So after I announced that I would be returning from Hiatus, things happened that no one was looking for or could foresee -- and it turns out that one of them was this:
Would love to hear thoughts on race & the gospel from @Frank_Turk @BibChr @Phil_Johnson_
— Darrin Patrick (@darrinpatrick) August 25, 2014
I like Darrin Patrick.
So for the next few weeks, I'm going to say a few things for the sake of encouraging others on this topic. I think there's a larger question involved here which I have written about and linked to over and over again since I originally wrote it in 2008. Clever readers of this blog will see that this post is really a version of that post.
For my money and time, this is only one place to start this discussion.
When Martin Luther King Jr. told us in 1962 that (in his words) "the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination ... on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity," he did not foresee something that is evident today which I am certain would have been on his list of crippling, enslaving, and isolating barriers to freedom.
I think that all of us, as a culture, are utterly desensitized to violence -- particularly, the brutality of gun violence. It's funny for the comic book guy to have to explain this to you, but maybe I'm the only one who really gets this. The only people that I know who are actually re-sensitized to it are my friends who have served in the military under fire in hot war zones. For the rest of us, gun violence is something that we use for entertainment. We watch the Expendibles, and we play Call of Duty, and maybe we hunt once in a while. Watching the way men use bullets has somehow translated for us from an unthinkably-final act made necessary only by the worst-intended and least-explicable sorts of aggression into a kind of dramatic device.
You know: Captain America's shield (which is not a gun) is a dramatic device. There is nothing in the whole (real) world which can do everything that it does -- and the one thing it does most of all is define who has the upper hand. When Cap has his shield, he has the upper hand and is nearly invincible; when someone else has it, it is a visual cue that Cap is no longer in control. When someone else carries a fake version of the shield, they are either trying to pay homage or to trade in Cap's rep.
My point being this: somehow we see gun violence exactly like Cap's shield when we try to think about gun violence in this country -- that is, somehow it is only a dramatic device to be used as a rhetorical flourish or a way to advance a plot development, but not the sort of thing which frankly leaves at least one person on the pavement bleeding out painfully in the last minutes of life, and the other changed forever - usually for the worse.
Here's how I know this. This video exists on YouTube:
I picked that one rather than a rap video only because the dehumanization of the shooter and the target is here so obvious. Seriously now: the point of it is to make the idea of a bullet which generates shrapnel a thing of beauty and art -- in order to create the idea that this is a kind of dramatic device and not a weapon which anyone can use to spill someone's guts out all over the street or all over a room. But what we're actually considering in this video is doing that to some BODY for any reason whatsoever.
My point in saying that is not to go on to some pacifistic rant about taking guns away from everyone. I'm not interested in those sorts of comments from other people at all. The problem really is not that there are so many guns and bullets. I'm already on record plenty about that. The problem I am underscoring here is that somehow when we talk about the times when guns are at the center of a controversy, we often speak -- on both sides, mind you -- as if we are talking about exploding watermelons instead of husbands and sons who are on both sides of the barrel.
Look: the first best thing to do if we open up a "theological" or "gospel" discussion about "racism" here is to begin with the obvious first step. We have to humanize this discussion before we try to theologize the discussion. Some people will tell you this has it backwards, but those are also people who have never successfully spoken to another human being about anything ever. If we don't humanize the discussion right away when we are discussing the topic of racism -- especially the charge of racism in a police shooting -- what we are actually doing is minimizing the real human toll of events (like the one everyone is so sincere and troubled about in the last few weeks) on real people for the sake of the drama rather than the sake of getting our minds and souls right. If we are minimizing the human toll, high-brow sounding language about "gospel" and "theology" is forgetting one of its two foundational categories for presenting themselves to anyone about anything.
We don't have to convince God racism is wrong. We also don't have to convince anyone that God thinks racism is wrong. The point of trying to talk about theology and racism really turns out to be a discussion about whether or not we are talking about and talking to people who are not worse sinners than ourselves in order to show how God's solution for sinners applies to the situation in question. You can't do that if they hear you say, in effect, that gun violence is justified because it's done to sinners.
When someone shoots someone else in the street, the person who goes down does not go down bloodlessly. He doesn't get up again. It's not a routine thing, as if this is what we do instead of our barbershop quartet. It's not scored to an epic martial theme. And in many cases, unlike most of the fight scene in a Marvel movie, it's not always white people taking out white people. It's often more racially complex than that -- for the most part because there is crime in both white and non-white communities which the police must do something about. The police go to all communities on crime calls because if they didn't, it would also be called (for good reason) a subtle form of racism. And when someone goes down like that, someone else has done it, and has to live with it because let's face it: he probably didn't get out of bed intending to do something that terminal today.
So if you are asking TeamPyro -- or specifically, me -- to talk about this subject, my first reaction to the request is this: I'm not going to address this topic as if it was some sort of theological/sociological drama in which it's pretty obvious who the good guys and the bad guys are. This is a topic about how sinners behave in a real world. I'm also not going to treat it as if this is an abstract subject -- because in this case, abstraction dehumanizes those we are talking about and leads us to presuppositions which are both unwarranted and unhelpful. That approach is dehumanizing -- and dehumanization is loveless, thoughtless, and godless. It forces us to treat someone who is a person as if he was not a person, and is not related to other people. Most importantly, however, I am definitely not going to tell you what you want to hear. I am warning you before we get to the meat and potatoes here (or even the drinks before dinner) that I am definitely going to offend you because I am absolutely certain of one thing as I start to gather my thoughts on this subject: you (whoever you are, great or small) are part of the problem in this public discussion, and at least some of your perceptions and opinions are wrong. You are, after all, a sinner. Our objective in this discussion ought to be to fight against all the sinful inclinations we have toward other people and deal with them first before accusing them of being or doing something we shouldn't have expected in the first place.
The main take-away from today's post, however, needs to be this: every single time a gun is fired at a person in our nation, a brutal act of violence has been done by one human being to another. A melon is not exploded; a player is not sent to respawn. More than one human life is ruined in a bloody and irrevocable way. Unless you can accept that premise and work out your own views by accepting that fact, you really have no business in this discussion at all.
More next week.