I condemn looting and burning. But many people not looting and burning are in anguish today. And I want to say something to those who don’t understand that anguish.
Some years ago I went through the experience of being falsely accused in a significant way. In that setting there arose around me an aura of suspicion, a guilty-until-proven-innocent bias, an environment in which even my reasonable self-defense was construed as self-righteous denial and therefore further evidence against me, a Kafka-esque hell of fingers pointed in a frenzy of merciless judgments, and facts didn’t matter, truth didn’t matter, the Bible didn’t matter. The only thing that would suffice and satisfy was my execution.
One of the many benefits of that experience was the moment when this thought occurred to me: “Oh, so this is what it’s like to get lynched.”
But what would it be like to live my whole lifetime in that environment? What would it be like to face the already-existing challenges of life, and make a living, and try to get ahead, and raise a family with dignity, and communicate hope to my children, and stand tall myself, when all the while I’m carrying the stigma of being the one who, if at any point I don’t conform to the larger group, will be categorized outside the bounds of social acceptability and excluded and penalized in various ways? If that were my lifetime reality, as it is for so many, I would carry in my heart a reservoir of anguish that would spill over every time I saw others suffering in such ways.
Therefore, I now see my personal initiation of some years ago as a blessing. It opened my eyes. It made my heart reach out to sufferers with deeper identification and sympathy. It armed me with indignation at the mistreatment of others. It made me a better man, because, above all else, it drew me nearer to the cross of Jesus.
Within the larger agony our nation is suffering right now, my personal account is immeasurably small. But those of us who can tell similar stories don’t wonder any more about the woe that others are feeling. We condemn looting and burning. But we aren’t offended or even mystified by the sorrow. It makes perfect sense.