When my wife and I announced we would be moving back to the States to plant a church in Southeast DC, we met three reactions. People who loved us over these past eight years and appreciated our ministry expressed their love and sadness that we were leaving Cayman. Those same people and many others then quickly sent us tremendous amounts of encouragement, prayer and practical help. Then there were those who had a question. They asked, “Are you afraid?” or “Do you have any fears?”
My elders in Cayman asked that question. The elders here at CHBC asked that question. A few individuals asked that question. And some people have worn their concern on their faces.
When asked the question, I’d usually pause. Not because I didn’t have an answer, but because some fears feel too real when you give them words. So I’d pause. Then I’d say two things: “Truthfully, the Lord has kept us from any fears that we can discern about planting the church or living in Southeast. If I have a fear it would be one thing: bringing my son Titus to the United States. He’s so tender and innocent and the States can be very hard on Black boys.”
That’s my one fear. This country destroying my boy. Ferguson is my fear. I could be the black dad approaching a white sheet stained with his son’s blood. I could be the husband holding his wife, rocking in anguish, terrorized by the ‘what happeneds’ and the ‘how could theys,’ unable to console his wife, his wife who works so hard to make her son a “momma’s boy” with too many hugs, bedtime stories, presents for nothing, and an overflowing delight in everything he does. How do you comfort a woman who feels like a part of her soul was ripped out her chest?
I’m not alone. We moved into our townhome in the heart of historic Anacostia about a month ago. We met utility men at the place to turn on the gas, install the cable and do light repairs. I’ll never forget one utility man named “Mike.” He is a large brother, hulking really. He spent about an hour troubleshooting problems with our gas line. When he lay on the floor he almost sprawled across the entire living room. We talked as he worked. He loves his job and works long hours. As he walked to the door, having finished his job with some pride, he paused and asked, “Aren’t you a rev?” I said, “Yes.” Mike’s entire body shifted, transformed from quiet pride to melting pain, and he said, “Pray for me, Rev.”
The transition was so sudden I asked how I could pray specifically. Here’s what he said: “I buried my son right before Father’s Day. I haven’t been able to sleep since then. I work insane hours so I won’t have to stop, because when I stop I can’t stop thinking about my son.” Cautiously I asked, “What happened?” Up until that point Mike had been looking off into the distance with that vacant look that sees something perhaps in another world, or perhaps sees nothing at all, only feels or tries not to feel. When I asked what happened, he came back to this realm. His eyes slowly focused on mine and his face suddenly contorted and he hissed out with that kind of hiss that can’t believe what it’s saying, “Somebody shot him in the head in Baltimore.”
We both nearly fell apart right there on the stoop. My worst fear. His realized.
So I’m watching Ferguson and I’m thinking about Titus. And I’m thinking about the long list of African-American men shot to death for no good reason. And I’m mad as hell. And I’m scared to death. For my son. For me. For the possibility that my son could witness this happen to me.
I don’t care about the color of the hands that pull the trigger. They could be pink, brown, sandy. What I care about is the value of my son’s life. What I care about is the dignity and life-destroying devaluing of his life because in this country he is “black.” And the absurdity of it all is that he’s not “black” in every country. Only his own. In Cayman, he was Titus. In Cayman, he was free to be Titus. In the States, he’s “a little black boy” long before he’s “Titus.” And that calculation, the “racial” attribution that happens at the speed of sight, is deadly. It’s deadly.
Deadlier still are the many persons who seem not to recognize it. Who carry on without pause, who empathize with the shooter rather than the shot, who express concern for the family of the living but little to no regard for the family of the deceased, who talk of obeying lawful authority while witnessing the unlawful use of authority, who keep resetting the conversation to call into question the teenage victim while granting the benefit of the doubt to the grown up perpetrator. Whatever else teenagers are, we all know they can be incredibly stupid at times. Whatever else a grown up is supposed to be, we all know we’re supposed to be responsible and level. It is the adult who should have put away childish things. But we ask of the teenager what we should ask of the adult, and we accord the adult the latitude only stupid teens should receive. When the teen is large and “Black,” then he’s not a teen any more. He’s a menace. The calculation is faster than a speeding bullet. And it’s deadly.
And I’m almost powerless as a parent. Were I not a praying parent I’d lose my mind. Were I not a believing parent the absurdity would be crushing.
I have more to say. Perhaps tomorrow. But I’m already choking back tears. So I’ll stop. Unlike usual, the comments are closed. In our much speaking there’s bound to be sin. Far better to sit with our hands over our mouths, silently thinking deeper thoughts than the soundbites gathered from “news” outlets.