September 11th, Black Lives, & Division in Unity

It was a normal Tuesday morning in 7th grade (yes, I’m betraying my age here but oh well.) I had just finished first hour, and I’ll admit I can’t remember who my teacher was…I think it was Pre-Algebra with Miss Flath, but I’m not sure. I do remember however walking into Mr. Wright’s classroom where I was expecting to have Geography, but instead the TV was on in the corner of the classroom with a picture very similar to the cover picture of this post. A burning building, & the words “Possible Terrorist Attack on WTC Towers” scrolling across the bottom of the screen. The Towers themselves meant little to me, as a 7th grader I didn’t know what the World Trade Center was besides it sounded important. Terrorist meant something to me, though not as much as it would come to. Our class watched the news coverage silently, which is something for a room full of 7th graders. The first tower collapsed just as the bell rang to move on. We begged Mr. Wright to let us stay to watch, but he pushed us out. We then begged whoever our third hour teacher was to let us watch, but to no avail. I remember another student staying to me we were at war, which made me stop. Everything seemed so wrong, because it was. I grew up in Southwestern Illinois, in the outskirts of St. Louis suburbia, mostly farming communities, and nothing major like this happened where I grew up. It was a shock.

I remember Mom picking me up that day, and seeing huge lines near the gas stations, asking what they were doing. I remember hearing President Bush give his first recorded address over the radio, repeated every so often for those who hadn’t yet heard. I remember seeing more footage later that evening, glued to the TV, unable to tear my eyes away from the images. I had no real sense of the loss of life, but I knew this shouldn’t happen, and I knew from history this sort of thing was definitely not supposed to happen in the United States.

I would reflect upon those scenes later in life, about 8 years later actually, when I was flying several flag draped transfer cases back to Dover, Delaware from Afghanistan as a member of a C-17 flight crew. I reflected upon that day which was probably a major reason I was wearing the Air Force uniform, and that that day 8 years before was a direct reason why those men, one younger than me inconceivably, were headed home, their war effort and their earthly lives finished.

Today, I reflect upon that way yet again, this time 14 years later as a husband, a father, a minister. I think of what I’ve learned in those 14 years & how it’s reshaped my perspective, & how that continues to be reshaped the more I learn. I reflect upon what I learned about life today in 2001, what I learned about life on the plane ride home staring at those flag covered coffins, what I’ve learned about life since becoming a husband & father of three, and what I learn about others’ view of life.

I think of that particularly in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement that has threatened to make today a radical showing of “power” against whites & police officers. There’s a personal connection here as well as my brother-in-law is a police officer, and I’m praying for his safety today. The issue though goes beyond that. It goes beyond a single movement or creed or belief. It goes beyond family.

September 11th happened for many reasons, and I’m not writing to give a history lesson, but for a base reason that a certain group of people thought & believed that another group of people were expendable, worthless, & justified to be murdered. This manifested itself in the September 11th attacks, but the larger picture was a religious group of people declaring an entire other group of people worthless. Al-Qaeda & Osama Bin Laden actually declared this back in 1996 when he issued several Islamic religious decrees asking his followers to unite in wiping out all their perceived enemies. But this is hardly the first time anything like that had ever happened- history is full similar incidents. In essence this is what Hitler sought for the Jews, what any culture who has committed to slavery has sought, what anyone has sought when they willingly & knowingly elevated a certain group of people over another. They sought control over another by which they would be defaultly given value through power. Perhaps it was phrased in light of protection or convenience or necessity, but what many struggles come down to is power & value. As does the Black LIves Matter movement.

The source of the newest Black Lives Matter movement can be traced to Ferguson, Missouri when Officer Darren Wilson shot & killed Michael Brown. Investigations judged the shooting self-defense & the officer was deemed not guilty of anything more. Many people didn’t and don’t accept that which has lead to a sometimes militant movement demanding value. This quest for value has consummated in this latest reach for it- a show of power against those the movement deems of lesser value, thinking this perception is returned.

One may say that language is incorrect, that no one has said white or police lives are of lesser value, but to that I say it’s not necessarily what is said in language, but what is said by what’s shown. By singling out a specific group of people to enact violence upon, the demonstration of value is obvious. Now, have there been assaults against blacks by white? Absolutely. Have there been assaults of the opposite nature. Yes. In fact there have been assaults by any one of any ethnicity against every one of every other ethnicity. This terrible game has been played by all sorts of people, so don’t hear that I’m saying one is justified over another in this particular situation. Any police officer who consciously singles out anyone & shoots them beyond the authority the law gives them is wrong. Anyone who consciously singles out anyone else & intends violence against them is wrong. My point, I’m on no one’s side in the present struggles.

