Finding Light in the Darkness: Reflections on Recent Decisions in Missouri and New York

Gethsemane - Matthew 26:36-46

Image: Christ on Gethsemane, Jesus MAFA

Isaiah 61:1-3b, 8

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

July 17 and August 9, 2014 were dark days for ALL Americans. These tragic events, now in our history books, changed how we viewed our neighbors and friends. On July 17, Eric Garner died after a police officer put him in an illegal chokehold and on August 9, Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer. The grand juries did not bring charges in the death of Garner or Brown.

These disastrous events resulted in trauma, once again, for the nation, whether recognized or not, and for all individuals involved. What is trauma? Trauma refers to a “wound,” which often leaves us feeling stuck. Trauma creates pain. Trauma disrupts our relationship with God as well as our healthy connection to community (Woodley, 1). All people, sometime in their lives, experience traumatic events. It could be road rage, domestic violence, abuse by a professor, etc. The United States’ history is replete with examples. From slavery in America, colonization of indigenous peoples, and the mistreatment of immigrants and women, trauma changes individuals and communities in multiple ways.

Individuals and communities going through trauma are looking for relief from pain. F. Willis Johnson Jr., senior pastor of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, considers the protests and street rallies to be:

an expression of their [young people’s] emotion, of their frustration, of their hurt, of their sense of insecurity or even in some cases, fear of . . . what seems to be a reoccurring practice . . . where people feel vulnerable . . . to being victims and victimized (Samuel, 1).

Martin Luther King is clear; protest is the language of the unheard. Nevertheless, trauma shatters lives and destroys opportunities. And for the traumatized community, there are major questions that loom: “Why does God continue to allow bad things to happen to already exploited people? Should I believe in or trust God?”

To answer those questions, I am convinced that we, a people made in and called to be the image of God, need to understand the full character of God, for indeed, this has to be a grace/justice moment. We are responsible as God’s people for helping others experience what has happened as an and/both moment. By that I mean, how can we understand that God is both a forgiving God and a God of justice? And what does that look like incarnationally in community?

The notion that God is a God of justice, as well as grace and love, allows oppressed people to have hope. When wrong is acknowledged and hope springs forth, it is possible to receive justice even when the system may let you down.

It is clear that we need to evaluate our priorities, as Christians and scholars, when responding to issues of justice and oppression. Within Isaiah 61, there is a call for justice for the oppressed, the mistreated, and the forgotten. Justice, according to Katongole and Rice (2008)

is an aspect of God’s shalom, . . . the idea of completeness, soundness, well-being and prosperity, and includes every aspect of life—personal, relational and national. Moreover, because shalom arises out of covenant relationship and companionship with God and with each other, holiness and righteousness are integral to the meaning and practice of justice. (72)

If there is no “shalom,” there will be fire, smoke, ash, violence and other forms of destruction that represent darkness and challenge our coexistence as God’s people and the human family. We will not see each other as family because we will be shattered like a mirror dropped on the floor in many small pieces that can cut and hurt other human beings. We will focus on identities that are not gifts from God, but that will make us feel good, grasping for ungodly power and not the goodness of God (Katongole and Rice, 63). The options we have as Christians to “resist the devil (injustice),” are evident in ourselves, our communities, our society, our world. One such option begins with the implementation of shalom which is also defined as “peace.”

Some of us think that trauma, such as the one experienced in Missouri and New York has victory over us. We feel helpless, weak, isolated, confused. I Chronicles 29:11 is helpful.

Yours O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

Jesus said, “You/We are the light of the world.” Instead of feeling like the victim, will you allow God to use you, as the victor, during these historical events to impact/change your part of the world? Jesus knows about trauma and oppression since he experienced the crucifixion and died, not deserving it. For those who feel unmoved, uninvolved, or simply disassociated, are you willing to die to your own desires and feelings of comfort so that others—Black men and oppressed people—might live? How can we come together as community and address the hard questions—How can we effectively be in dialogue and, at the same time, become effective listeners? How can we not ignore the anger? How can we be instruments of justice and use the resources of the academy to constructively confront injustice?

Let us be bold. If indeed what happened in Missouri and New York might be senseless acts of violence, then be bold enough to pray for change. Be bold enough to walk with those who are brokenhearted. Be like Jesus, fight for those who have been wounded. Proclaim that life and light is for all people. Yes indeed God loves both African Americans and police officers. Be an instrument of Christ’s healing.

In the wake of disaster and injustice, communities can decide to bind together to confront and fight evil. What communities exist at your university and in your discipline that are waiting for you to lead them? Leadership takes myriad forms: praying, listening, lifestyle witness, learning, discussion, repentance, being an advocate, and reconciliation. If we let God lead us, we can discern what type of leadership works best. This is a special opportunity to re-invent ourselves and the future of Missouri, New York, and your OWN community—be it the university, your academic discipline, your church, your neighborhood.

