Choosing Community Over Chaos

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Choosing Community Over Chaos: A Reflection
by John Dempsey Parker, Adjunct Faculty and Board of Visitor Member

We are all struggling, stumbling to find our feet, and trying to find words, knowing they may only provide partial comfort and healing, as we strive to understand the events of the days within the past week.  It’s almost too much to take in.  It is.

“O God, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Tuesday.  Baton Rouge, Louisiana. #‎AltonSterling

Wednesday. Falcon Heights, Minnesota. #‎PhilandoCastile

As people of faith and goodwill, we can see racial bias in the criminal justice system that needs to be rooted out.  #‎BlackLivesMatter

Then came Thursday in Dallas.  Thursday was an evening of peaceful protest, one of many across the country where communities are coming together to lament and try to come to grips with the meanings, consequences, and needed responses to the death and violence from this round of police killings – two years after Michael Brown in Ferguson, after Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Mother Emmanuel nine in Charleston, and too, too many others.  Philando Castile was the 123rd killing of a black person by law enforcement in America so far in 2016.

In Dallas, shots ring out.  #Policeshooting.  5 officers dead. 7 other police officers and 2 civilians injured. The deadliest day for police since 9/11.  Orlando, another grieving city, is extending support to Dallas.

Our hearts are broken and stretched.  Our hearts, minds, and spirits are with the victims, the families and communities of those struggling and suffering.

We see and sense an escalation of violence at home and around the world.  Within the past week, the international community has grieved the hundreds of lives lost and injured during an ISIS terrorist attack Saturday night in a shopping district in a Karrada neighborhood in Baghdad, as part of a wave of attacks against Shiite Muslims during Ramadan.  Then in Dhaka, Bangladesh, six ISIS affiliated suicide bombers claimed the lives of twenty foreign hostages, including two Emory students and two police officers, as well as their own. On Monday we witnessed suicide bombings in the sacred cities of Medina and Qatif in Saudi Arabia.  Late Thursday night, thirty-five more are dead and sixty are wounded from a triple coordinated ISIS attack on a holy Shiite mausoleum outside Baghdad.

Enough is enough.

As ambassadors of compassion, reconciliation, and justice, we need an escalation of prayers and action for healing, peace, and justice.  There will be more news today and tomorrow.  There will be more vigils, protests, and gatherings tonight and this weekend.   People will be coming together to weep and lament, but they will also be together in unity, community, and love – to plan for good work to bring about better days.  May we remember, sing, and live Sweet Honey and the Rock’s refain in Ella’s Song, written by Bernice Johnson Reagon and in the memory of Ella Josephine Baker, the backbone and spirit to the American civil rights movement whose organizing work spanned five decades, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

We call upon all of us to stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and help midwife the vision of shalom, of jubilee justice, of the Kingdom of God, of the beloved community.

We know the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains (Romans 8:22).

Even in our own pain and suffering, even as we are not quite steady on our feet, we must recommit to staying awake and being here, to work for justice and to help cultivate heaven here on earth.  We are here to help heal the sick and down and out, to comfort the brokenhearted and the mourners, to free the captives and bring sight to the blind, and to empower and liberate the oppressed and those with their backs against the wall (Is. 42:1, 61:1-2; Ez. 36:26; Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 4:18-19; Luke 11:2-4).  We are called to be repairers of the breach (Is. 58:12).

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Now is the time.  We must be light.  We must be love.   We are.  Together, let’s find the strength to love and choose community over chaos.

John Dempsey Parker is an adjunct instructor and a member of the Board of Visitors for the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.  As a consultant he focuses on community engagement, organizing, and development and also works with the Duke Endowment and the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University.  In addition, he’s on the board of the UNC American Indian Center and Repairers of the Breach, and lives in Raleigh with his wife, Easter Maynard, and their three children.


Choosing Community Over Chaos: A Prayer
by Katherine A. Shaner, Assistant Professor of New Testament

I don’t know what to pray today.
Do I pray for justice?
Or for mercy?

Do I pray…
For justice so that #BlackLivesMatter?
Or for mercy from the constant need to lament?
For justice to tear away the white shades on my eyes?
Or for mercy from relentless violence and fear?
For justice to dismember structures of white privilege and power?
Or for mercy in the face of bone-deep despair?
For justice to dismantle centuries and generations of racism, poverty, and exclusion?
Or for mercy to embrace difference as strength?

Is it justice? Or mercy we should seek these days?
Neither fits my Facebook feed.
There is no justice in the refrain of names we speak:
Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, Natasha McKenna, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Meagan Hockaday, Alexia Christian, Eric Garner, Myra Hall, Michael Brown, throngs unknown.

And so I pray: God have mercy.

But is mercy just the thing I plead for so that justice won’t hurt so badly?

And so I pray: God bring justice.

But does justice bring an end to the relentless ache of souls?

If I pray mercy, will justice follow?
If I pray justice, is there still room for mercy?
If I plead both, will you dismiss me as a privileged idealist who wants justice only if it is easy and mercy only so that justice won’t hurt?

And yet, I have no choice.
My beloveds need audacity, boldness, and courage.
My beloveds need relief, safety, and wholeness.
So, God, I dare to plead—
Embody Justice AND Mercy.
God, Justice AND Mercy.

Shaner is currently finishing a book entitled, Enslaved Leadership in Early Christianity. Her research draws on archaeological materials from Asia Minor and Greece and focuses particularly on enslaved persons, women, and other marginalized persons within Pauline communities. She teaches introductory New Testament courses and courses on women and slaves in early Christianity, the Corinthian correspondence, and Revelation. Throughout her teaching and scholarship she examines the intersections of race, class, and gender as well as the ethics of contemporary interpretation. She is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and is a regular guest preacher and presider.

Artwork by Molly Bolton (MDiv ’14)

Categories: Faculty, News