Lent, the Lone Ranger, & Tonto (eCrozier #251)

Growing up I enjoyed watching Looney Tunes, cartoons that had many levels of interpretation. One of the recurring bits the cartoons used was this: a protagonist is faced with a dilemma and he doesn’t know what’s the right thing to do. As he struggles with his choice, a little angel pops up on one shoulder and a little devil pops up on the other. They both try to persuade him. “Do it,” one urges. “Don’t do it,” the other replies. It goes back and forth until the poor protagonist’s head begins to spin rapidly 360 degrees. I also remember Flip Wilson’s TV show where he played a recurring character named Geraldine. Whenever Geraldine did something naughty she’d shout: “the devil made me do it.” It was never Geraldine’s fault. She never had to take responsibility for her own actions. She was always free from guilt. After all, the devil made her do it.

Both of these elements of pop culture give us a distorted view because both treat our agency like we’re toddlers who are incapable of taking responsibility for the choices we make. It’s the evil out there somewhere that’s the real problem. In this view, left to our own devices, we’d always choose the good. With such a presumption, we can absolve ourselves all the while perceiving a world where some people are evil and some are good; and where we group ourselves in with the latter. In such a worldview, there’s no room for self-examination and repentance because evil exists apart from us. But our Christian teaching on sin tells us that’s not right. The capacity to sin and to choose evil is inside each of us. There’s some part of us that is “fallen” like Adam and Eve; that rebels against living under God’s gracious rule. As we seek to follow Jesus, we know full well that we’re still active participants in a rebellion to God’s gracious rule.

We begin Lent this week hearing of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We can misinterpret this story seeing Jesus inhabiting the role of a Spiritual Lone Ranger battling against temptation. But that’s not what the story says. The Gospel tells us “angels waited on him.” He didn’t go it alone. Occasionally, I’ve gone it alone in the wilderness, even thinking that the wilderness is a safe and attractive place to be alone. But I’m a fool to think that. The Biblical meaning of wilderness isn’t some desert oasis like Palm Springs. No, the Gospel word for wilderness means “a place of terror, a place that destroys.” So, I’m a fool to try it alone. Alone, as a sinner, I’ll consciously or subconsciously opt for death for the wilderness is quite a harsh place.

This is why the Season of Lent is a gift to each of us. Lent helps us recognize the truth about ourselves. Lent helps us name the wilderness in which we live. And in that wilderness, we know that we will struggle to be faithful to God’s call. Yet, the cross that’s placed on our foreheads at our baptisms reminds us of Jesus on whose grace we can always rely. Also at our baptisms, angels surrounded us. Some we could see and some we couldn’t see. And angels still surround us. Many of them are our fellow disciples who are on life’s pilgrimage with us. Count on them and let them count on you.

So, don’t go it alone. Sin is too powerful inside of us. Even The Lone Ranger had TontoWho will be your Tonto this Lent?

+Scott

 

Brian Williams, St Augustine, & Me (eCrozier #250)

When I was about 14 years old, a group of guys I desperately wanted to hang out with invited me to an overnight party where the boy’s parents would be out of town. I made up some lie to my parents assuring them that there’d be adult supervision. So, I went hoping to fit in with this group. The party turned out to be boring. We played cards and listened to music. Someone brought beer. As so often happens when teenage boys mix beer and togetherness, someone had a “bright” idea: “Let’s go steal some road signs!” We went into the garage, found some tools, and set off to steal. I don’t recall how many road signs we took that night. Who knows what kind of danger we put motorists in during the weeks that followed? Why did I steal those road signs? I wanted acceptance. I wanted to be part of the cool kids group. I’m ashamed of my behavior even to this day.

In his Confessions, St Augustine tells about a time as a teenager when he and some friends scaled the wall of a neighbor’s pear orchard. While there, they picked a pear tree clean of its fruit. St Augustine says his group did this “not to eat the fruit ourselves, but simply to destroy it.” Why did he and his friends engage in such pointless destruction? Were there “double dares” declared? For St Augustine, the answer for why he did such a thing was clear: our inherent human sinfulness. OK. But I also wonder, was the pear tree incident about him wanting acceptance by the other boys? Did he just want to fit in with the cool kid’s group? He, too, was ashamed of his behavior.

