One evening, returning from my walk, I detoured on to a lot where a new home is under construction, but not yet sold.
The house is on my block, and it’s one of the last lots to be filled in my neighborhood. I was curious, a nosy neighbor.
So I veered off the sidewalk into the muddy backyard. The house was nearly completed, and I knew workmen had been doing interior work. I peered through windows, wondering where the kitchen was and how the bedrooms were arranged.
Curiosity satisfied, I traipsed through my neighbor Mary’s backyard to get home.
Later that night, watching the news, I saw a grainy video of a young black man inspecting a construction site in Georgia. Curious, too, it appeared. He wandered inside. He took nothing and did no harm.
Later, investigators believed him to be Ahmaud Arbery, a young jogger, followed by three white men and gunned down. His offense? Being a Black American, and therefore under suspicion, in the way a small, older American white woman could never imagine.
It took weeks, and some questionable behavior on the part of authorities, for the men involved to be charged, and then, only after a videotape appeared.
Since March, our nation has been hit by a once-a-century pandemic, the worst unemployment figures in nearly a century, and small business failures. Millions are still trying to social distance, causing emotional anguish for many.
Add to all this angst the murder of George Floyd. A video camera in every hand means that horrible behavior is now caught on film, spotlighting injustice.
But consider this: the man who calmly knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes knew he was being filmed. And he did it anyway. He knew what he was doing; he heard the cries of people around him, telling him he was killing a man. He did it anyway. Police officers who stood around without intervening knew they were being filmed. They stood around anyway.
Arbery, Floyd – these incidents speak to something systemic.
It is not even mid-June as I write, and we’ve had almost two weeks of massive and mostly peaceful protests. I have no idea what our nation will be like by the time anyone reads this. The news cycles seem to move at warp speed.
One thing that is unchanging is the Gospel. Yes, it may be organic as it challenges us to grow and read it with new insight, but it remains a still point in a changing world. Some readings comfort us; some make us squirm. I’m always discomfited by the rich guy, to whom Jesus doesn’t even bother to give a name, sitting in his luxury, ignoring the beggar Lazarus at his gate. The fact that I’m troubled by that reading means it may be telling me something about me.
Maybe it also tells us something about us as a nation.
All of us ask what we can do to make things better for those affected by generations of slavery, Jim Crow, housing discrimination, systemic racism. Vast income inequality, lack of health care, and wages that don’t begin to increase at the ratio of top CEOs – these issues affect millions of Americans of all colors. We have much to think about as a country.
Maybe, for a while, we should sit with that rich guy at his table, with his good food and purple garments. Be silent and listen to Lazarus’ cry, longing for even what falls from the table. Whose side are we on?
As individuals, we can’t do everything. But we are obliged to do something.