This week has been a rough one in our nation.
Though surely, I should say, one of my biggest frustrations has been people who have been endlessly posting on Facebook and Twitter and wherever they can find a place to lift their voice, even if they possess approximately zero facts about the situation at hand. So I confess at the onset that I don't have all the facts about either case, the one in Ferguson and now in New York. I don't know what it's like to be a police officer, and I certainly don't know what it's like to be a black man in this nation. While I can take some guesses, speaking into that situation from my place of ignorance would be damaging to the discourse, a fact I wish more people would remember from time to time.
That said, as I've been reading the news and coming across this phrase that turned out to be Eric Garner's last: "I can't breathe." First of all, that's just about the scariest thing in the world, to know your life is leaving you while you can do nothing about it. But I think the protesters in NYC may have tapped into something here by borrowing that phrase. When I watch the news, whether political or global or local or national, I feel like I can't breathe. I look at the way in which we have decided that every issue has only two sides, and we declare ourselves in charge of laying down battle lines, determined to defeat anyone who doesn't agree with us, and suddenly it feels like the oxygen has left my lungs. I can't breathe. This nation is a long ways away from where we are called to be.
I wonder if it's finally time to recognize that we need to step back and let each other breathe. Maybe those who support the police in these actions ought to take a step back and recognize that it's no where even close to easy to be a black person (or Hispanic. Or Asian. Or pick your favorite race that isn't white) in this nation. Maybe those of us who are crying out for justice ought to remember that the police do a job that requires them to lay down their lives each and every day they get up for work, and that it's a horribly scary job. Maybe we could stop saying that our political rivals are out to destroy the nation, and recognize that while we have different ways of getting there both sides truly just want whatever's best for the country. I need room to breathe.
And not to get too theological on us, but breathing is central in the life of a Christian. In Hebrew, the word for "Spirit" and "Breath" are the same. Perhaps if we actually did what I'm suggesting here, gave each other a little more room to breathe, gave each other a bit more space in our disagreements, perhaps then we might notice that we have more room for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Perhaps when we notice the life of the "other" in our world, we begin to notice the way that God is working in their lives, and in our lives as well. Imagine what would happen if instead of advancing a political agenda, or a social justice agenda, or a consumeristic agenda, we tried to advance the Kingdom of God! Sadly at this point we can only imagine. But I am more and more convinced that this isn't a problem that can be solved on a huge level. This is something that has to be solved on the individual level. This is me, and this is you.
We need to make more space to breathe.