Guest Post: What Now?

Posting this (slightly edited version) on behalf of someone who cannot post due to the circumstances of their life.

I guess the question is, what now, after the Eric Garner verdict?

  1. The cops used an illegal choke-hold, one that they had been directed not to use.
  2. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.
  3. The police claimed they were arresting Garner for selling illegal cigarettes, none were found on him.
  4. The cop in question had prior police brutality charges that the city had to pay out for.

All this was caught on tape, yet the Grand Jury decided not to indict. Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote something to the effect that this country is not for black people. If there ever was proof of that it’s been the steady drip drip of  ‘screw black people’ decisions, this one is certainly the latest.

What makes it doubly infuriating is that I want to post this publicly, but I know that some people (some of whom I respected and loved) will come tell me I’m overreacting, will drag out the canard of black-on-black crime, will tell me that the system works and this is an aberration. If you role a dice and come up with the same number 100 times in a row, something is wrong with the frickin’ dice. Sometimes you just need to step away from the table and acknowledge the game was rigged, is rigged and will continue being rigged.

  • Oscar Grant’s death was not an aberration (shot in the back while lying down and handcuffed)
  • Jonathan Ferrell’s death was not an aberration (shot while seeking help).
  • Darrien Hunt’s death was not an aberration (shot in the back while cos-playing).
  • John Crawford’s death was not an aberration (shot while holding a toy gun in an Open Carry state).
  • Tamir Rice’s death was not an aberration (shot within 2 seconds for holding a toy gun, subsequently denied first aid for 4.5 minutes).
  • Michael Brown’s death was not an aberration (stopped for jaywalking, shot multiple times, some in the back and while he had his hands up).
  • Aiyana Stanley-Jones was not an aberration (7 years old, shot in the head while he was sleeping by cops who raided the wrong apartment and were showboating for a TV crew).
  • Eric Garner’s death was not an aberration (choked to death on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes).

And those are just a few of the black men, women and children shot by police in questionable circumstances, some of them caught on tape (not that it made much difference in seeking justice). Not to mention those killed by white people who just could not fathom that black people had a right to be someplace, to exist, to expect the same things that non-white Americans take for granted (Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis). I keep on coming back to the Dredd Scott decision

“The black man has…no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. At this point I’d settle just for the first one, crawl before running etc. & etc.

What now?

What Can I Do to Help in Ferguson?

I am having a series of conversations with people who ask me (as if I’m an expert!) of what they can do to help with the situation in Ferguson.

I’m always going to approach this from my grid as a Christian believer. So some of my answers come from my own faith in a powerful, merciful, and just God. But some of them are ordinary things anyone can do.

First, if you’re a believer, you can pray. You can pray that God moves on the people of Ferguson, of St. Louis, of Missouri, of the entire United States. There are seriously wrong things going on, and as believers we must ask God to be the director and enabler of healing. Prayer is a requisite.

After that, there are more tangible things to do. People in Ferguson and elsewhere are raw, angry, mad, frightened, and reacting in fear. An awful lot of terrible things are being said by people who are lashing out at other people for events that make no sense.

So, you can offer support to those people who are being attacked or frightened or shouted down. Support them by directly contacting them, when possible, with your words of empathy. Try to listen to them, and try to understand what their lives are like, and what they are like.

I have to say, there is an awful lot of truly vile things being said by people about the people of Ferguson. I am so ashamed as a follower of Christ to hear what my fellow believers are saying, in public, in postings on the internet, in their interviews on TV. The people on the receiving end of those attacks are doubly hurt, first by the events going on in their community, and now with the attacks upon them. So reach out to them in love, compassion, and empathy. Not with sympathy or pity. With an understanding that they are like you—trying to live a godly life, trying to do the right thing.

And, you can offer tangible support as well. For example, the church where Mike Brown’s family attends was burned and destroyed by arson. What with the fire, water, and smoke damage, their church is ruined. They will go on, but they have no home. Millions of American Christians are assured that their church will be there when they wake up on a Sunday morning, but this Sunday the members of Flood Christian Church in St. Louis, Missouri will have no place to go.

If you want to support the people of this church, you can do so quickly and easily by donating what they need most, outside of prayer and verbal support. You can send them a donation to help rebuild their church.

Now, I cannot speak for the church. I don’t know them, don’t know their pastor, don’t live in the area. But these people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. These people are our fellow Americans. These people should have the same right to worship freely as anyone does in America, free to worship as they will and free to worship in their own building without the fear of it being burned to the ground.

There will be other things that arise that will need our support, and there will be plenty more discussions about what we can do to understand the problems in America. But in this one thing—the people and churches of Ferguson—we can offer real, connective, tangible support.

If you seriously want to do something, I’ve provided some ways.

To contact Flood Christian Church, you can use one of these links:

The church website:

The church Facebook page:

The church donation page:

Again, I’m not connected with them. Except I am, as a Christian believer. And this is something that frankly we should do as believers.

More thoughts on the Christian response to Ferguson

See. here’s the thing, Christians: we have an opportunity to speak out about injustice to our fellow humans, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are largely silent or even supporting the whitewash in #Ferguson.

We were so righteously angry over same-sex marriage and Chik-Fil-A. We were so righteously angry over a baker and a wedding photographer being told to obey the law. How dare people ask us to violate our consciences!

But here we have yet another clear example of people here in these United States who do not have the assurance of their civil rights being protected, and do not have the assurance that they will not be killed randomly in the name of the law, and we are either silent or, even more shockingly, publicly praising this breakdown in justice.

