I have two tattoos on my wrists: a raven on my right and a dove on my left. I got the two permanently etched on my skin in 2009 as a representation of the many opposing forces that define our lives on this earth and a reminder to try to always see both sides. A dove, traditionally serving as a symbol of peace and hope; with the raven, a classic metaphor for death and fear. And somewhere in between lies the truth about what life really is. I like my tattoos, but it has always also bothered me that I had to have a white bird to represent the positive and a black bird to represent the negative. Somewhere shallow just under the surface of the symbolism of these two birds is also a tragically expected expression of racism. White = good. Black = bad. This is not why I got the tattoos, to prove these equations correct in the case of our human identity, but because this color theory symbolism permeates every facet of our culture from our art and our music and our literature and cinema to even psychology and religion. And there’s scientific basis for it. Walk into an empty room painted all white. You’ll feel much differently than if you walk into an empty room painted all black. But human lives cannot be defined by a Color Theory 101 course. Human beings are not empty rooms or words on a page crafted into poems to inspire emotion or paint on a canvas crafted to draw out feelings from a gallery viewer. No, this flesh that wraps up who we are, body, mind, and spirit, cannot be defined by such simple chromatic extremes. Because the flesh itself does not define who we are. And yet in this world, or at least in this country, it seems that people still like to think that the doves and the ravens can be captured in cages of stereotypes. But then we somehow find it justifiable to let the doves fly off to freedom while we kill the ravens because we’re afraid of the lies that we tell ourselves about what they might be.
And because of this, everything that’s been happening in this country the last several weeks has got me feeling sad and angry and all kinds of unexplainable. I am feeling upset and trapped by our human weakness because we are spending so much time looking for ways to justify killing rather than discover life. I am feeling scared because 12-year-old boy isn’t free to walk outside of his home with a BB gun without being killed but a middle aged white man can carry his loaded rifle wherever the hell he pleases and be considered an example of freedom. I am feeling lonely because we live in a place where an entire race of people have been made to feel that they are considered expendable. I am feeling betrayed because I speak a language where somehow, the word “son” has evolved into “thug” and “victim” has become “monster” and “he” has become “it” and “father” has become “target”. How have we allowed this to happen? How have we come to this? So many questions and so many feelings, but no answers and no consolation. Only more bodies and reasons why we’re supposed to believe that they were supposed to die.
I’ve tried to find answers or some sense of consolation amidst it all. The week after this world lost its child named Michael Brown, I was scheduled to give the message at my parents’ church in Iowa. In preparation for this message I spent some time dwelling in the end of Psalm 42 where the question is asked multiple times “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” And the response lies somewhere in “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls. All of your breakers and waves have swept over me.” I wish that we all on this planet together could allow the deepest part of ourselves to call out to the deepest part of every other individual we encounter on our path in life. Beyond the skin colors and the clothing and way one might talk. Beyond even the cigarettes that one may have stolen or tried to sell or whatever item might be held in one’s hands. When the deepest part of me calls out to the deepest part of you, we are able to see something much more real and experience something much more sacred. If you believe in God then you have to believe that that’s where They dwell within a person, in The Deep. And if we get to that part, that’s when Love and Understanding can sweep over us and we can finally get lost in the deafening roar of Justice falling like a waterfall.
I still believe that. And dammit, I’m going to keep believing it no matter how many news stories might give me reasons to believe otherwise. But simply believing isn’t going to make it real. So I will continue to support those who are protesting and actively fighting to bring about the justice that they deserve. Your struggle is legitimate and I echo your cries. I will also continue to support the many good and brave police men and women who are giving their all to uphold justice in a system that is broken. Your service is appreciated and your sacrifices recognized. And I will continue to hurt and mourn alongside those who have been more directly affected by the injustices and those who were born without the privileges that I was born with as a white male in a middle class family. Your scars are deeper than anyone else can pretend to understand. Perhaps I don’t know what else to do but contribute to the dialog that needs to happen in the way I know how.
While saying all of this, I also acknowledge my own cowardice. Writing words on a blog is not the same as protesting in the street. I may get a negative comment or two but I won’t get pepper spray in my white face or handcuffs on my tattooed wrists. But it’s what I can do at this moment. It’s what I can do from these airports where I’m writing before taking my chance to get out of the USA for a while. After the last several weeks, I need a beak from America and I’m taking it. That doesn’t mean that I won’t remain in solidarity with those fighting for justice from wherever I am. Every time I look down at the birds on my wrists I’ll say a little prayer and send out the deepest part of me to the deepest part of you.