And that brings us to Brian Williams, the NBC News Anchor, who is currently being pilloried in the media for his lies about his record as a TV journalist in Iraq during the war and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He apparently embellished his record citing deprivations and dangers that were simply false. We don’t know how he really feels about these embellishments. So far, his response to being exposed hasn’t been quite confessional. He hasn’t said why he felt he needed purposely to misrepresent his resume. Why would someone who has achieved all he has feel a need to lie about his record? My hunch is there’s something inside telling him that what he’s achieved isn’t good enough; that embellishing his resume would make him more loved and accepted; that the lies he told would assure him of a seat at the cool kids table. He didn’t steal road signs or destroy pears, but I hope on some level he’s ashamed of his behavior.

There’s something profoundly human about the need we have to be loved and accepted by others. We all long for others to love us. We desire their acceptance. But such longing and desire can become consuming and twisted because it can never be fully satisfied this side of heaven. Just how much love and acceptance do we need? We may get plenty of both, but we may never feel that’s enough. That’s the power sin exercises in our lives. That’s why we shouldn’t be so snarky about Brian Williams’ situation. He’s just struggling with the same issues with which we all struggle, that is, if we’re honest with ourselves. Even accepting God’s grace-filled acceptance of us through the mediation of Jesus on the cross doesn’t keep us from longing to sit at the cool kid’s table. My prayer is that Brian Williams and all of us finally realize how truly unimportant that is. God’s grace is more than sufficient for all of us.

+Scott

 

Would Jesus Vaccinate? (eCrozier #249)

I don’t remember much about taking the General Ordination Exams 32 years ago, but I do recall one question that was particularly good” (read on and you’ll see why that’s in quotes). It had to do with moral theology and specifically with the moral issues that arise when motorcyclists choose not to wear helmets while riding. Some states in 1983 allowed for personal choice on that (maybe some still do). While I can’t remember my entire answer, I remember addressing the recurring moral questions we have when we seek to attend to individual rights as well as communal responsibilities.

If a person chooses not to wear a helmet while on a motorcycle, then one might argue that’s his right. It’s his life. But what if he’s in an accident and receives serious head trauma? He then becomes dependent on the larger society for years of costly health care, not to mention the emotional, spiritual, and financial cost to his family. So do the potential communal costs outweigh the cost of his personal choice not to wear a helmet? We have these choices as a society all the time. Wearing seat belts is another example, as are guns. People have a right to own a gun for their self-protection, but others also have a right not to be shot by that gun. In every case, it’s about whose “good” is being honored and whose “good” is being limited for the sake of the larger “good” of society.

We each tend to fall on one side or the other when it comes to balancing individual and communal goods. Conservatives tend to have a higher view of human nature (a higher anthropology, if you will). They lean to the side of people being left alone and if they are, then they’ll choose the good. Liberals tend to have a lower anthropology (or a higher doctrine of human sin) believing that people can’t be left alone to choose “the good” because more often than not, given our sinful nature, they won’t. Neither the liberal nor the conservative tendency is always right. It’s more complicated than that because human nature and our communal relationships aren’t simple to navigate. So, each moral question, as it arises, should be weighed recognizing these “goods” are held in tension.

And that brings us to the current debate over childhood vaccinations. Parents choosing not to vaccinate their children against measles and other diseases claim the right to choose what’s done or not done to their child. Others say that’s fine, but what might be the health effects on others if that child contracts a disease that could’ve been prevented by a vaccine? Whose “good” do we honor here: the parent’s right to choose or society’s right to be protected from a preventable disease? As one who tends to be theologically conservative, but socially liberal, I struggle with which “goodshould be honored here. Since I have a high doctrine of human sin, I’m wary of trusting people to choose the good” because so often we won’t (sin being what sin is). So, when I look at the data, it shows vaccines are very safe. Their potential side effects have been shown scientifically to be infinitesimal. In this particular tension between the individual and communal, I think the “good” that vaccines provide trumps the parents right to choose. Still, such a position makes me uneasy. Asking: “Would Jesus vaccinate?” won’t produce a very intelligible answer. My hunch is that his teaching on loving our neighbor will better form us on how we deal with this issue.

+Scott

 

We Murdered a Man on Tuesday Night (eCrozier #248)

We Georgians murdered someone Tuesday night. It was premeditated. We planned the murder right down to the precise amount of poison we would use. And then we did it at night. Maybe we thought God wouldn’t see us if we did it at night? God though was watching. The person we premeditatedly murdered was a man named Warren Lee Hill. He had a clemency hearing five days ago in front of the State Board of Pardons and Parole. That Board could’ve stopped our vengeful and shameful retribution, but they chose not to do so. They deemed him unworthy of clemency and said he was unfit to live. Warren Lee Hill did some despicable things in his life. He was a murderer.

