I just completed three great books. Deborah Kapp’s book Worship Frames, Gordon Lathrop’s book Holy People, and Eric Law’s book The Bush was Burning But Was Not Consumed. Then I picked up a book from 1961 entitled The Rites of Passage by Arnold Van Gennep. Woodrow Wilson once said; "I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it." I am nearly half way through this book and I can say that I would rather speak with Mr. Gennep. However, the French anthropologist died in 1957 leaving me helpless to find him and ask him to just tell me what this book is all about. It will take some more time for me to get my head around what the good Frenchman was selling, in the meantime I will have to have faith that this writing about rites of passage is useful to me.
To go back to Law’s book, The Bush was Burning But Was Not Consumed, I offer this quote of Matthew Fox. "Compassion is not knowing about the pain and suffering of others. It is, in some way, knowing that pain, entering into it, sharing it and tasting it insofar as that is possible…But how does one know another’s feeling and not merely know about it? Imagination is absolutely necessary for such a compassionate learning experience."
Knowledge of another’s suffering is one thing, having the courage to enter into that suffering and sharing it is quite another. This past week there have been two episodes in the immediate area that call us to use our imaginations to take on that sense of compassionate learning.
Last Sunday evening a seven year old girl was killed at home in East Detroit when a police officer’s gun was discharged in the raid of the little girl’s home. The police, who were pursuing a murder suspect have launched an investigation into this tragedy. "This is every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s also every police officer’s nightmare," said Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee. That is an understatement. I have a hard time imagining the grief that has to have beset this little girl’s family. The police raided this home accompanied by cameras from A & E Channel’s "The First 48." Our society seems hell bent violence and we eat up programming on TV that speaks to that violence. In the meantime we have to come to grips with what is happening in a city like Detroit, where there is such a disparity between cultures. While some were angered that civil rights leader Al Sharpton was on hand to deliver a eulogy, his words could not have been more direct or accurate. He called the people of Detroit to take ownership of their own neighbourhoods. He called on Black community leaders to take a look in the mirror. Sharpton also asked the question that most are unprepared to answer. It was a question that makes imagining the pain and grief in this scenario so hard. The truth is that there is a different standard used for different cultures and races. "Would they have thrown that flash grenade into a home in Bloomfield Hills?" This gets to the very heart of the problem. If we are ever to get to a place where we do more than simply know about what happened on Sunday evening in East Detroit, we have to imagine what it would be like to live on the wrong end of systemic racism?
This is difficult for us but it is necessary for us as a people of God to work to enter into young Aiyana Stanley Jones reality and be moved by it to speak up. There were problems in Aiyana’s home. Those problems did not make her violent death any less tragic. We pray for the wisdom to see past our comfortable reality to imagine the loss that has taken a Detroit neighbourhood hostage. Perhaps coming to that place of compassion may result in an increased awareness and a desire to speak up for justice.
The second episode took place right here in Windsor. Chris Rabideau is a 26 year old gay man who was severely beaten last Friday. What started as a robbery turned wildly violent when those robbing Mr. Rabideau determined that he is gay. Mr. Rabideau was beaten in the head and at one point feared he would die as he was being chocked. Ironically, this young man had just recently directed a one act play that displays the angry face of homophobia. Because of his sexuality he was subject to homophobic slurs while he was beaten on Friday.
Again, compassion here is not simply knowing about this savage beating. In this case it is important for us imagine the tragedy here. This young man is someone’s cousin, nephew, friend, uncle, and child. Once we imagine what this pain would look like if Mr. Rabideau was our kin, compassion becomes something different for us. Again, it becomes necessary for us as a people of God to identify with those who are oppressed because of hate.
The truth is that in God’s realm Chris Ribideau and Aiyana Stanley Jones are our kin. To truly embrace compassion we must imagine the suffering that our kin have endured and find our voice to speak up for justice.
I need to go back to learning about The Rites of Passage – imagine the pain and suffering that I will endure and have some compassion for me.
I hope to make this a compassionate learning experience.