Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  – Psalm 51.10

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God: what is good and acceptable and perfect.  – Romans 12.2


The tears rolled down and the cries went up almost immediately.  Less than twelve hours after the verdict, demonstrations were taking place, revolution was called for, and the Justice Department received a petition to bring civil charges.  Forty-eight hours after the verdict, some of the demonstrations are turning violent, the Justice Department says civil charges will be “difficult” [1], and revolution now seems unlikely. Of the three, I think revolution is the only viable option, really – but not the kind of revolution advocated in the street.

I read about the George Zimmermann verdict Sunday night just before going to bed.  I turned out the light and laid a conflicted head upon my pillow.

I did not follow the trial in any detail – just the odd online recap here and there and a few minutes of live testimony I saw one day while standing in line at my bank.   I may very well have missed something important, but from the analyses I’ve read and the evidence I’ve seen (as presented), no other verdict really seemed possible.  A reasonable doubt is all the defense had to raise.  Couple the prosecution’s burden of proof with Florida’s generous latitudes for self-defense (widely known as “Stand Your Ground”), and the State Attorney’s office simply did not make a case that warranted conviction under the law.  From my admittedly limited vantage point, it seems the jury did the only thing they could do given the legal parameters within which they had to operate – and we should all be thankful for those parameters.  We should all be thankful that the prosecution has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.  It’s what any of us would want for ourselves if we were on trial.

Yet, I am nevertheless disappointed and disillusioned.  The standards of American jurisprudence are in place to ensure a fair trial, but they have never insured against miscarriages of justice – and it is hard to see how justice is anything but stillborn here.  Something horrific happened in the Twin Lakes neighborhood of Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012, for which this trial has yielded nothing in the way of closure or satisfaction – for Treyvon’s family or for our nation.

An African-American member of my church lamented the verdict as “a step back” Sunday in a prayer voiced during worship.  A step back. The pain in her prayer pulsated with history.  But how far back do we really have to go?  How far forward have we really come?

It’s been 50 years since Dr. King led the March on Washington. “I Have a Dream” is as much a part of the American conscience as the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution.   Even still, in 2013 not only is a crime committed against an African-American still less likely to end in conviction, a crime committed by an African-American is also more likely to end in conviction [2] – especially when the accused is a black male.  Black men of 21st century America are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men – and that’s after a significant decrease in the incarceration rates for blacks in the last decade [3].  More than a few pundits and bloggers have pointed out that a black Florida woman was recently sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband.  “Stand Your Ground” somehow did not apply to her, the court said [4].

The entire episode – the confrontation, the shooting, the investigation, the trial, the public outcry – is heartbreaking.  But I believe much of the disappointment and disillusionment of these past two days stems from the fact that we, as a nation, are looking to our legal system to do something it cannot do.  The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves legally 1865, but it didn’t free them socially or culturally. A century later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally tore down the fortresses of that enduring social and cultural slavery (segregation and other forms of legalized discrimination), but it did not dismantle the bunkers dug wide and deep underneath. That’s because the foundations of prejudice, bigotry, and fear reside not in statutes or legal precedents but in our hearts and our minds – and that is where they must be demolished.

If the jury had returned a different verdict, we might feel better but it would not have answered the lingering questions surrounding the shooting or changed the events of that fateful night.  And I don’t think locking up George Zimmerman would likely prevent such tragedies from happening in the future – any more than capital punishment has curbed the incidence of homicide.

Sadly, the tragedy of Trayvon Martin did not end on July 3, 2013. But neither did it begin on February 26, 2012.  I would argue that the ripple that became the wave of Trayvon’s tragedy began all the way back in the formative years of our country, in the politics of post-colonial America, as our Founding Fathers gave shape to a new government for a new nation.

As you no doubt remember from US History 101, a dispute erupted between slave-holding and non-slave-holding states over how to account for slaves when determining the population of a state. Since population would determine the number of representatives a state could send to the House of Representatives, slave states wanted slaves counted and non-slave state did not want them counted.  To resolve this dispute, the Founders struck the “Three-Fifths Compromise.”  A slave would be counted as 3/5 of a person when determining a state’s population.

