Ferguson Through Colored Glasses

Looking Through Colored Glasses

I’ve struggled with what to say or whether to say anything at all about Ferguson. It seems that most folks have already decided what they think and read the news through their own set of “colored” glasses. And, yes, I put the word in quotes as a reminder of the way that term was used when I was growing up.

The “White Only” and “Colored Only” signs may have come down, but their insidious influence still colors some of the ways we think and live. There are other factors at work, of course, but the people I know who deny the remnants of racism in America all happen to be white.

As a white person, I know that, like most white people, I have far too few friendships with black people and that in spite of my best attempts to clean my glasses, my view of the world is still tinted by the continuing benefit of “white bias” in culture. As a general rule, if you put a white police officer and a young black man on the scales, folks like me will automatically tilt the scales in favor of the white man.

But wiser people than I have spilled truckloads of printers ink wrestling with those issues. As a follower of Christ, I have to ask a deeper question, namely, where is the Kingdom of God in all of this?

Signs of the Kingdom

If Jesus was correct that the Kingdom – the rule of God’s saving, reconciling, redeeming love – which will ultimately be the way in which God’s will gets done in this world is, in fact, already present with us, then where can we find signs of that Kingdom in Ferguson and in our own community today?

The stories that have dominated the news are the pain-soaked, frustration-laden stories that reoccur with sad regularity in our world. To find the Kingdom stories, Jesus said you have to look for small things like mustard seeds growing in the earth or like leaven in a loaf of newly baked bread.

Some of those stories finally made the “The New York Times” today.

On Thanksgiving, there were people who “brought paint brushes and prayers, thermoses of coffee and trays of drop biscuits, hoping to counterbalance the arsons, angry protests and racial strife.” Darcy Edwin was painting an oak tree on the plywood that was covering a destroyed shop when she said, “This is a really small thing. It’s not going to fix any big issue.” Probably not, but you never know what God will do with the visual image of a tree growing in a burned out neighborhood. And then there was this:

A teenage protester whose face had been hidden behind a ski mask lowered his headgear, approached a police commander and gave him a hug.

“Good to see you, man,” the commander, Lt. Jerry Lohr of the St. Louis County Police, said to the teenager,Joshua Williams.

“How’ve you been? How’s your mom doing? I saw her out here earlier.”

Lieutenant Lohr, 41, had a scratch on his left eyelid from a scuffle that broke out during an arrest the previous night and a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth. He wore no riot gear — just a standard-issue brown uniform — and held not a baton in his hand but his knit cap.

“We going to have a good night?” he asked Mr. Williams.

“Yeah,” Mr. Williams, 19, said.

It’s not a cure for the systemic issues that fed the fires in Ferguson, it’s not a way of avoiding the hard work of racial reconciliation, and it’s not an excuse for hiding behind my own colored glasses, but it’s a small sign of hope that God hasn’t given up on us yet.

Thanks be to God.

Jim

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6 thoughts on “Ferguson Through Colored Glasses

  1. Hi Jim,

    Thank you for sharing this story. It is helpful to hear of encouraging episodes like this in the midst of all the hatred, pain, suffering and injustice we see and hear about every day.

    I have tried unsuccessfully to respond to some of your prior posts. Hopefully this will reach you.

    We miss you and Marsha very much. I hope your retirement is going well for both of you.

    Also, I wanted to let you know that my brother-in-law, Bill Hutchinson, suffered a stroke this past Sunday while he was preaching in his son, John’s First UMC in Cumming, GA. He was taken to Emory Hospital in Atlanta and was still in ICU as of yesterday. They say the prognosis is good. However, it still sounds precarious to me. There is an aneurysm, and he had surgery to stop bleeding in the brain. Please add him and his family to your prayer list.

    God bless you and yours.

    In Christ Jesus, Tom

    • Tom:
      Good to hear from you. I’m not clear on how the page works, but want you to know that I received this message. We’re doing very well in adjusting to our new way of life but I can assure you that we miss Hyde Park, both in terms of the quality of worship and the long-term friendships.

      Thanks for the new about Bill. He will be in my thoughts and prayers. Please keep me informed on his progress. My email is jharnish1947@gmail.com.

      Our love to Andrea.

      Peace,

      Jim

  2. You’re hardly alone. Some years back there was an incident in DC where one or two black men were killed in an alley by a white guy who was walking in the alley ahead of them. When the white guy heard footsteps he turned around and when he saw the two of them he felt threatened and shot them. It was a lot like the issue in Ferguson, in terms of a white guy feeling threatened by African Americans. The difference was that a prominent black leader , Jesse Jackson I think, but not positive, said he feels the same way. As I recall he said in a situation like that he walks a lot faster and holds on to his wallet. I may have some of the details wrong, but that was the gist of it. The difference between prejudice and generalizing, a key trait in learning, a often fuzzy. Glad your thanksgiving is good. So is mine. Love to Martha,

    Lisa

    On Nov 28, 2014, at 7:21 AM, Jim Harnish wrote:

    WordPress.com jimharnish posted: “Looking Through Colored Glasses I’ve struggled with what to say or whether to say anything at all about Ferguson. It seems that most folks have already decided what they think and read the news through their own set of “colored” glasses. And, yes, I put t”

  3. Jim: Thanks for weighing in on Ferguson. I struggled to explain Ferguson to my wonderful agnostic niece in Christian terms that might convince her of God’s abiding love made real, I failed miserably. racism is alive and ugly despite so much White denial. As hard as we well meaning White progressives try, we are unable to walk in our Black brothers moccasins. We cannot afford to stop trying, however. Small loving gestures must continue, backed by our public push back against White denial of our collective responsibility for the miserable state we find ourselves in. Case in point: the racial undertones that underlie anti-Obamaism.

    Best to you courageous clergyman. Gil

  4. This reminds me of something that came to me recently through a friend living with cancer . The definition of communication is to find the sameness in each other (the gift of our common humanity) to break through the stuckness of the side we defend so fiercely! Thanks Jim for this writing from the heart. Peace Janice Wahl Durban SA

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