I wish we knew how to lament better.
Jen Hatmaker posted something on Facebook last night about the incident in the McKinney video, in which a young girl, clad only in her bathing suit, was thrown, by her hair, onto the ground by a police officer after a fight broke out at a pool party. I commented, and then went on to read some of the other comments.
There were, of course, comments expressing concern and outrage. There were also comments in which the lack of compassion was so stunning it took my breath away. I actually thought about quoting some of them here, because I was so angry and felt like calling people out, but then I remembered that no one’s mind or heart has ever been changed by being shamed.
There were people saying they were going to un-follow her because she made that statement. Because she expressed her grief. That made me angry. That made me want to jump in the fray and do battle, because (in my head) Jen and I are friends. But then I read a little further and realized there was already anger aplenty, so I just said a prayer and told Jen I was carrying her in my heart.
I’ve watched the video a few times now, trying to see what those people were seeing. I can’t. I can tell you this, I partied a fair amount in college. I was at many parties that were broken up by the police, and rightly so. Some were broken up for fights FAR worse than the one captured on that video. The number of times I ever saw anyone at those parties treated in the way that fourteen year old girl was? Zero.
I think it is important to note, that was the conduct of one of the three officers on the scene. The other two are seen trying to reason with the crowd. This is not about bashing police officers. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I have an enormous amount of respect for law enforcement and have had profound and positive experiences with them in my own life. My personal feelings and experiences do not render me blind to a growing problem in this country. I can hold two thoughts at the same time. We all can.
I hear people condemn hip hop and rap all the time. They talk about the anger and the violence referenced. When I hear the same lyrics, I admit- I flinch sometimes. But when I really think about what the artists are saying, I think those songs are a lament. I think they are an expression of grief and despair. They are no different than the Irish folk songs about the Troubles, or Civil Rights era soul music. It is pain, expressed. It is hopelessness, wailed. And yes, it is rage, howled.
No justice, no peace
Another black man shot dead in the streets
Make the whole hood feel sad, it’s sadness
But we feel mad, it’s madness
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines lamentation as the passionate expression of grief or sorrow; weeping. Lamentations are frequently in the form of song or poetry, and usually sung by women. Long ago, women would sing those songs, and rend their garments. They would cover themselves in ashes. They would mourn, and people would recognize it as such.
We don’t do that any more. In a word, we suck at grief. We seem to have collectively decided that such displays are self indulgent. We have moments where we get it right, but as a whole we each go into our little houses at night and turn our faces away from anything too unpleasant on the news. Anything that feels too big to fix, too uncomfortable to look at, or that we’ve decided doesn’t have anything to do with us.
Well, guess what? That’s not working. It ALL has something to do with us. None of us lives in a vacuum. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
I think unexpressed grief invariably turns to despair. Despair either gets turned inward, or outward. When despair turns outward, it looks a lot like rage.
Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”
When I was at Storyline Conference last year, I had the good fortune to hear the spoken word artist Propaganda speak He… I actually still don’t have words for how he affected me. I just know that I was different after I heard him. I just watched a piece of his entitled Justice and the Gospel, in which he reminds us that we ARE the culture. We are PARTICIPANTS. We, every single damned one of us, are part of the problem and part of the solution. When I hear people decry the “culture” these days, they are almost always talking about one group of people or another. Hollywood or Hip Hop. Whatever. As though culture was one thing. Our culture, the culture we live in, is ALL of us. It is the tapestry of the threads of all of our lives and collective experiences woven together- so if you don’t like it, CHANGE YOUR THREAD. Start THERE.
Then I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me please.”
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees
You do not have to have owned a slave to be part of the story of racism in America. I hate when people say that, as though that’s the only way to have metaphorical blood on our hands. It’s cheap. It’s a get out of jail free card we play in order to not have to examine our own prejudice and privilege. It’s a way to keep on our blinders so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable about our role in it.
Our parents sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment.
Book of Lamentations 5:7
We don’t get to do that.
I heard a very good woman say yesterday in response to having seen the video, “If that was MY girl, I would storm the barricades!” Well, I have news for you, SHE IS OUR GIRL. THEY’RE ALL OUR GIRLS. THEY’RE ALL OUR BOYS.
That’s the problem, friends. This ridiculous notion of other that we’ve come to accept as the truth.
We are all in this together, every one of us.
Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” We’d better remember, and fast, or God help us all.