Blacks in America have been struggling to be counted fully as people ever since. We are still haunted by the specter of the Three-Fifths Compromise, and the fatal assault on Treyvon Martin is its latest poltergeist.

Even after a Civil War, even after Civil Rights, even after the election of an African-American to the White House – the most exclusive residence in our land – it is still possible in these United States for an unarmed 17-year-old black male to be shot and killed inside a gated community because he wasn’t “supposed” to be there.

That’s the tragedy – and no court of law can correct that.  Only a revolution of the heart and of the mind can correct that.

May the revolution begin, at last. The tears and the cries have lingered far too long.

Light and Dark

I had intended to finish up my Lenten reflections on fasting this week, but I’ve decided to put that off in order to give the ol’ blog here a new look for the Easter season and to reflect on the most recent tragedy to befall our nation.  The previous theme was Lent-y in appearance as well as in its content. White is the liturgical color of Easter, and I think it is especially appropriate to stand in Easter as we begin to grapple with yesterday’s events in Boston.

A barrage of quotations has saturated social media in the wake of the bombings. I’ve seen posts offering soundbites from Mr. Rogers, Frederick Buechner, Martin Luther King, and Isaac Watts (among others), as well as numerous verses from the Psalms and the Book of Proverbs.  Many of them admittedly are trite – but we all reach out for something close at hand when our feet are knocked out from under us.  I am no different.  Quotes from the Sermon on the Mount have been scrolling through my mind this morning like a cable news ticker.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted….  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled…. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy….  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God…. 

You are the salt of the earth….  You are the light of the world….  You are the light of the world…. You are the light of the world….

A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it….

That “You are the light of the world” bit always repeats a few times when it comes around, and John 1.5 inevitably bleeds into Matthew 5.14.  Then the cycle begins again.

I think Jesus’ words about light and John’s words about Jesus are both needed whenever night falls – especially when it falls in the middle of the day.  I firmly believe that there is a divine spark that glows inside all of us as men and women created in the image of God.  Jesus affirms that.  He also cautions us against hiding it – intentionally or unintentionally – and bids us to let it shine for all to see.  Yet, we can let our light can shine in more ways than one.   It can shine like dawn breaking on the horizon or like lighting cutting across the sky. It can shine like the fire that warms our hearth or like the fire that consumes our house.  We can choose.

Both forms of light were on display in Boston yesterday afternoon: the blasts that cut through stone, steel, and flesh and the warmth of those who responded and continue to respond – on the scene, across the nation, and around the world.  Both forms of light reflect conscious choices people have made.  Thankfully, warmth appears to be winning out over searing heat – so far.  ‘The helpers,” as Fred Rogers calls them in one of those social media quotes, have come out in force.  Whatever the bomber(s) destroyed yesterday, it was not our spirit.  Our light is shining!  But that doesn’t mean this night is over – or that another one isn’t around the corner.

There is no declaration in Matthew or John (or Mark or Luke or anywhere else in the New Testament, for that matter) that darkness is no more.  The promise we have is that a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not snuff it out.  Good Friday will always be followed by Easter Sunday.

The bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line went off just before 3pm.  Darkness fell across the land around 3pm when Jesus hung dying on the cross, too.  He was bruised, bloodied, and broken.  He breathed His last.  Night fell.  Easter did not vanquish that darkness: pain, suffering, fear, cowardice, betrayal, abuse of power, and a whole host of other injustices still haunt our world.  No, Easter did not vanquish that darkness.  Easter defies it.  Easter proves that night does not, cannot, and will not prevail.  Easter is God’s declaration that dawn breaks, it is not broken.   A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it….

May we all  stand firmly in that Easter hope in the days ahead. May we choose to let our light shine as a flame that warms but does not burn. And may we resist the temptation to start fighting fire with fire.  The night is long enough as it is.


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