So what am I saying? I’m saying our perspective when it manifests itself in this way is completely out of whack. I’m saying that by purposely elevating a certain group & saying their lives matter is out of whack. I’m saying ANYTIME we separate ourselves from each other, that is out of whack.

Do we actually see what whenever we label each other it always creates division? Don’t believe me? Ask a teenager to go help out an in an old folks home- what happens a lot of times? By phrasing it that way we create division between them- teen & old people. Oh you live on the poor side of town? Oh, that subdivision is where the rich people live. Which family? Oh the black family, or Chinese family, or the…it goes on.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be descriptive, and often times that’s how we mean it which is fine. But the line between describing & deciding on people is a blurry & thin one. Even with the best of intentions do we describe people in ways that shape others & sometimes our own opinions about them, whether we realize it or not. The value we place on others often comes from our judgment of their description. If I were to describe a certain family as living in the poor side of town in the black neighborhoods, what image does that conjure? What if I described the same family by saying a husband, wife, three kids who live on such and such street? See what I’m talking about? How we choose to describe one another, especially in context, affects our perception of their value consciously or not.

I write all this because interestingly enough, the Bible doesn’t often describe God’s people in the same terms we do. Anytime it does its in response to a division that’s already there that the writer is trying to fix- see, well, most of the epistles honestly. So how does the Bible describe the people who follow God?

Radiant

Without stain

Without wrinkle

Without blemish

Holy

Blameless

A chosen people

A royal priesthood

A holy nation

God’s special possession

Christ’s Bride

The Body of Christ

What do these descriptions do for you? One of the things I find most amazing about these descriptions is that the value is built into the description! And I didn’t even put my favorite one there, I will in a minute. All these expressions describe the Church, & what I mean by that is the group of people who purposely & intentionally have obeyed God’s commands & strive to continue to do so. This is how God views His Church, valuable, united, & together.

Often times in society, as seen by what I’ve been talking about, we’re guilty of dividing in our unity. What I mean is that we’re united in something until there is something that divides us. For example, I would venture a guess that the Black Lives Movement participants & police officers are all American citizens, but they have chose to call themselves something differently to unite together apart from someone else for the sake of wanting the same thing. As many groups have done throughout history. And it’s stupid.

My favorite term for what God calls His Church is children. It’s my favorite because I know of the special love I have for my three children, and to imagine that from God is incredible. And I prefer that term because we ALL are children of God, whether we admit it or not. Some have left the family, some have come back, but we’re all God’s children that He loves, cares for, & desires to be with having created us in the first place. The main problem I have with saying something like Black Lives Matter, or White Lives, or Striped Lives, or Polka-Dot Lives, ANYTIME we decide to make a division that wasn’t there before we are spitting on the true definition of value that applies to everyone God has formed & made. Division is always something that is man-made because man constantly wants to be the one deciding the value of things instead of respecting the value that has been placed on all of us.

If we truly understood the meaning & manifestation of value, the view of value through the eyes of Heaven, having to qualify which or whose life matters wouldn’t make sense to us. If only we could understand that life by virtue of being alive requires intrinsic value, & that those who are alive have no true division between them. What if we could understand that dividing to be unified makes as little sense as stepping off a cliff with strap-on wings, and in the end has the same result- destruction & death?

What if we could understand that the only division that truly matters isn’t between us as humans, but the one that for many people divides them from God Himself? What if those who have sought to accept the Christ that spans this divide truly believed that there is neither black nor white, nor poor nor rich, neither old nor young, neither blue collar nor white collar, neither anyone or anything but children of God? What if the Church truly started acting like it ought to, showing the world that there is no unity when we continue to divide ourselves?

But alas, we live in a world where to most people this is a fantasy beyond our ability. They’re right actually, it is beyond ours. And so we wait & pray as we watch those who deem others less valuable act accordingly. You know the first time someone decided a life was less valuable than their own God said to Cain “Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” I wonder how much more blood will yet cry out to God before we realize that enough blood was shed on the Cross for all lives, & that shedding any more only deepens the divide we so desperately claim to want to unify.  And so we divide, believing this time we’ll be able to fly, not realizing we’ve already been falling for a long time.

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