next if “racial reconciliation” isn’t our answer. It’s a provocative title. I wonder what she has to say. Do you wonder too…or is your mind too made up to allow room for dialogue and creativity and change?


Whatever “boldly following Jesus” might mean, certainly it doesn’t imply a passive acquiescence to the status quo. Jesus rattled cages….not for the sake of mere disruption….but to the ends of justice….and yes, kindness and humility as well.


We can do no less.


Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
The UCC in Iowa

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