But by murdering him on Tuesday we taught our children that two wrongs make a right. We taught them that it’s all right to murder someone as long as the State does it. By murdering Warren Lee Hill we’ve chosen to be like him, morally speaking. We’ve chosen the lower, baser path and not the path of humanity’s higher calling grounded in the merciful love of Jesus. By murdering him maybe we thought we were achieving some sort of justice, but what we really achieved was the recognition that we’re more like Warren Lee Hill than we’d ever cared to admit.

My brother and colleague in the Diocese of Atlanta, Bishop Rob Wright, wrote before Warren Lee Hill was murdered that it wouldn’t “be done in his (Bishop Wright’s) name.” That’s how he sees it. While I stand with him in opposition to this barbarity, I differ a bit with my brother and colleague. There’s no truthful way around this. This murder was done in Bishop Wright’s name, in my name,and in your name. Every citizen of this State, whether we want to own it or not, is complicit in the murder of Warren Lee Hill. No, we did not strap him to the executioner’s table, nor did we inject him with poisonous drugs, but we cannot deny our complicity.

Some have contended that Warren Lee Hill was horribly abused as a child; that he grew up to live violently since he was taught to be violent by his abusers. They’ve also pointed out that he was mentally deficient with an IQ of 70 and that Georgia’s standard for judging such mental deficiency (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) is unique among the other 49 States, which have a lower standard (“a preponderance of evidence”). So, they feel that those issues should have stopped his murder. But in my mind, Warren Lee Hill could have had an IQ of 140, had no childhood issues whatsoever, and what we did to him would still be wrong. This is about our behavior, not his. We chose vengeance and that, as the Bible tells us, is God’s province alone.

There are those who will reply to what I’ve written saying that Warren Lee Hill just got what he deserved. But isn’t our faith grounded on receiving the mercy we don’t deserve? Or, they’ll reply that we were just exercising the Old Testament maxim of “an eye for an eye.” But Jesus demands that we show mercy to others as God has shown us mercy through his mediation on the cross. I wish I could find some way for me and you to feel good about what we did. I wish I could find something uplifting to say, but I can’t. We murdered Warren Lee Hill on Tuesday. May God have mercy on us all.

+Scott

 

People are complex, amazing, exasperating, and funny creatures. If you doubt this, look in the mirror (and be honest about who you see there). We’re able in one moment to engage in remarkable acts of love and devotion and then, in the next moment, act in petty, vindictive ways. All this complex and exasperating behavior shows itself in our social interaction. Our interaction with others can produce in us both joy and anxiety, and yet it’s fundamental to who we are as God’s creatures. We drive one another nuts at times, but the other is blessedly necessary for us. In theological terms, we might say that God has hard-wired us to be in communion with one another (thus, it’s God’s fault!).

David Brooks, the author and columnist, tells in his book, The Social Animal, of a psychological research experiment (although he can’t find a source verifying that this experiment was ever actually done). In the experiment, middle-aged men were hooked up to a brain-scanning device. Then they were shown a horror movie while the device recorded the reactions in their brains. Later, they were hooked up to the same device when their wives were present. They were then asked to share their feelings with their wives. The researchers then compared the first and second brain scans. They were the same: complete terror during both episodes!

I share Brooks’ tale partly because I think it’s hilariously true, but also because it illustrates our complexity and differences. And those aren’t just in terms of gender. Personality research and insight, such as produced by the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, informs us about our complexity and differences in how we take in and relate to the world around us. Some of us are innately introverted, while others are given to extroversion. Some think first and then feel second, while others feel first and then engage their thoughts. All this causes great challenges for us as we try to navigate the complexities of our myriad relationships in the world, especially in the church.

Maybe the most challenging difference we experience in community is the one related to the tension between accomplishing tasks and attending to relationships. And this tension is a core challenge for those of us who are leaders in the church. Some folk are task oriented. When they’re faced with a job to do or a role to live out, they just want to get it done. Others, however, attend themselves more to relationships. Accomplishing tasks are less important to them. This doesn’t mean task oriented folk don’t care about relationships or that relationship oriented folk don’t care about tasks. It means that in every community there will be people who tend to be more of one than the other.

