Friday, May 1, 2015

Bowed down…

I think my least favorite emotion is despair, although arrogance could compete. It’s just that despair, of all the negative emotions at least, seems the least productive. Sadness has a purging effect. Anger holds potential power for good. Even fear can have clarifying impacts. Despair, by contrast, feels like a stubborn, unhelpful partner. It doesn’t offer much healing, inspiration or insight. It’s like crawling in a cold hole, closing your eyes and refusing to don a nearby sweater. At its worst, despair lashes out in ways that fuel a fire needing of water. Unfortunately, and this is despair’s worst quality, it’s often entirely understandable.

I’m pondering despair for several reasons this week. One is news of violent conflicts in Baltimore streets. The precipitating event was the death of a young black man in police custody. I don’t know the full details, but it sounds too depressingly familiar. As in other cases, this week, local citizens publicly protested while police stood guard. Someone lashed out violently. Violence escalated, and the word “riot” replaced “protest” in news reports.

Please pray for nonviolent protesters and police doing the dangerous work of ensuring a safer, better community.
Anyway, it made me recall a small moment I had on the first nice Saturday of Spring. I’d walked Fawkes to the local park, where many teenagers were gathered, mostly African-American. The crowd was larger than normal, but given my neighborhood, its racial makeup made sense. Also, eight police cars were driving around and into the park, which I’d never witnessed there before. The tension was palpable, bit I continued the walk, eventually turning home.

On my block, some neighbors were milling about. I chatted with one young black man, and mentioned the police at the park, saying how it surprised me. He said, “There’s always lots of police there,” and scoffed. We silently each turned toward home. Since then, I’ve wondered what he typically saw that I didn’t, what he expects that I don’t.

I won’t put words in my neighbor’s mouth, but our racial difference obviously influenced that conversation, especially our attitudes about police. Many cops patrol my neighborhood. I smile and thank them when I get the chance. I also see many of my male black neighbors draw back in caution, suspicion or fear. Researchers say that’s a rational act, given the much higher likelihood that, while simply strolling down my block, a black man my age will be detained, questioned and arrested than I will. That’s not because most police officers are intentionally biased or mean, but something’s not fully holy yet in our society, amen?

Which returns me to despair and “rioting.” Here’s something Dr. King said, “It’s not enough for me to…condemn riots…(I)ntolerable conditions that exist in our society…cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention…(A) riot is the language of the unheard.” Conditions have changed for many since King spoke, but many still struggle to eat, work, avoid prison, breathe, and to justify hope. And hope made King’s call for nonviolent change rational. Sadly, hope seems a dangerous deceit, a source of weakness for some of my neighbors, many not so different from Baltimore residents. That doesn’t make violent outbursts morally defensible, just more comprehensible.

Despair is the absence of hope, in social and personal problems. Despair sucks all light from our rooms, our spirits, our communities, inspiring self-defeating lethargy, lashing out or giving up. Fortunately, people of faith have tools to battle despair; not by ignoring it, nor submitting to it. Instead, we’re bold enough to name it, before God, as the powerful, tempting force it is. Lamentations 3:20- “My soul continually thinks of (my affliction and homelessness) and is bowed down within me.” That’s a clear declaration of despair. But never forget the following verses- “(T)his I call to mind, and I have hope. The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end.”
In other words, if we rely on our own capacities, ideas, strengths and resources, we’ll fall short, or fail each other. History teaches that lesson too tragically. Fortunately, hope needn’t rely on us to be real and effective. God’s mercy renews every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say, not currently enduring the despair temptation. So I pray I’ll react to others’ pain and despair with compassion rather than judgment. May we all desire understanding. And I pray hope enters those who need it today. May they bow down in supplication, not resignation.


No comments:

Post a Comment