Choose to forgive, choose to grieve, choose to pray, choose to educate, choose to resist injustice by naming it and not participating in it, choose nonviolent protest, choose to challenge those who abuse, by not being abusive.

In conclusion, Desmond Tutu shares wise advice:

To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger. However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too. But the process of forgiveness also requires acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrator that has committed an offence. Take the Craddock Four, for example. The police ambushed their car, killed them in the most gruesome manner, set their car alight. When, at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearing (TRC), South Africa, the teenage daughter of one of the victims was asked: would you be able to forgive the people who did this to you and your family? She answered, “We would like to forgive, but we would just like to know who to forgive.” How fantastic to see this young girl, still human despite all efforts to dehumanize her (Tutu, 1)

Love and forgiveness will conquer everything . . .

For I the Lord love justice.

Works Cited

Katongole, Emmanuel, and Chris Rice. Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2008. Print.

King, Martin Luther. Strength to Love. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. Print.

Samuel, Stephanie. “Ferguson Pastor: We Need to See Our Community as a Trauma Patient.” http://www.christianpost.com/news/ferguson-pastor-we-need-to-see-our-community-as-a-trauma-patient-125061/. The Christian Post. 27 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <http://www.christianpost.com/news/ferguson-pastor-we-need-to-see-our-community-as-a-trauma-patient-125061/>.

Tutu, Desmond. “The Forgiveness Project.” The Tutu Foundation. 29 Mar. 2010. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <http://www.tutufoundationuk.org>.

Woodley, Julie. “When Trauma Strikes.” Today’s Christian Woman. 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 21 Jan. 2015. <http://www.todaysChristianwoman.com/articles/2011/february/traumastrikes.html>.


Image: JESUS MAFA. Christ on Gethsemane, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48391 [retrieved January 23, 2015].

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Alice Brown-Collins

Alice R. Brown-Collins, Ph.D., is an ordained Minister and licensed Evangelist. Presently, she is the Associate Regional Director of Graduate and Faculty Ministries (GFM), Northeast and the area director for Black Scholars and Professionals (BSAP), InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In the past she has been director for Black Campus Ministry, InterVarsity, New England, undergraduates. In addition, she is co-pastor at New Hope Christian Ministries, Framingham, MA, with her husband, Rev. Boris Collins. In the past, she has been interim protestant chaplain at Brandeis University as well as a member of the missions board; coordinator of the prayer warriors; coordinator of women’s ministries; and a teacher for the discipleship class of the Sunday School. Dr. Brown-Collins has a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is a social psychologist and has held positions as assistant professor at Brown University (Black Studies) and Wellesley College (Africana Studies), as well as adjunct professor at Brandeis University. A lecturer, teacher, and preacher, she has conducted numerous seminars and workshops on families, married couples, missions, discipleship, college ministries, prayer, multiethnicity, race relations, and women as well as participated in the Veritas Forum at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In addition, she has missions experience in Ghana; Guyana, South America; Kenya; and Australia. She has participated in the urban missions project, Springfield, MA, 2013. Rev. Dr. ABC loves the Lord! She is the spouse of Rev. Boris E. Collins and they have two children; Jamal, 35 years old and Kateri, 26 years old, a daughter-in-law, Marisha, and, a bundle of joy, grandson, Shamar.

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4 Comments

  • BTSFblog@twitter.example.com'
    ByTheirStrangeFruit (@BTSFblog) commented on January 23, 2015 Reply

    Thank you for your voice and for your vulnerability in sharing! These are such important and needed words!

  • bbdemy99@hotmail.com'
    Bob Demyanovich commented on January 24, 2015 Reply

    The Word of God is truly the balm and salvation for us, conflicted and confused in our own way as we are. Psa 119:105
    NUN. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

  • bbdemy99@hotmail.com'
    Bob Demyanovich commented on January 24, 2015 Reply

    Now after inflamed passion has spoken there is space to contemplate why we need the balm of our God. In a better world such thoughts would be the Christmas music of the streets, the media and law enforcement. This should resound through to understanding and fulfillment.

  • pastorboris1949@gmail.com'
    Boris E. Collins commented on January 24, 2015 Reply

    Praise God for this word from Dr. ABC. In all the various conversations around this subject, it good to read a biblical view point to think about trauma that is taking place in our society. The Christian community need to hear from God, not the media and law enforcement when it comes to justice. Thank you Dr. ABC for reminding us “Life Matters” in the eyes of God.

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