The key skill here for church leaders is to help people stay on task while also helping them attend to the relationships in the group. God’s mission is not well-served if a particular task is accomplished, but in doing so people are at each other’s throats. Likewise, we’ll never engage in mission if we ignore the real tasks required to do so. If we wish to be effective leaders in the church, then we must practice mindfulness about this basic reality and attend to it in every part of church life. Both kinds of people are a part of every group within the church. That’s why church life is never boring!

+Scott

 

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. – 1 Corinthians 6:12

The Christians in Corinth believed St Paul’s message of God’s unmerited grace in Jesus and thus they weren’t bound to keep Judaism’s food and purity laws. It was God’s grace mediated through Jesus saved them. Following such religious food and purity laws couldn’t do that. But some were using this freedom from such religious laws to rub it in the face of others. So, they’d say things like: “all things are lawful for me. They flaunted their freedom from such religious laws to satisfy their own desires. They weren’t considering what would be beneficial for the other. They were basically saying: “I’m free do anything I please because I’m saved by grace alone.” St Paul agrees with them, but he also points out that while they’re indeed free, they have a responsibility to honor other people. He argues that even though God’s grace has given them the “right” to do something, they don’t necessarily need to exercise that right. Rather, they should consider what would be beneficial for the other person.

Later, St Paul uses the example of eating food sacrificed to idols to make this point. Now, that was a big deal in the polyreligious city of Corinth. There were shrines there to every imaginable god where people could bring animals to sacrifice. The best steak houses were right next door to these shrines since they got the choicest cuts of meat. So, St Paul makes it clear they have the right to eat meat sacrificed at such shrines because those gods aren’t real. But he says they shouldn’t do it because it may cause the less mature people among them to think they were really there to worship a pagan god. St Paul says that there are more important things than simply exercising one’s rights. Now that doesn’t mean we must always steer clear of any behavior that may upset others. At times that’s unavoidable. But before we engage in such behavior, we should look within ourselves to make sure that an action we contemplate is a matter of an important principle and not simply the satisfaction of a desire to exercise our rights.

And that brings us to the conversation many are having over the satire produced by the magazine, Charlie Hedbo. The thugs who murdered members of the magazine’s staff used their offense at the satire produced by the magazine as justification for their heinous deed. No amount of cartoon offense justifies murder. But just because the cartoonists had the right to ridicule other people’s deeply held beliefs doesn’t mean they had to do so as they regularly did. I hope we all want to uphold the right to the free expression of ideas. That doesn’t mean, however, that expressing every idea that plops into our heads is a good thing. Self-restraint is a virtue. Recognizing how expressing our ideas and exercising our rights affect others is a sign of our maturity, our respect, and it’s a way for us to honor the other, even if they don’t seem to deserve honor. For it’s not about them. It’s about us. It’s about how we conduct our lives. As Teju Cole of The New Yorker writes: “The cartoonists were not mere gadflies, not simple martyrs to the right to offend: they were ideologues. Just because one condemns their brutal murders doesn’t mean one must condone their ideology. The cartoonists had the right to their ideology, as do we. But can’t we still show some self-restraint and honor?

+Scott

 

As we all heard the news of the mass shootings at the Parisian satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, it was natural for us to be horrified by such violence, which is so often fueled by perceived political or religious anger and grievance. This news from Paris comes at the same time as the lone surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings begins to have his day in court. In the midst of such violent news, we may lose our perspective, and thus the big picture and the larger trajectory humankind appears to be on, at least based on the real data we have. More on that in a moment.

Mass murder, such as we just witnessed in Paris this week, has almost always been born out of people’s twisted response to their anger and grievance (at least in their own minds) over some great wrong being done to them or to their “tribe or to their “people.” Timothy McVeigh was motivated by such anger and grievance when he set off a deadly bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995. In the same state 74 years earlier, hundreds of white citizens in Tulsa systematically murdered as many as 300 black residents in a part of town known as the “Black Wall Street,” which at the time was the wealthiest African-American community in the United States. In Wilmington, North Carolina there was the so-called Massacre of 1898, which was actually a coup d’etat of the elected government. No one knows the full extent of the massacre since many of the bodies of the African-Americans killed were dumped in the Cape Fear River and never recovered.

In each of these instances, as we will probably discover with the one this week in Paris, the deranged actors all justified their murderous act or rampage on settling some score or righting some wrong. In their own warped sense of logic (engaging in an evil for an alleged evil), they were right to do what they did. The actions of others, they claim, led them to do what they did. That leads inevitably to the old “ends justifies the means” argument, which is always morally bankrupt.

