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Reflections from Bishop Erwin on this Week’s Shootings

I just finished watching the live stream of the special worship service at the ELCA Churchwide offices this morning. It was simple but lovely. Bishop Eaton reminded us again how, even in our pain and grief and anger, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

It is good to come together to hear this again. It is good to come together to speak our sorrows aloud. It is good to come together simply to be together–to find solace in company.

The events of the last two years have changed me. They have helped me see clearly some things I only dimly saw before. And principal among these insights is the racism inherent in saying that “if only each individual would keep the law” we would not have this kind of violence.

We do have choices as individuals, but it is a special kind of white privilege to assume that everyone in America lives within the same social framework; that everyone has the same choices and that those choices have the same consequences; that just “being good” is enough to keep us safe. Those who live in a society constructed for their benefit, with their assumptions as common assumptions, have a very hard time seeing that many of our fellow citizens, Christian siblings, friends and neighbors wake up each morning in a different reality in the very same country.

There has not been an hour of American history to this very day that our African American neighbors have not experienced differently than our white neighbors. Slavery was not something that just happened long ago. It continues to shape our reality as a nation today. As a person of mixed race some of whose ancestors were Native, there is no day on which I am not painfully aware that our nation’s history was built on the removal of Native populations and the importation of African slaves. But it is my nation just the same, and I share in responsibility for its future.

For every white American in whom the attacks in Dallas has provoked fear today, I am sorry. That is unfair to good people. But many of our neighbors face that fear every single time they send a child off to school or out with friends. Every time, every day, their whole lives long. It is our national responsibility to address that imbalance–and it is a particular responsibility of those who have enjoyed privilege so long–so long that it has blinded them to the more complex reality in which we live.

But what we need most to avoid is becoming more afraid of each other than we already are. Let us see instead the pain of those whose loved ones are dead, and know that this pain is the same, whether the dead are black or white, poor or rich, police or civilian, Christian or Muslim, English-speaking or Spanish-speaking. Let us find our unity in the grief that shows our humanity, even when those around us shout for vengeance in the name of justice. Vengeance belongs to God; our weapon, instead, is love.

There are many out there in our land for whom our fear means their power. In politics, in the media–even in social media–there are those for whom the drama of these days provides an opportunity for profit or a gain in power. This is a beast that feeds on fear and hate, and let us resolve not to feed it with our words and actions–even by what we choose to watch on TV and on the internet. Let our eyes not be drawn to the pornography of violence; help us control our hunger for sensation that it not warp us into caricatures of ourselves.

May the love of God that we know in Christ keep us in the light and call us from darkness; may that love hold hate away from us. And may the Cross–the emblem of our common pain–remain our refuge and our hope.