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August 15, 2014
Dear Gathering Community,

As a native of the St. Louis area and a pastor who feels called to serve this city, the events of the past week have shown me the depth of tragedy and brokenness that exists in our world, and the immensity and power of hope that is simultaneously present. I have spent a lot of time this week praying, talking, walking, listening, reading, praying some more, marching and learning. Just last evening, I participated in a march and peaceful protest along with about 2000 other people in Ferguson. My purpose in being there was to represent the body of Christ in the midst of suffering. Most days that sounds pretty abstract. Yesterday it did not. I thought for this week’s mNote, I would offer some brief observations. They are imperfect but they are mine. 

1. An unarmed 18 year old, Michael Brown, was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last Saturday and died. I have visited the site of his death, right outside a group of apartments in a residential neighborhood. It looked like it could have been my neighborhood. 

2. Very few details about the shooting have been released causing great frustration and pain for those who want answers as to why such an extreme measure of violence was used against an unarmed teenager. This is part of the reason you see emotions running high. Protest is one way to express this frustration. If it were my son, I’d want answers too. 

3. Early in the week, police reacted strongly to peaceful protests with militarized gear, vehicles and weapons – including tear-gas, sniper rifles and swat team lines. This was disturbing. This strategy was ended Thursday when Captain Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol was put in charge. I listened to Captain Johnson address protestors with compassion, respect and understanding. He then marched with us. It was an inspiring example of leadership. I continue to pray for our police officers as they have the unenviable task of keeping peace and protecting people. 

4. Looting and rioting did occur on Sunday evening. That behavior was the exception, not the rule. When I have been in Ferguson, I’ve seen peaceful protests, prayer circles, church tents handing out water and food, kids drawing with sidewalk chalk, girls dancing, and people grieving. Looting and rioting aren’t good, but they have been overdramatized and do not represent most of what is happening in Ferguson.

5. There are a lot of opinions about the root cause of Michael’s death (racism, classism, police aggression, fear, sin,). Whatever lies underneath, it is a shared problem that requires shared confession, repentance and acts of reconciliation. For Christ-followers, it is sin to stick our heads in the sand and pretend like what is happening in Ferguson isn’t our problem. Likewise it is neglect to think that the response isn’t ours to participate in. 

6. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring UMC in Ferguson gave a beautiful interview on NPR. He is one example the power of the Church as the body of Christ. Examples of prayer, service, and hospitality are all over Ferguson. There is a strong sense of hope in the midst of suffering. I am proud of people from The Gathering who, even as I write, are volunteering by serving kids at Wellspring. As terrible as this tragedy is, God is present through the Church and alongside those who suffer. Neighbors and locals that I have spoken with in Ferguson consistently quoted this to me, “in all things, God is here working for good.

7. In talking with some of my African-American clergy friends, one of them told me that the shooting is an example of why it is so important for him to train his sons on how to dress, how to behave when (not if) he gets pulled over, what profiling is, and what to do when treated unjustly. This is common-place for people of color in America. As a white, upper-middle class, highly educated man, I simply do not have to worry about this with my sons. This is an example of what is meant by privilege. Too many people like me get defensive about that idea. I don’t. It is real, its not right, and it deserves to be recognized and addressed. 

This weekend in worship I will be sharing the gospel as it relates to the events of the past week. We will also be praying specifically for what is happening. I hope that unless you are sick or out of town, you will join me for worship this weekend. Invite anyone else who would like a community in which to process the recent events, hear a word of challenge and hope, and have an opportunity to respond. To get a head start, you can read Ephesians 2. I look forward to seeing you this weekend, starting tomorrow at 5pm!

Peace,

Matt+

 
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