on Easter + Walter Scott
Three days ago, Facebook was bursting with the Good News. It was Easter Sunday. Scriptures were posted. Pictures of families smiling in their Sunday best were flooding my newsfeed. All was well. It seemed like most people, even if they didn't attend church regularly, were willing to set aside personal agendas in recognition of the fact that, yes, today is special. Today is a day that celebrates resurrection, grace, atonement, the greatest Love of all. The kind of Love that says, "I'll die in your place. Death will not overcome you. Stop running from your sin. It is finished."
Running was what Walter Scott was doing when five out of eight bullets shot in his direction entered his body. On Saturday, he was stopped by officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, for a broken taillight.
We've all, knowingly or unknowingly, had "broken taillights" in our lives, small offenses that were remedied easily enough.
But a taillight turned into a taser. And Walter Scott started running because he didn't want to go to jail for back child support. Yes, Scott had been arrested ten times prior. Yes, he was arrested 28 years ago on assault and battery charges. Yes, yes, yes. Guilty, guilty. guilty. These things are more than "broken taillights," but it seems "guilty" is all some people see these days in order to justify the loss of life.
So is life only deserved if one is innocent?
If that's the case, I don't deserve life. If that's the case, neither do you.
See, Easter is only glamorous on Easter Sunday when our eggs are boiled and dyed, our Peeps are sugary and sweet, and our outfits are pressed and pastel-ed.
But on the day after that and the day after that, do we really believe that Jesus was pierced for OUR transgressions and crushed for OUR iniquities? See, Isaiah 53 says the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, which means that the punishment that Walter Scott deserved was finished the second Jesus was resurrected from the dead. It doesn't matter what he was running from; we all run from something. It may not be child support payments. It may be addiction, a lie you told, or mediocrity. But we all run.
And even in our running, we all deserve life. Walter Scott may have been guilty, but he deserved life.
So what's the answer to this loss of life? What can you and I actually do in the wake of another tragic tale like Walter Scott's?
Here's what I'm NOT going to do:
I'm not going to spend time tearing Michael Slager apart. Yesterday he was charged with murder. I'll bet his family isn't celebrating, even if they are also sorry for the loss of life at the hands of their loved one. Justice may be served, but I bet there's something Michael Slager wishes he could run from right now, something he could do over. At best, he's deeply sorry for what happened. At worst, he knew what he was doing and he wishes it hadn't been caught on camera. Either way - and this isn't an oversimplification - I need to remind myself that Jesus was pierced for Michael Slager's transgressions, too.
I'm not going to disrespect police officers by claiming that all officers are dirty, bad, or racist. Because they're not. There's a systemic issue at hand within our criminal justice system, one that desperately needs to be acknowledged and addressed. But lumping all persons of a given profession into one category and claiming that all have negative intentions is an ignorant and lazy approach to justice.
But I'm also not going to pretend like there isn't a recurring and poisonous systemic issue at hand. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. The homeless man in Albuquerque. Black men in America - regardless of their age, criminal record, or socioeconomic status - have much to fear these days. There's a reason for that. And it shouldn't be this way. (This post I wrote in December sheds some light on that reason.)
Here's what I AM going to do:
I'm going to keep educating myself. As a black woman, I don't know all of the history behind systemic racism in America. I want to know more so that I can filter incidents like this one through educated and objective lenses. When fear and anger arise, I want to be able to tell my kid and students that there's far more to the story than what happened on Saturday and yesterday. I want to talk about my ancestors' history, financial and economic structures, the foundations of neighborhoods, and the education system. I want to educate myself so that I know what to pray for. I want to be educated, not in just what politicians and everyday citizens like myself have to say about these issues, but in what the Word has to say about Who and What ultimately wins. Without that knowledge, peace is unattainable and chaos is inevitable.
I'm going to keep having conversations. With my small group, with my staff team, with my students. In everyday thinking and actions, I want to keep talking about how Walter Scott's horrific death is relevant to what I'm called to do as a reconciler apart of the Kingdom of God. As a Christian, I've been given the ministry of reconciliation. So even if Walter Scott's name never crosses my lips, I want to have conversations that lean toward reconciliation, and away from shame and fear. Change is possible if you don't feel a need to run - whether that's away from your mistakes or for a trigger.
I'm going to pray. A few days ago I told my husband, Delwin, that I personally wanted to pray for victims of terrorism (at the hands of ISIS and Boko Haram, in particular). But as I was texting a couple friends last night about how saddened and angered I was at the events surrounding Walter Scott's death, I felt completely helpless. "Good," I heard in a whisper. "Because you are." By myself, I do not have the power to stop a terrorist group or systemic racism. But as a Christian, I believe there's One who does hold that power. So, I'm going to add praying for peace and against systemic racism in America to my list. I hope you'll join me.
It's so easy for me to read the New York Times or CNN online and become easily enraged. Part of that response may be a holy anger that compels me to action that is guided by the truth of the Cross. Another part may be unchecked and unhealthy.
But for all of you who were just wrapped up in the goodness of Easter three days ago, I challenge you: What does the miracle of Easter compel you to do/think/say/feel as you go about the daily task of living? What does it compel you to do/think/say/feel as you encounter the daily injustices with which we're faced?
I sincerely hope you don't leave the miracle of Easter exclusively for Easter Sunday.
Rest in peace, Walter Scott.