These are actual people being gunned down, here in the United States, and they are nearly always without the protection of the law, of society, and, sadly, the church.

We wonder why we have no witness in America, why we have no power in our preaching, why our churches are emptying and why our children and grandchildren are leaving the faith.

It is because they see this, the silence on obvious oppression and wrong, and an unholy emphasis on the unnecessary. We do not have the power of the cross in our preaching and in our lives, and we have nothing to offer except the theology of the trivial.

Quotes from “Stars in the Texas Sky”

I’ll be quoting from the novel “Stars in the Texas Sky” for the next few days, some of the more memorable things said by the characters.

Today’s quote is from Talitha Lawson, wife of the mayor of Windmill, Texas:

In a small Texas town, you follow football in the fall and baseball in the spring and summer. And in the winter you just stay inside and talk about spring, summer, and fall. World without end, amen.

Yevgeniy and the Parade of the Red Balloons


This is a short story from my book River of Dreams (available online in print and ebook formats). We were given a photo and then asked to write a story. This picture shows a line of seven people, possibly family members, some holding red balloons, walking down a street in some town in modern Russia. I don’t think there’s actually any such parade in St. Petersburg, but if there were, this family would fit right in—all except Yevgeniy…

“Hurry up, Yevgeniy! You’re going to make us all late!” Masha was laying out the fish and sliced onions for the afternoon meal, checking the rising dough for the piroshkis, smelling the warm mixture of chopped onions and beef and cabbage for the stuffing.

Yevgeniy Abramofsky stared at the mirror on the wall. His eyes were still red from the tears dried from Omi’s apron. Today was the Parade of the Commemoration of the Soldiers of the Motherland, and all St. Petersburg would be out, dressed in their finery and best shoes, cheering on the marching and the drumming and the music, smelling the fried breads and cookies and the slightly sour-sweet aroma of spilled kvass.

And Yevgeniy would not be there, not in the parade, not on the sidelines, not on the balcony. He had, against all commands and orders, gone into the Forbidden Room where there were Many Breakable Things, and he had opened the closet to check, just one more time, for the delightful props they would be carrying to celebrate Toys and Children, his family and joining their neighbors in solidarity, taking part with all St. Petersburg to honor the new Russia of peace and light and freedom.

And somehow, all of Mama’s careful stacking and neat ordered shelves had come undone, just when he was reaching out to take his very own balloon, and it had all come crashing down. Plates and cups and the metal box with Papa’s tobacco, little porcelain figurines from Paris, the bottle of expensive perfume that no one opened, the shelves themselves somehow coming loose as he attempted to simply pull the box closer and closer, the chair tumbling below him, and everything landing on top of him in one sticky, stinky, muddled mess.

Mama and Papa and Omi had rushed into the room at the sound, his aunts and uncles stood at the door, and there was no speaking. There was nothing to say. Yevgeniy had ruined the family who would now be missing from the grand celebration. In the square block of Russian citizens there would be a conspicuous absence of seven Abramofskys, sure to be noticed by neighbors and block captains and all the citizens lined up on the streets.

He stared at his face in the mirror, a criminal and a thief and a burglar, the words from Mama and Papa and Omi still ringing in his ears. There was nothing to be done now, of course. Six people could not go where seven were expected; seven could not go empty handed where seven red balloons were required. Six balloon were safe, but one—his balloon—was ruined by the spilled perfume, the rubber melting in the alcohol, the sweet smell of lilacs and roses and something that didn’t quite smell at all but simply was tasted at the back of your throat permeated the air still. His hands were pink and raw from the scrubbing Mama had performed to get the cloying aroma off, the faint traces of lanolin and coal tar mixing with the rosewater scent.

Tante Albertina came into the room, carrying a sweet pickle from the tray in the kitchen. “Here, eat this. You’ll feel better.” She sat on the bed next to him. “It’s not so bad, Yevgeniy. The cat is still alive, and the hair will grow back soon.” His Royal Highness Tarlemagne was still sulking somewhere in the apartment, licking the patches where his fur had been cut away to remove the spilled nail polish. There was still a faint outline on the wooden floor where Papa had scrubbed and scrubbed to remove the bright red lacquer. No scrubbing, of course, would remove the same color from the silk rug: it would remain a memory of Yevgeniy’s disobedience unto the seventy-of-sevens generations, his Papa had declared.

She hugged him, tousled his hair, and then leaned close. “I don’t know if you can go with us, Yevgeniy, without your balloon. Everyone will see us, the seven Abramofskys, with six red balloons, and think: something happened to Yevgeniy. But if there were only five balloons…”

And with that Tante Albertina reached into her pocket to pull out her own balloon. “See? My balloon might also be damaged.” She took the scissors from the sewing basket near the window. “Perhaps someone made a careless mistake while darning socks.” She snipped the balloon in two. “And now there are two people with no balloon, which of course is entirely normal and expected. Now dry your tears and come out when you’re ready. We’ll make a sight, the Seven Abramofskys and Their Five Balloons. No one else will be so clever as us.”

Yevgeniy looked up to his aunt and smiled. It was all going to be good. And there would be piroshkis afterwards, and maybe the sweet angel cookies Mama made for special occasions.

Tante Albertina closed the door behind her. He got up from the bed, slicked down his hair, and went to the door.

Then he turned to the dresser next to Mama’s bed. She always kept her gold filigree watch there, and he’d never had the chance to look at it up close.