As the sun rose over Tower Grove Park in St. Louis on Monday, August 11, the tragic death of Michael Brown two days before fully saturated our long segregated, long suspicious, long hurting city. And we were all running to the safety of our stereotypes to try and make sense of it all, just like we always had. “They are that way.” They whites. They blacks. They cops. They kids. They media. They. “They are that way.” Comforting lies.
I was no different as I walked through the park that morning. That was until I heard a loud “Twap!” off in the distance. And then another. And another. Far away from any cameras and any other human being besides me, a middle aged man was taking giant aluminum-bat swings at an oak tree, sending bark flying. He was clearly frustrated. Clearly angry. Clearly confused as to what else to do. He was silent though his chest heaved with tears between every swing.
It’s easy to tie St. Louis and Ferguson up in a nice understandable package of stereotypes, but it’s much more complicated and personal than that. Much more. Much more personally painful. And yes, much more personally glorious too. We have a big problem in St. Louis. It’s not unique to St. Louis but it is acute here and it is ours. And we are all personally implicated in it, in part, because we have generationally chosen the easy work of stereotyping instead of the hard, repentant, incarnational work of loving our personal neighbor.
But as much as we are personally implicated in the problem, we are also personally implicated in the solution – the hands and feet of Christ in Ferguson and St. Louis. The Gospel is ultimately the big answer to the big problem, and God’s people have brought its healing – personally. Amidst all the questions being asked, the most frequent has been: “What can I do to help?” And glorious cold water, groceries, childcare, counseling and prayers have come in abundance not to “they” but to him and her and you and me. And through those personal graces we are beginning to heal.
Jay Simmons has pastored the South City Church in St. Louis, a congregation in the city for the city.