But we should also know, even as the horrendous act in Paris sinks in, that such actions are actually fewer in number and less frequent than at other times in human history. It may be hard for us to believe because of the media available today, but war and other forms of political violence (like the examples above) are declining. As Steven Pinker illustrates in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, deaths related to such political violence are falling. This coincides with a steady decline worldwide of extreme poverty, child mortality, and hunger as well as the continued growth, since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, of the number of countries that are democracies.

Of course, such perspective doesn’t help those who mourn now for their murdered loved ones and fellow citizens. For now, we should just grieve with them and share their outrage and sadness, while also reminding ourselves about the historical moral bankruptcy of responding to evil with more evil. But I do hope it helps us all take a step back and see the arc of history better. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1967, Jr. (paraphrasing the words of the Reverend Theodore Parker a century before): The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

+Scott

 

Research released this fall illuminated something I’ve had a hunch about for some time: Many Christians, even those who claim they hold orthodox belief, actually have theological convictions that aren’t congruent with the Church’s traditional teaching. In some ways, this shouldn’t be surprising. We all have a tendency to believe that what we believe is right because, well, we’re the ones who believe it. So then what we believe must be orthodox. Of course, that’s a non sequitur. But sin in our lives leads us to one non sequitur after another, does it not?

This particular research showed divergence from orthodox teaching in a number of areas, but the one that showed the largest gap between the Church’s teaching and research participants’ belief concerned the work of God’s redemptive grace. In the research, two-thirds of the participants said that we’re reconciled with God by our own initiative and then God responds to our initiative with grace. So, we first seek God out and only then does God’s mercy and forgiveness become operative in our lives. This has its own internal logic based on Enlightenment constructs of individualism, fairness, and reciprocity (the old quid pro quo, as it were). It makes sense to us. It sounds like it should be the way God works. It has a certain truthiness to it, as Stephen Colbert might say. As Americans who are steeped in deep internal codes of personal responsibility, we like the idea that we have a co-starring role to play in our own drama of redemption. The problem is: That’s NEVER been the orthodox teaching of the Church.

And that brings us to the 5th Century Englishman, Pelagius. Yes, he was a Brit so we Anglicans have to claim him. He’s in our spiritual family tree. He’s like that crazy great uncle we have that no one in the family wants to acknowledge, but own him we must. Pelagius contended that humans first choose God by their own personal gumption. Our sin, original or otherwise, did not, according to Pelagius, impair our ability to choose wisely by choosing God. In other words, we must choose to appropriate the benefits of God’s grace through the power of our own will. This came to be known as Pelagianism. Two Church Councils, first in 418 A.D. at Carthage and then in Ephesus in 431 A.D., rightly rejected Pelagianism. A century later a spinoff of Pelagianism, known rather non-creatively as Semi-Pelagianism, became popular. This sought to affirm the orthodox teaching about humanity’s original sin, while at the same time still insisting that we must take the initiative for God’s grace to be operative. In 529, the Council of Orange said “nice try Semi-Pelagianists,” and rejected their views.

As I listen to Christians in America, it seems to me that the vast majority of us are de facto Semi-Pelagianists. God’s grace makes us uneasy. Grace doesn’t feel right or fair. It’s like we’re getting something we don’t deserve or didn’t have to work for at all; that we didn’t get it the old fashioned way by earning it. It’s as if someone gave us something exceptionally amazing at Christmas, something it turns out that we really loved and needed, and it’s not that we just forgot to get him anything in return, we actually chose not to get him anything at all. EXACTLY. And, for me, that’s what puts the “merry” in Christmas.

+Scott

 

Facts That Get In The Way of Our Truth (eCrozier #243)

We human beings tend to believe what fits into our narrative of what must be true. When we see or read a news story, if it fits with our narrative, then we’re likely to believe the story, whether it’s true or not. Through “news” sites on the Internet and in stories shared on social media, we’re inundated with “news.” So, maybe more so than in the past, we can have our opinions and biases confirmed by what we read or hear on our preferred multimedia echo chambers. We believe what we want to believe all the while looking for evidence in “our” news that will prove the other side is wrong.

