Understanding Baltimore

May 6, 2015 by

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We live in a world where news about the news is almost as important as the news.

Take for instance Baltimore. On April 26, Freddy Gray was killed while in police custody and over the weekend charges were brought against six officers.

As the story unfolded, peaceful protests, public grieving and lament turned into limited instances of violence, followed by police reprisal, followed by citizen violence, followed by . . . the cycle of violence.

This is news worthy of being news. But like never before our culture allows us to instantly gauge how people feel, think, see and respond differently to the same events.

We are now part of the story, or at least the story about the story. With our Facebook likes, hashtags, solidarity protests and ubiquitous blogs — everyone’s got an opinion.

There can be no denying that we as a nation, and the various communities within that nation, see this event differently. I’ve been thinking about that today. Not that we see differently so much as why we see differently.

What’s the criteria, yardstick, litmus test that different camps use to interpret events in Baltimore or Ferguson, Mo., or Trayvon Martin’s hometown of SanFord, Fla.? Or anywhere for that matter.

Why can people of such good faith and good will see things so differently?

One example is how the story has been expanded differently. Baltimore as a poisoned environment with longstanding and deeply systemic injustices is the main story for some. Economics and racialization play significant roles in this narrative.

I’ve seen others reject the socializing of the story with vehemence. Many have defended the role of the cops, blamed Freddy Gray, or chalked it up to a limited, but unfortunate exception.

Here are a few of the differences I see that focus our vision in substantially different ways.

1. Do you see things as a social reality or in terms of individuals?

2. What level of trust or skepticism do you have in America, government and law enforcement? Whether America is “the beautiful” or “the empire” matters significantly.

3. What is your level of criticism regarding our history?

4. Personal experience, relationship to or identification with the community that suffers matters.

5. Context is king. The way we see things adjusts according to our race, class, social mobility, influence and the community we live in.

6. Is the gospel about God’s preferential option for the soul or God’s preferential option for the poor?

Many Christians limit religions role to personal salvation, arguing that Jesus was not political or concerned with messy details like economics, police brutality or justice. While many others embrace a broad gospel with concern for all of life. For them, Jesus has as much to say about streets as he does souls, because ethics and community are gifts of gospel.

The actual news coming out of Baltimore is a lifetime of educational value. But there’s also much to learn from the different lenses we each wear. Which for most of us function like medical triage — helping us quickly decide, sort and categorize events as they come to us.

I believe that the mission of God is peace and the vocation of God’s people is peacemaking. And because of that, Jesus’ Gospel clarifies pretty much everything.

Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church and writes at blog.chron.com, where this post originally appeared. He tweets @thepeacepastor and is on Facebook


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