I’ve been in Alabama with my parents this week helping my mom recover from a surgery, so I’ve had to watch events in Ferguson unfold from a distance. The Lotus House is about 7 miles from Ferguson, and North City Church is only about 5 miles. The shooting and riots are close to home for us, not only geographically, but because they touch on issues of racial and economic inequality which led us to form Lotus House in the first place.

Many people are puzzled by the outbreak of violence, and I’ve had several questions from concerned friends here in Alabama. St. Louis is one of the most segregated cities in the US. Not only are whites and blacks physically separated, but whites dominate City Councils and police departments like the one in Ferguson. Currently, the city of Ferguson is about 70% African-American, but the mayor and police chief are white, as are 5 out of 6 city council members. The school board consists of 6 white members and one Hispanic. Of the 53 police officers on staff in Ferguson, only 3 are black, yet blacks account for 86% of the traffic stops in the city and 93% of the arrests in the city. Similar problems exist around St. Louis County, and around the country. Every 28 hours a black person is killed in the US by law enforcement. Only last week, John Crawford was gunned down by police in Ohio. The frustration and sense of powerlessness which many of our neighbors experience daily exploded after Saturday’s tragedy, which quickly became an outlet of righteous anger. Of course the looting and vandalism and arson are destructive and violent, but as Ryan Thomas Neace, a professional counselor and member of the Anam Caram community, points out in an insightful op-ed in the Post-Dispatch, victims of systematic abuse are often self-destructive. Sometimes intense pain and loss are the only things which can wake up a family to the abuse in their midst.

Unfortunately, as I’m learning from my mother’s recovery, healing is slow. As in any broken relationship, whites and blacks must learn to trust one another. And trust takes time, especially when you’ve been burned as many times as the African-American community in St. Louis. Late last week, before the riots broke out, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote about his mixed feelings over a local event which celebrates the local police force: “I didn’t go to National Night Out this year. As much as I wanted to be with my neighbors, I couldn’t stomach the police dancing in the street and slapping high fives for one evening while they patrol Walltown like a militarized zone the other 364 days of the year…But any partnership depends on trust, and my young neighbors have been teaching me how difficult it is to trust police culture in our neighborhood today.” We’ve heard the same thing from our friends, and we’ve seen the unjust traffic stops on Kingshighway with our own eyes.

As followers of Jesus, we believe there is hope for restoration, even though through all the tear gas it’s hard to see it right now. The process of healing is difficult because it’s risky; we take the risk of failing and being hurt again. And again. And again. Our hope is not in ourselves, however, we who are too chickenhearted to take the first step of reconciliation. Instead we trust God to work through us, the God who has already taken the first step in restoring our broken relationship between the nations by coming among us as one of us, loving so much that we just couldn’t take it, so that we finally killed him, an innocent man. But the Father gave him life again, and he promises to do the same for us and for our communities if we would only take the risk of deep reconciliation. We mourn the loss of Michael Brown, an innocent young man, and we pray that out of the wreckage and smoke of North St. Louis a process of healing between the nations can begin.

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