So, God rocked me pretty hard yesterday. In a good way, but rocked nonetheless… You can read the whole thing after the jump if you want, but here’s the short version – I had a really potent and acute experience of God’s love and forgiveness. I was sort of pushed out of my comfort zone a little bit, and God showed up in the uncomfortableness. I think it was probably something I really needed, and it was good.
There was an incident in Indianapolis back in May that has stirred up quite a bit of racial tension in that city. A young black man, Brandon Johnson, was beaten until bruised and bloodied by five white police officers, who claimed that he was resisting arrest after trying to prevent the arrest of his younger brother. This is, without doubt, a clear case of police brutality. And, to be honest, it is probably more likely than not that Johnson was beaten to the degree he was because he is a young black man. To make matters worse, of the five officers involved, one was fired, one was reprimanded, and the other three went unpunished.
But the racial tensions resulting from the incident in May have lingered and even grown in the intervening months. There have been rallies, marches, and protests against the Indianapolis Metro Police Department. Civil rights figureheads, most notably Al Sharpton, have spoken to crowds, calling for all of the officers involved to be fired.
Most recently (and most stomach-turning-ly), it appears one church has gone too far in trying to make their point.
Sgt. Matthew Grimes was asked to give a presentation to a church audience on July 24 at Municipal Gardens, in the 1800 block of Lafayette Road.
During the presentation, an altercation broke out in the crowd, and Grimes intervened. The officer was thrown to the ground and drew his Taser, ready to stun one of the people involved, police said.
At that point, someone stepped in and told the officer that the incident had been concocted to test the reaction of the officer to the situation, police said. Grimes suffered severe back spasms after the incident and was taken to Methodist Hospital for treatment.
The reason this pains me so much is that it’s another example of how racial issues have become such a focus in our nation that they even trump religious conviction. The leadership at this church in Indianapolis became so consumed with racial issues, that they forgot about grace, forgiveness, and love. And, on top of that, their ‘experiment’ led to a man being injured – an officer who was giving a presentation about how the IMPD was working to bridge racial gaps. I honestly don’t know how anyone can objectively look at this situation and not think, “Race-baiting.”
One of the issues I’ve been pondering concerning racial issues in America is what the Church’s role should be. To be honest, I don’t have an easy answer. Part of me thinks that the Church should cry out with one voice for peace, justice, equality, and righteousness in this world. We should be a force for positive change, a champion for fair treatment of all people, as the above church in Indianapolis was apparently trying to be. If we could just unite and all pull the same direction, we could make a real difference in the very fabric of our culture. And if we could make that happen, stuff like racial tension would just disappear.
But as nice as that sounds, that doesn’t sound very much like the Jesus you see in scripture. Jesus was made an oft-quoted statement about treating other people the way you want to be treated. And, on the surface, this sounds a whole lot like peace, equality, and justice. That is, until you read some of the other stuff Jesus said and didn’t say.
“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.
Jesus said if someone slaps you, don’t slap them back. He said if someone sues you and takes your shirt, give them your coat, too. These statements don’t fit in with the idea of justice on display at a church in Indianapolis. More to the point, they don’t fit in with the idea of justice that I believe most of us carry around in our heads.
I think our idea of justice comes more from our sinful nature than it does from God. Justice, to us, often means retaliation, vengeance, “evening the score”. That’s what the Mosaic Law said – “the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'” But Jesus flipped the script on that.
On the whole, I believe the role the Church should play in racial issues should be even less than we currently do. The World doesn’t need us to shout at it or at each other about what legislation needs to be passed, or about who should lose their job over this incident or that incident. What the World needs is for us, the Church, black followers of Christ and white followers of Christ, to love Jesus and love each other. If it’s true that you can truly be known for one defining characteristic, wouldn’t we (the Church) rather be known for the love of God displayed in us than for our politics or our skin color?
People who are fans of both the tv show Lost and God got a great treat with this week’s episode, “Dr. Linus”. Ben Linus has always been one of my favorite characters on Lost, not for who he is (or has been) or what he represents, but for his character’s complexity. In many ways, Ben is one of the most human characters on the whole show.
Season 5 ended with Ben in a struggle that many Christians find themselves in at some point in their life – he had spent most of his life serving Jacob (who I believe is the God-figure in Lost’s mythology), had sacrificed everything for him (including his own daughter – can you say Abraham?), and felt like Jacob didn’t even care. In the climactic scene, he asks Jacob, “What about me?”, and Jacob responds simply, “What about you?”
My initial reading of that scene was that Ben was asking, in essence, “What’s in it for me, Jacob? What do I get out of serving you?”, and Jacob responds, “It’s never been about you, Ben. You need to understand that.” After this week’s episode, I’m not so sure.
The reason I’m “not so sure” and not “totally sure” is that Ben has always been a very difficult character to read. When we first met him, he consistently manipulated and schemed and lied to the point that I wrote him off as a completely self-serving, power-hungry, tyrant of the Island. But last night’s scene in the jungle with Ilana really made me question that. If you didn’t see it, here’s a quick recap.
Ben had just been confronted by Smokey (Man in Black, or Flocke, if you prefer) and promised that, if he would help Smokey and his group escape the island, Smokey would leave him in charge of the Island. We know from Ben’s back-story that authority and power on the Island are all he has ever really cared about. Ben runs into the jungle, pursued by Ilana, who is furious with him for killing Jacob. Ben finds a rifle and has the drop on Ilana, but instead of just shooting her and escaping, he feels the need to confess to her. He tells her about his daughter, Alex, and how he chose his position of authority and power on the Island over her life, only to have that power and authority taken away from him anyways. Here is their conversation. Powerful stuff…
And with that, I think that Benjamin Linus may have finally turned a corner. Interestingly, his other-self in the alternate 2004 timeline (Timeline B, as I call it) made the same decision. Given the opportunity to grab the principalship of the school he works at, at the expense of student Alex’s chances to go to Yale, he chooses her future over his own power.
I don’t know where the writers, directors, and producers of Lost are going with some of their themes and messages, but I think you’ll have a hard time finding something in pop culture that preaches as well as the above scene. It speaks to confession, doubt, priorities, grace, acceptance, and a host of other important issues.
Seriously, if you’re not a Lost fan, or you’ve never seen the show, check it out. It’s probably too late to jump in now, but you can watch the whole show from the very beginning on hulu.com for free.