What Ferguson Taught Us: Seek the Third Way
Don't hold me to this. Or, maybe, hold me to it. I don't know. What I know is the visit to Ferguson changed me, and it will inform many parts of my life for many years to come, if not forever. That much I know.
Ferguson was beyond hot. Sweltering. One hundred degrees, with one hundred percent humidity kept me drenched and sticky and stinky and wrung out. I was in constant search of relief, and relief never came. The air conditioners in Ferguson were no match for the wet and weighed-down torrid wall of warmth. I'd walk into a restaurant, believing I'd be welcomed by a wave of cool air, only to discover the air-conditioner had gone on the fritz. No relief, except for when our group of five piled into our vehicle and blasted the A/C on high as we rode for miles with Siri leading the way.
We all want relief. A cup of cold water. A morsel of food. A safe place to rest at night. A world where justice rolls like a river, bringing refreshment and washing away the grime of our sorrow and grief and our questions that never have answers. Relief doesn't always come.
A Lot to Ask
On Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri, you can still see the blood stains on the asphalt road where Michael Brown lost his life, and people stand over that spot to pay their respects and to pray this death will count for something more. They are done with black boys dying in the streets, and it really doesn't make a difference how they die because a death is a death, and it all ends with people wondering how many more times we can tolerate the madness. And so, we pray to God that Mike Brown's death will be the thing that turns everything on its head, because it's hot out here, and there is no relief.
It's a lot to ask of an eighteen-year old boy.
When I returned home from Ferguson, my husband and I opened a couple of bottles of wine and invited our next door neighbors over to sit in our living room and talk to us—to tell us their story. My neighbor is a police officer in our town, and when they learned I was headed to Ferguson, my neighbors wanted me to be sure to talk to people in law enforcement there. Because my next door neighbor has seen the blood-stained asphalt, too. He has seen it too many times than is right for anyone to have to bear. He has held the hand of motor vehicle accident victims as they passed from this life to the next, because extracting the victim from the vehicle was impossible, and all that was left to do was to make sure that person felt compassion and that they didn't die alone. And my neighbor has been spit upon and beaten and flipped off and called every name in the book.
It's a lot to ask of someone.
In our gut, we might find it easy to take a side and plant our feet there, calling it solidarity or being missional or naming it justice or right or wrong. And we set out to prove our point and to prove the other side wrong. It is our default, my default—this building of walls and drawing of lines to keep each other at a distance. We try to manufacture relief from our spot on our side of the wall or on our side of the line where, as Pastor Johnson said last Sunday morning in Wellspring Church, " … the freon has freed itself and moved on."
Yes. The church was hot, too. It was hotter in that sanctuary than on the asphalt, where I found myself walking instead of on the sidewalk, as we made our way to the front door of the church. The Wellspring congregation had spent $800 the day before, trying to make sure the sanctuary would be cool when people made their way to worship and to find relief from a world ripped apart at the seams, right on the front porch of that community. But something went wrong, the A/C repair didn't take, and the sanctuary swelled with the suffocating noose of a summer that had turned up the thermostat in more ways than one.
Our little group of five was desperately in need of relief. I felt fragile and hopeless and helpless and sad and stripped right down to my nakedness and the raw beat of my incessant humanity. I made my way to the very front row because I didn't want to get lost in the shuffle and miss it, should the Holy Spirit decide to show up with a cool glass of water. But I underestimated. Because the power of the Holy Spirit swept through that place and it filled up every corner, and it felt like the second chapter of Acts, and it took the Holy Spirit of God to remind me there is no side—no solid ground to stand on—except where Jesus is the cornerstone.
I know it sounds trite, and pithy, and, "Yeah, whatever." I know it does.
There was no use trying to keep my composure in church last Sunday. Wellspring erupted in what my friend Jennifer Lee aptly described as stubborn praise, and there was no escape. The release of hand-clapping and foot-stomping and shouting and moaning and groaning and running with bare feet ushered in relief, and sweat rolled down my back like baptism and opened up a door to hear the Truth.
But What Can I Do?
People want to know what they can do. But Truth is hard and it sounds like living the Gospel, if that's what we say we believe. And I am working it through and talking it out and asking God to wash me and make me new in this. Because Truth is hard to live out. And it is something to do, and, when we are caught in the cacophony of noise and the weight of the heat and people are shouting at us to choose a side or turn in our credentials, the Holy Spirit breathes into the open door to remind us the Truth of the Gospel is a third way, and we should seek it. So, when you ask me, "What can I do?" because of Ferguson, I will answer your question with the same three questions I keep asking myself: Have you forgiven? Have you apologized? Have you done both?
How many times should you forgive? Seventy times seven. Whether an apology is ever offered, or not. Forgive.
When should I apologize? When you realize your brother holds a grudge against you, go immediately and make it right. Whether they forgive you, or not. Apologize.
We don't live out the Gospel based on how well someone else is living it out. Whether we live out the Gospel or not, is between us and God, and when it's all said and done, God isn't going to ask me what you did with his son, Jesus. God is going to ask me what I did with his son, Jesus. In that moment, I don't think saying, "But they never apologized," or, "But they never forgave," is going to go over too well when we're talking about what we did with a man who hung on a cross and said, from that unpopular vantage point, "Father, forgive them … "
The work of the third way is impossible without the Holy Spirit. That's just the way it is. We can protest and raise money and pick sides and tear each other apart on social media. All of that is easy compared to seeking a third way—a way that takes the hope of the Gospel seriously, that sits in the sweltering heat with no relief in sight, and that fights to rise above conventional wisdom.
You don't have to go to Ferguson. You can live out the Gospel, right where you are. The Truth of the Gospel is a third way, unlike any other, and we should diligently seek it.
Once you've answered those three questions, if you are wondering where you can live out this third way of the Gospel, we encourage you to support these two ministries, working toward peace and reconciliation, in the name of Jesus, in Ferguson, MO:
Wellspring United Methodist Church St. Louis, Rev. Willis Johnson, pastor
Aaron Layton, Christian Diversity Consultant and founder of Relate2Color.
Deidra Riggs, writer and speaker, claims an undying devotion to disco music, the Motor City, and long bike rides under a big, blue sky. She is managing editor at The High Calling, and a monthly contributor to (in)courage. Deidra facilitates conversations about race, culture, ethnicity, and diversity in the Church.
What Ferguson Taught Us About Hope
Last weekend, The High Calling and several others visited Ferguson, Missouri, to listen. We heard stories from pastors, police, and members of the community. All week, we are sharing what we learned from this experience in a bonus theme What Ferguson Taught Us, chronicling everything from our time with Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol to our time with people on the street.
" … hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:5
Featured image by Deidra Riggs. Used with permission.