By Jim Tune
We cannot cry over a story we don’t know. That much I’m sure of. Events in Ferguson, Missouri, the Eric Garner tragedy in New York City, and other controversial stories divide and confuse. I often wish I had more of the facts behind these tragedies. Something tells me I would respond more appropriately if I knew the people—the victims, the police officers, the circumstances. Even then, as a white male and beneficiary of a host of advantages since birth, there are gaps in my experience that cannot be easily closed.
OK, well maybe just some knowledge would be refreshing. That’s all. Substance. Even the younger generation seems strong on wristbands, T-shirts, and activistic tweets, but a little short on substance. It seems many are passionate, but few take the time to go deep in their area of passion or conviction. It’s even observable among the more “missional” among us. When we saturate communities with missional activity but fail to embody the good news with our consistent presence of love and concern, we turn the residents of those places into targets. And they know it. The starting and ending point of mission is relationship—a knowing of the other—and the realization that there really is no other. Only us.
It is too easy to analyze, judge, and pronounce obvious formulaic cures for entire communities we do not know, befriend, or participate in. Knowing gives an urgency to our work for justice, to our search for ways to affect the attitudes of institutions, multinationals, and power brokers.
It is too tempting to write off entire communities as “stupid” when they set fires in their own neighborhoods. I mean, what’s wrong with these people anyway? Knowing can bring more humility, an attribute applauded by God. When we know another person’s story, it can give birth to a shared humility, respect, and appreciation for the other person. Sometimes, it even brings forth some substantive commitment to a shared vision or purpose.
I have been both the victim and the perpetrator. I have started some fires myself. I have also extinguished a few. Like the apostle Paul, I am correctly numbered among the worst sinners. Worse than Eric Garner. Worse than Darren Wilson. Worse than Michael Brown. Worse than those “illegal immigrants.” Even worse than Nancy Pelosi. The beam in my eye obscures my vision much of the time. Consequently, I barely see the “other” as human. Sometimes I’d rather not see them at all. This needs to change. We cannot cry over a story we don’t know.