Photo credit Johnny Nguyen/AP
When I first saw the incredibly poignant picture of DeVonte Hart tearfully hugging Sgt. Bret Barnum at the Portland, Oregon rally for the shooting death of Michael Brown, my eyes filled with tears. It was the first time after the Ferguson grand jury’s decision to not indict Brown, and then after the subsequent riots, that I saw something for which my heart had been longing- the compassionate embrace of two human beings.
In that one tense moment, with an unsuspecting representative of white law enforcement on one side… and the face of every young, African American male on the other… worlds were supposed to collide, or at least that is the narrative we are told. Yet, in a single moment of indescribable beauty, the opposing forces embraced and it captured our hearts with the possibilities of how things could be, not just one day in the future… but today.
We live in increasingly cynical, polarized, and confrontational times, times that have lost innocence and imagination. We, too many times, operate collectively at the lowest common denominator with a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. We do not just oppose others; we dehumanize them, as if they have no intrinsic worth or value. Our causes, affiliations, and ideologies have become more important and more valuable than human beings themselves. People have become obstacles, and then the necessary casualties, to achieve our agendas and aspirations.
Political ideology is pit against political ideology. Ethnic group is set against ethnic group. The “one percent” is put into conflict with the “ninety-nine percent.” Religious groups are against atheist groups who are against all of religion… and the antagonism never ends. The fires rage on and are intentionally doused with the verbal gasoline of minute-by-minute news coverage, the political talking heads, and vested interest of every special interest group.
The truth is that the news can be biased in order to manipulate our feelings and beliefs. And it pushes us to the poles of division and antagonism against one another. It is a sad reality how weak we are, how eagerly we consume what we are being fed, how easily we allow our moral structures to fall for lack of any substantial foundation, and how quickly we fall victim to the biased narratives.
We are nothing more than pawns, a means to another’s agenda. And we not only buy these false narratives, we begin living these false narrative. We buy into the dividing lines and classifications and labels.
But one thing you will never hear is that there is no reality there. It’s imaginary. It’s manufactured. It has been put into our heads as a lie to divide us one against another. It’s just us, humanity, occupying this infinitesimally small speck of dust flying through a lonely universe… and we are doing it together. We are all the same. And our true nature and relationship to one another and to God is oneness, wholeness, peace, mutual love, respect, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
But who is sparking our imagination that there can actually be a better way to live with one another? Who is helping us dream great dreams and then helping us realize those dreams of oneness, wholeness, peace, mutual love, respect, reconciliation, and forgiveness? Who is painting a more beautiful picture of the future and then helping us imagine that there might actually be more to this life than conflict, division, and hatred? Who is guiding us and helping us see that this kind of reality, this life-producing and life-giving reality, is within our reach and right before our eyes, if we would just awaken to it, if we would have the faith to discover it?
As those who follow Christ, we believe this different reality can only be found centrally and uniquely in Jesus Christ. We believe that all the broken pieces of the universe—people and relationships—get repaired in perfect harmony, all because of his death and his resurrected life.
And as those who follow Christ, our lives must be built upon a foundation of love that transcends polarization so that we will no longer be easily blown to the extremes by the hateful litanies of propaganda.
As those who follow Christ, we should no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view, but from the point of view of Christ. The way we see others is simple- each person on Earth has immeasurable worth and value because we are all children of God. To that end, we should see others as Christ sees them. We should treat others as Christ would treat them. We should speak of them as Christ would speak of them, as beloved brothers and sisters.
As those who follow Christ, we do not work divisively or in ways that are antagonistic or counter-productive to peace. We do not take the side of one against another. We are peacemakers who work tirelessly for peace and forgiveness. Our ministry is that of reconciliation and healing between individuals and groups. As God has made peace and reconciliation with us through Christ, so we continue the work of Christ.
As those who follow Christ, we are to be the embodiment of new creation. And to that end we should be the model of how to be peaceful, how to forgive others, and how to make reconciliation within our families and relationships with others. As Christ modeled for us, so we should model for others.
As those who follow Christ, it is not our goal to fight in bitterness, anger, and rage in order to defeat another person, but rather it is our goal to go down every single peaceful path in order to show the entire world the very love and hope of Jesus Christ.
And while it is true that many will continue to operate with dividing lines and classifications and labels and hatred and antagonism and death, we stand in solidarity with Sgt. Barnum and DeVonte Hart in choosing a different reality.