Condon & Ferguson: A Response

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November 25, 2014

Dear Friends:

As I move from store to post office to lunch counter I pause periodically to greet my neighbors, friends, and parishioners. This is a joy of living in our small town. It seems a universe away from the unrest in downtown Ferguson.

Like many of you — and the prophet Habakkuk — I have complained to God about the violence unfolding on our televisions and social media streams.

Lord, how long will I call for help and you not listen
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you don’t deliver us.

Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish
so that devastation and violence are before me?
There is strife, and conflict abounds. Habakkuk 1:2-3 CEB

Despite the friendly faces of our law enforcement, our children as they safely ride their bicycles to local businesses to buy after school snacks, and the beauty of sage and wheat that surrounds us, the images of my hometown linger and refuse to be repressed. I think about my years attending the Ferguson-Florissant schools. I think about my siblings and father who still live in the area.

Yes, we are miles apart but we are also not so different. Mothers and fathers love their children. Men and women work hard to support their families. Some in Condon and some in Ferguson struggle with poverty, food insecurity, and addiction. People in our rural community don’t always make the right choices nor do those in Ferguson.

My family, friends, and former colleagues — some white, some black — with whom I remain in contact are even more distressed than you and I at the few who seem determined to destroy in the wake of their grief and the shooting death of an unarmed teen.

A risk in all of this is our distance-induced inclination to attribute the acts of a few to whole groups of people. When we assume that the actions of those who have burned and looted are representative of the whole community, when we accept the dramatic media coverage as the whole story, it becomes too easy to lose focus on the core issues of racial tensions in our country.

Just as I, a relative newcomer to Condon, do not fully understand the experiences of growing up here, those of us who are white do not understand what it is to grow up a person of color. In my nearly two years here, I have tried to listen to the lived experiences of others, to believe you, and to withhold my own biases. Sometimes I’ve been successful; sometimes I have made mistakes. Like you, I am imperfect.

For those of us who are white, the same approach is necessary if we are to understand the experiences of our African American sisters and brothers. We must listen with open minds, with loving hearts, and with a willingness to believe.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to stand with the oppressed and poor. I think that in this situation, that means we listen more than we talk. We believe that our law enforcement and legal institutions are imperfect and have too often failed those of color. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Please join me in continuous prayer for an end to the violence, for changes that prevent racial injustices, and for a listening spirit of grace as we move forward.

In Service of the One,

Tim Graves
Condon United Church of Christ