Due to the fact that I am submitting this post on Thanksgiving I struggled with feeling obligated to offer some words about gratitude, a Biblical perspective on feasting, or something that might make those of you reading this feel warm on the inside. That is not what this post is going to be about today.
I also happen to live in St. Louis and as much as I didn’t want to write about what is happening in our City due to the recent events in Ferguson it is simply too important to remain silent about. However, I can assure you that I won’t be sharing my opinion about the grand jury decision, systemic injustice, or quoting enlightening phrases about love.
Rather, I want to remind you this morning of the one experience we all share in our humanity – pain. It may be possible for a person to live their entire life and not recall a single moment when they felt truly loved. This is indeed tragic, but I can say with 99.9% confidence that there is not a human who has walked the earth that has escaped pain. Pain is the common denominator to our human experience.
I live in a city that is in pain and it would serve us well to remember this. There is a mother who is grieving the loss of her son. There is a father who is grieving the loss of his son. There are brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends grieving the loss of Michael Brown. As Michael’s family gathers today – presumably out of the spotlight – they will mourn and grieve over the loss of their beloved. They will remember his laughter, his favorite food, and what football team he rooted for. They will remember him; a young man created in the image of God.
It is easy to stand on the outside and judge how a mother grieves and make public statements as to whether or not her grief is appropriate. It is easy to make comments via social media that we, especially those of us who claim to follow Jesus, would never say to a person in a face-to-face conversation. It is easy to forget that in our age of technology that the comments we make are about real people who live real lives that are marked with pain just like our own.
In light of this, I would encourage each of you to take a moment and recall one of your most painful memories.
Now, allow yourself to remember how you reacted to that pain.
Were you proud of the choices you made in your pain? Given hindsight would you make the same choice again? Probably not, but, if you would be thankful for the grace that was given to you in that moment to make such a choice.
As I reflect on my own pain and brokenness I can assure that you I wish I would have chosen alternative paths to the ones I walked down. Much to my dismay, when faced with similar pain many years later I continued to react in some of the same ways. When feelings of pain and grief first come upon us, they often have the power to consume every part of our being so much so that we momentarily forget what we know to be true. The goal quickly becomes finding an escape into anything that can relieve the pain, even if only for a moment. Perhaps I am the only one who can relate to this, but I doubt that I am. Even as Jesus’ death came upon him his disciples scattered – questioning the very man they had come to love so dearly and intimately. It happens to the best – and worst – of us.
Sadly, the Brown family is not just feeling the pain of the loss of Michael, they are feeling that pain compounded by a festering wound that has gone unattended to our in City for generations. This wound has many names, some of which include hatred, racism, injustice and silence. It is easy to stand on the outside and judge what is right and what is wrong. I am reminded of the Proverb that states “there is a way that appears to be right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” This is a complex situation that involves history, people, and systems. Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent events are not an isolated incident as some perceive but rather serve as part of a much larger story. This is a story that is marked by great pain that I hope will one day be marked by great redemption. In order for that day to come we must attend to the wound and its infection that has oozed into the body at large. We need to seek healing – not only for the wound itself but at its very source.
You may be asking, what is this wound? What is the source? How do we go about healing it? In order to discover these answers we must begin by listening. When a patient goes to see a doctor, the doctor asks the patient what symptoms they are experiencing. We must listen to those who have been wounded. Pain remains most powerful when it is not legitimized and given a voice. As we can see by the recent riots and looting, pain demands to be heard and if it is not given a constructive outlet it will find any outlet. It is imperative that we allow the pain to be heard so that it can be felt and shared by everyone. For there to be healing in our City there must be empathy and for there to there be empathy we must all have something in which we can relate. Our pain may not be the same but we can all relate to the reality of feeling pain. It is, after all, the one thing we have in common.
The challenging part about this journey is that we cannot offer to others what we ourselves have not received. We are not fully able to listen to the pain and stories of others until we have listened to the pain and story of our own life. By doing this, we connect more intimately with our humanity which then opens the door for us to connect more intimately with our fellow humans. I will be honest, for those who have not begun to trod down the paths of their past it is a labor some journey. Imagine Frodo carrying the ring to Mordor. It’s like that, but harder. I had a therapist once who described it as walking through a jungle with a dull machete. It will feel like that for many, many days. But, the path will eventually wear down. It will become more familiar. I can assure you that if you commit to this journey one day you will find that the pain, while real, is no longer the primary voice. It has been heard and is now free.
So, I guess this post is about St. Louis but really it’s about me. It’s about you. It’s about people and people are certainly the ones who make up systems and cities. More than anything, it’s about listening and learning and realizing that we are all human, all in pain, and all desperately in need of healing. I also said this post wasn’t going to be about gratitude but I lied. If there is one thing I am grateful for on this Thanksgiving it is that there is indeed a great Healer who knows our pain, who sees our tears, who hears our cries and who is able to abundantly heal our hearts, our relationships, and our land.