A recent story by Rolling Stone magazine about an awful sexual assault at the University of Virginia turns out to have some dubious reporting. Rolling Stone has issued an apology for its errors. Those predisposed to doubt this particular story or to question whether there is a widespread problem of sexual assault on campuses nationwide can conclude that such a problem doesn’t now exist because of Rolling Stone’s errors. (“See, just what I thought, they just make that stuff up”). Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a widespread problem of sexual assault. It only proves that there was shoddy reporting going on this particular case.

There can be tragic consequences to people when we assume we know the facts of an event. People can vilify others unfairly and jump to conclusions when they believe their personal narratives about what must be true. This occurred recently with the messy conflict at General Seminary. Some people were quick to side with the “aggrieved” faculty while others were just as quick to defend the “unjustly” accused Dean and Board. In both cases, people were reacting out of their biases as to what must be true. The facts, it seems, are less important than how we feel or think the facts must be. My hunch is that this is also playing out in the recent Senate report on the torture of terrorism suspects. None of us wants to believe we tortured other human beings. Some of us don’t want to believe it so much that we won’t believe it no matter what the facts are. It just doesn’t fit our preferred narrative for what we want to believe about ourselves.

I’m as susceptible to this as anyone else. Facts complicate my life. I don’t like the facts about myself that don’t support the personal narrative I want to believe about me. Like anyone else, I’d prefer the truth about me and the truth about the world around me to be the truth I want and not the truth that is. We’re all complicated, fallible creatures and are occasionally delusional in how we see ourselves and the world around us.

That’s why Jesus is the necessary antidote to what ails our humanity. His birth tells us that God fully enters into our messy humanity and his cross tells us that all that self-delusional truth about us, which is part of our sin, is crucified with him on the cross. Jesus’ redemptive work in his birth and in his cross then liberates us so we’re free to be

more skeptical of ourselves and of the things we want to believe. We’re freed from the tyranny of needing to be right all the time. We’re invited into a stance of honest humility since the facts about each of us before God can’t lie. God’s redemptive, gracious love for us isn’t dependent on us having the right opinion. Thank God.

+Scott

 

Time To Wake Up (eCrozier #242)

At the beginning of Advent, Jesus says to us in Mark’s Gospel: “What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” He’s assuming that we’re already awake, so he admonishes to remain so. We need to be wide awake if we’re to pay attention to what God is up to in the world. But we’re not awake. We’re asleep. And it’s time to wake up. Things are being done in our name while we’re drowsing. People working for us are causing the deaths of young black men for crimes hardly deserving death.

There’s a pattern here and it can’t be comfortable for us to acknowledge. Young black men are at a far greater risk of being killed by police than young white men in similar circumstances: 21 times greater! This is according to ProPublica’s analysis of federally collected data on fatal police encounters. There were 1,217 deadly police encounters from 2010 to 2012 collected in the federal database. The data show that black young men, age 15 to 19, were killed by law enforcement officers at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white young men in that age group faced the same fate.

I’m not interested in arguing anyone’s guilt or innocence. I assume that in nearly all of these cases, white and black, the young men were guilty of some infraction of the law, or at least they were reasonably suspected of it when their death occurred. So let’s take that off the table for consideration. Michael Brown, who was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri, was no saint. He apparently robbed a convenience store of some cigars prior to being shot by Officer Wilson. But cigar robbery is hardly a capital crime.

And Eric Garner, who died this past July by being choked to death by a police officer, was apparently guilty of selling cigarettes illegally. Again, hardly a capital crime. Yet both he and Michael Brown are dead. And there are many more. The data clearly shows that if you’re a young black man you’re 21 times more likely to end up dead through an encounter with police than if you’re a white young man. That’s a statistical Sanctus Bell. We need to wake up.

What does it say about us as a people when a grand jury this past Wednesday failed to find anyone indictable in Eric Garner’s death? When confronted by police for allegedly selling cigarettes illegally, this unarmed young man was put in a chokehold against the police’s own policy standards. All of this was captured on video. He’s heard saying his last words: “I can’t breathe.” The coroner, an official of the state, legally ruled Mr. Garner’s death as a homicide. So a homicide occurred, but no one is indicted? No one is accountable? Are we still asleep?

Let me be clear: I don’t blame the police. They have a very difficult and dangerous vocation. They’re all formed and shaped by the ethos and culture in which they were raised and by the training they receive as police officers. They’re not the problem, per se. We’re the problem. I blame all of us: Me, you, everyone. No finger-pointing elsewhere. This is our problem to solve and solve it we must for the good of our own souls and for our well-being as a people. We’ve been asleep. It’s time to wake up.

+Scott