In gratitude for all those giving witness, for all those being in that demonstration of solidarity with those who died, those who mourn and those who protest. Standing at the cross, bearing witness is an important part of what we as people of faith do. (I believe it is important that we who are Christian pastors do so collared and carrying a cross.) And so is putting pressure on those who pass laws, those who execute laws, and those who interpret them.
In Albuquerque, we have endured the kind of excessive force that killed Eric Garner, Michael Brown and so many more for years. (Some say as long as forty years.) Finally, it was the witness of three fathers of sons killed by the police that brought a Department of Justice investigation, findings letter and now a consent decree mandating change. Still we long for justice. Still the officers involved go unindicted. Still the fathers protest.
In the wake of the most egregious shooting here–one seen repeatedly on national t.v.–several important developments have occurred: a coordinated effort by social service agencies to improve services for the mentally ill (who have made up a significant portion of those killed by Albuquerque police); the creation of a group (led by the local A.C.L.U.) to monitor police and city compliance with the provisions of the consent decree over the long-run; an increased focus on how law enforcement officers are trained and supervised.
Last Friday, medical students at the University of New Mexico held a die-in. One carried a sign quoting Dr. Paul Farmer, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong in the world.” I think our work as pastors and preachers and providers of pastoral care is to flesh out the notion that all lives matter equally because all are children of God and all are made in God’s image. We preachers need to put flesh on those bones in our preaching, in our visioning with our congregations, and in challenging our denominations to imagine church in ways that incorporate justice and love of neighbor into their DNA.
This Friday, homeless in Albuquerque and those who serve them, will hold vigil for people who died on the streets. Among the people whose lives we will celebrate and whose deaths we will mourn are two who were killed by police, two who were attacked in a hate crime directed against them because they were homeless, a street worker beaten to death in a vacant lot, a woman deliberately run over and killed by a hit-and-run driver mowing her down as she slept on a sidewalk, and the gentlest soul I have ever met who was killed as she was crossing the street after a stay at the local hospital.
The first time I set foot in the homeless shelter that now forms the base of my ministry, I was terrified. It was filled with cold, wet men. You could feel the rage of some and the despair of others. I had no idea what to do or say. I couldn’t imagine how to connect with them. And then I stepped out of my office. I looked around the room. A flashback came to my aid. It was just a high school lunchroom grown older and turned out on the streets. I knew high school kids. I’d worked with them for years. We could connect. The flashback got me through those first few days. I put the idea away. Shelved it at the back of my mental library.
Now I wonder–is that a mistake? Can I keep school separate from the society that both shapes it and derives from it. I serve the homeless. I advocate. I pastor. I give voice. But what am I doing to prevent future generations of homeless? I am coming to believe that there is a corollary to Farmer’s notion that “the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong in the world.” That corollary: “The idea that some minds matter less than others leads to a world in which some lives matter more than others.”