Yesterday, I found myself driving down Larpenteur Avenue, like I had done hundreds of times before, just blocks from where my children once attended elementary school. Larpenteur Avenue is the marker of the north end of a neighborhood where so many of our friends lived, the border of the city of St. Paul, home to our favorite comic book store, and the location of countless other errands and interactions. But this was all before. Before we had moved to a small town just forty-five minutes away four years ago. Before we moved back to St. Paul this past month. Before Philando Castile.
And here’s the thing, as I write it, I want to edit it immediately. His name is not an event. He is not an event. He is a person. A beloved child of God. A neighbor. A role-model. A father. A cook. A caring adult. A son. A brother. A cousin. A nephew. A grandson. An uncle.
Yesterday, I found myself driving down Larpenteur Avenue, like I had done hundreds of times before, and I found myself unprepared. With my daughter in the car, as we drove down the familiar street, I noticed flags and flowers in the distance, and as I approached it hit me, all at once, Oh my God. That is where Philando Castile died.
Oh my God.
Oh my God.
It is the very deepest cry of my heart. It was not profanity, but a prayer.
Oh. My. God.
I kept driving. Because I could. Because I was in stunned. Because I was in shock. (All of these reactions came as I recognized that I had made it past a point in the road, where Philando did not. All of it speaks to a privilege I was given and that he was not.)
My daughter was stunned, too. For a moment we drove in silence.
I have not been silent about Philando Castile’s death. Yet in this moment, I had no words. Just a very deep sorrow in my heart.
A sorrow that teeters on the edge of outrage, and anger, and grief.
After he died, I was not silent. And I hadn’t been silent in the years and months leading to his death about the profound injustice and brokenness in our world that comes out as systemic racism. I preached about it. I taught about it. I organized a prayer vigil the day after Philando died in my little town, just forty-five minutes away. (We might as well have been a world away.)
A prayer vigil that was attended by five people and a law enforcement officer (who stayed in the parking lot.)
I am not mad at police officers. I am not mad at cities and governments. I am not mad at broken laws and systems. I am not mad at jurors or lawyers. They are a product of the hearts of people who made policy and systems and cultures.
I am furious with the state of the human heart. That our hearts can be so twisted, so self-consumed, so careless that we can justify injustice. I am furious that people against people is even an option. I am overwhelmed with sadness for the state of the soul that can lead a person to the kind of darkness that objectifies another human’s life.
My life is not worth more than yours. Ever.
I don’t fight for my own existence at the expense of another’s.
This is the way of the cross. It is the model of discipleship. It is the invitation that Jesus gives when he said;
“No greater love has a person than this, but to lay their life down for their brother.” John 15:3
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
Or when Paul said,
“To live is Christ. To die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
So I continue to cry,
“Oh. My. God.”
My calling as a pastor compels me to teach and preach- preach the Kingdom of God; a wholeness, wellness, and peace for all people. It calls me to be prophetic in speaking truth and offering healing. It requires of me to build up others, so they may also seek the Kingdom of God.
My calling as a Christ-follower compels me to not stop, to not count the cost.
I was not prepared to be driving down the street, a normal street, an everyday-driven here hundreds of times-street, only to be confronted with the very worst humanity has to offer.
But I am glad I did. I’m glad it’s there. I am grateful for the interruption. I’m grateful for the in-your-face, unapologetic reminder of how deep is the hurt in our world. And I reminded of how urgent is the call to both seek and offer healing in the forms of love and hope.
As I continue to understand my own calling in this world, I am reminded that this world is not as it was intended to be. It is the very foundational truth that I cling to when I consider how hard, how mean, and how ugly this world can be. This is not the world that God created, but is continuously recreating. God created a world where all people lived at peace with one another, with creation and with God. And when that was disrupted, God commissioned a nation of people to live their lives in a way that would hold up God’s hope for humanity, to live as a living model to bless all the nations. And when that was disrupted, God sent his Son into the world, to literally walk this earth and show us what it means to love. To show us how to rebuild, how to turn right side up this upside down world.
I don’t know if there were flowers at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified, or if a make-shift memorial was ever erected at his tomb. But as I see the memorial where Philando Castile died, I realize that his sacrifice is not in vain, as long as we live in a way that honors his life. As long as we don’t let the story end on that street. His breath, lives on is us as we work for a better world.
The memorial that has accumulated at the place of Philando Castile’s death is a reminder that this world is not as it was created to be… therefore the we must not grow weary, as followers of Jesus, to continue this work or rebuilding, or right-siding, of loving and not counting the cost.
We must continue to seek and work towards wholeness for all people, the kind of wholeness that inspires more wholeness. We must continue to process and ask hard questions that effect change, the kind of change that ripples out in waves of mercy. We must talk with our children and grandchildren and neighbors and families about how our lives are not our own, and that we are not working for our own, but we work for one another. God asks two things of us. Love God and love our neighbor. May it be so, oh, my God.