"None shall make them afraid" -- that is the biblical refrain that has come to me over and over again in light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. It speaks to the kind of world that God intends where children, like Trayvon Martin, and adults too, can live peacefully as the beloved children created equally in the image of God -- where all lives are precious and of inestimable worth. This is the kind of world that we people of faith and moral courage are called to create.
When I heard the verdict that is reverberating around the world, my mind immediately went to the children of my colleague at Auburn. As a white woman of a certain age, Joshua and Simon* are probably the closest I will ever get to having African-American boys. They are beautiful to behold -- delightful, gifted, and challenging as all children are. Not only do they "belong" to their parents, but I also consider their well being my responsibility and yours. When I engage with them, they bring me such joy, I'm heartbroken to think that they live in a society where they are constantly on guard, watching over their shoulder. Racism happens in overt and subtle ways, but it is there, if you have eyes to see it.
As people of faith, no matter our color, we are called to understand that we live in a world where Joshua's and Simon's parents must tutor them in the particular ways that they as black boys interact with the police or other authorities to try to avoid suspicion, reprisal, or retaliation or even come out alive. What a tremendous extra burden of fear! No parent should have to bear this.
But parents do bear it. Because we live in a world where many do not acknowledge that all lives are precious, and many choose not to see the racism that surrounds us, we allow a world of fear to thrive. It's in this climate that more and more citizens carry guns and feel justified in using them. Instead of seeing Trayvon as "the neighbor" who belonged in the neighborhood, George Zimmerman saw Trayvon as the stranger who didn't belong there, "the punk," as Zimmerman said, who always gets away. If Zimmerman's bravado had not been bolstered by the gun, he might have aborted his pursuit, as he was advised. Trayvon might be alive today. Racial stereotypes, guns, and fear are a lethal and tragic mix. And sometimes our laws make it so, serving as tools of racism and oppression, instead of solutions to inequality. Instead of feeling the pain of Trayvon's grieving parents enough to say he was sorry, George Zimmerman clung to the safety of a criminal justice system that keeps human beings locked in polarized opposition.
From my Christian sacred texts come a challenge and a promise for this very moment: "God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind."
We could let this episode pass into the annals of history as so many have done before, retreating back into our separate daily lives, or we could see the opportunity in this tragedy to tackle the issues of race and hatred of difference that threaten the very notion of democracy.
And the time is urgent to get this right as the demographics over the next decades will change things forever after.
What I see around the country is a groundswell of people who are using this moment to think deeply, feel differently, and act boldly. They are praying in congregations, marching peacefully and signing petitions online to urge our government to take a second look, and having difficult conversations with friends, strangers, family members and neighbors. The blogosphere is full of wise, wonderful, heartfelt and creative words of love and righteous anger (as well as hateful ones) about how we can live well together with our God-given differences, how we can see the face of God in all we meet. With a spirit of love, power and a sound mind, together, we can create a future that will be better for all the Trayvon Martins, Joshuas, and Simons we love, and the George Zimmermans, too.
*names changed to protect privacy