Does ancient Isaiah speak to Ferguson?

There’s been a lot of commentary about the conflict in Ferguson that is not just in Ferguson—maybe so much noise that it’s easier to tune it out. Suffice it to say that the recent verdict has put salt in a giant wound that was not healing very well in the first place. 

I knew it again on Monday at City Hall when one of my partners in the Coalition to Take Back Vacant Land wept as she testified to City Council.  (We were there to advocate for equitable distribution in the Land Bank planning process).  As she described the trash dump that has developed right next to the home she’s owned for 30 years, she wept softly about the dangers her grandchildren face there. She feels powerless. She is looking for help to reverse the blight in her neighborhood without displacing people like herself who want to stay and contribute to the common good.

I looked around at our audience—mostly white men in nice suits—and then back at our multi-racial coalition in matching T-shirts, some in wheelchairs and with other disabilities.  I wondered how silly we looked and sounded to the white-men-in-expensive-suits crowd who came to barter with their multi-million dollar property investments.  They had ownership of the system and here we were weeping for children, asking for affordable housing and advocating for space to farm—of all the podunk things—talking about the peace-making value of bringing neighbors together around urban land restoration and sharing healthy food.  The monetary value of a parcel of land that is farmed vs. developed into luxury condos is laughable.  I felt the rule of the almighty dollar bearing down on me, and the racist systems it perpetuates.  I was glad that Jesus—the refugee baby, the weeping friend, the suffering servant—was there with all of us.

And I remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah as he described the future with Jesus:

Isaiah.the.prophet“There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest…You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.  Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, it will be fuel for the fire.  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”

I know that Peace!  And I long for it to be demonstrated in the world, where some of our systems are maintained by violence. CNN told me that officer Wilson was not indicted because he was following his training.  I think that is absolutely true.  Why do our police receive military training? Is it necessary to take a kill shot in order to restrain someone from harming themselves or others? Part of the horror of murder is the way that a human suffers after killing another human. Psychologists know this; we have neuroscientific and behavioral evidence of the harm done to the killer, and yet we continue to send soldiers into battle, and to train local police to go there too.  Right now we maintain 130+ active military operations around the world, while my neighbors struggle with basic needs.

I sense the suffering and compassion of our Lord in our suffering, for those on all sides.  We live in the midst of great economic and political power imbalances that affect black people as a group more than others.  But this story is not over.  As people follow in the footsteps of Christ and come together to demonstrate love, there is life in unexpected places.  Allow us to burn our battle-wear, Jesus, and let it be fuel for the fire which is your Peace.  Take our gloom and help us to face oppression with light, and even rejoicing, at the justice You bring. Give us a harvest of mercy and restoration this Advent.