Like most Americans, I was horrified by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. My mind jumps from anger to shameful grief and back again. I avoid the video replay of his senseless death because it’s so heinous. I go to sleep praying for his family.
How God grieves over the way we treat each other.
Much has been written about this tragedy over the past few weeks already. I’m just another voice amidst the commotion. But my brain keeps churning. There is so much hatred and injury and heartbreak. Even so, in all the chaos, there are some truths that cannot be altered.
1. It is absolutely appropriate to feel righteous anger about George Floyd’s death.
The man was killed mercilessly. Even if Floyd resisted arrest, he was eventually subdued with handcuffs and was flat on the ground while Officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck for nearly 9 minutes. This was a blatant and deliberate slaughter. We are all in agreement here.
It is correct that Chauvin, who had already been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, is now also charged with second-degree murder. The officers who watched and did nothing have now been charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd. Justice for this specific crime is in the process of being served.
2. It is appropriate to protest such abuse from law enforcement.
Peaceful protests are important. They are legal and worthwhile. They can speak volumes, and yes, they can bring awareness and change, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us.
However – and my heart is equally disturbed over this: because we abhor what was done to George Floyd does not mean we are required to support the retaliatory pillaging and violence. Lawlessness only obstructs the fight for justice because it simply spews more hate. It is counterproductive. It’s to our detriment that those who choose a riotous course of action don’t realize/understand this.
I add strongly here – I understand that people are frustrated and fuming and have a need to tear down a system that at times is unjust and cruel. I get that. Life is not fair. Innocent people get hurt. Our hearts are broken every day by corruption, prejudice, greed, mistreatment, and the selfish motives of others. We live in a sinful world, and it’s terribly disheartening.
But, here’s the thing: Piling on more cruelty and wreckage only feeds the monster.
The desire to riot is an understandable, but a misguided passion. It doesn’t mend or improve anything. I didn’t know George Floyd, but I suspect he would want no part of the deliberate, nationwide destruction that followed his death. He had made some poor choices himself (as we all do) and had moved from TX to MN to make a new start.
If those who are bringing harm and chaos to the streets would channel that energy into productive means, things could change. (I understand that due to Covid-19, high unemployment is increasing the tension in the country right now. It’s a genuine frustration and fear. But, demolishing a local business exacerbates the problem; there is now one more person/family out of work.)
Here is my question to those who feel compelled to damage lives that are wholly unrelated to the death of George Floyd. I assure you, no snark or sarcasm implied; I’m just puzzled and wondering…
What are you doing on your ‘non-rioting’ days?
Are you helping out in your local soup kitchen? Are you volunteering at Habitat for Humanity? Do you mentor any youth at risk? (Big Brothers Big Sisters is a great example of how that works.) Do you volunteer at your local crisis pregnancy center? Do you help support single moms with unmet needs?
Are you helping any immigrant children learn to read? Are you helping your children to read? Do you work to help support your family? Are you an involved parent, a committed spouse/partner?
Do you donate blood? Do you vote?
Are you going to return to the sites you destroyed and help clean up and repair?
How are you serving your community? Are you contributing anywhere? What are you doing with your gifts (and everyone has them) that is easing the struggle in the life of another?
Because this is how we change our culture: we ease suffering right where we are, one life at a time.
I can’t feed all the hungry kids in America, but I can participate in stocking our local food pantry for the hungry kids in my town.
I can’t personally eliminate any corruption in my local police department, but I can obey the laws to the best of my ability, so officers don’t have to spend time corralling me when there are missing children to be found and sex traffickers to be put out of business. (If I don’t agree with the laws, I will vote for change at the ballot box.)
I probably cannot restructure the heart of a racist, but I can be kind to every person I encounter (including the racist) and model to children that every life is deserving of respect and protection, regardless of failures. (Young, developing brains are watching us; don’t underestimate the influence you have just moving through your daily life.)
I can’t control the sexual activity of all Florida teenagers, but I dedicated 12 years to educating the ones in my city about the challenges and drawbacks of becoming a teen parent and how preparing for college is a better idea.
3. This world is full of social ills, but no master puppeteer is going to appear and, with one sweep, overhaul the system.
We are the system. We have created the world we live in. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s not all rotten either.
Part of my message to teenagers was this: when you make a mistake, taking responsibility for it is not only correct, but it helps you maintain your power. It means you understand that by your own power, you made a choice, albeit a poor one. You have the power to make good choices as well. If you do not take responsibility for your choices (and blame others), you are labeling yourself a victim. And victims don’t have any power. So, keep your power. Take responsibility. Value and respect your ability to make choices. Make loving ones.
I explained to teens, this is how we turn things around in society. Choice by choice, day after day. This is how it has always been and will always be – from the day Eve ate the apple (or Cro-Magnon man became self-aware) to Terrence Floyd pleading for the riots to stop.
Change will come when individual hands and hearts block the paths that feed the monster.
And there are many paths: abandonment, neglect, abuse, fear, discrimination, revenge, depression, to name a few. People are hurting everywhere because, as scripture tells us, the human heart is easily corrupted (Jer. 17:9). It’s just too easy to take advantage of people, to judge unfairly, to abuse power, to wound others pursuing our own agenda, to deceive and manipulate. We are a self-focused flock, and we want what we want.
Our power lies in our ability to choose. Every day, every hour, we decide how to contribute – do we lift up, or tear down? Feed the monster, or thwart it?
You may be thinking, I am a loving person, I do make good choices, but terrible things continue to happen. In consolation, I offer you this:
You are not responsible for overhauling society. You are responsible for overhauling yourself.
God asked only Jesus to save the world; His assignment to each of us is that we love and uplift those in our circle.
This is not insignificant; this is HUGE. As we know, one person can affect many. Think of Abe Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Mother Theresa, and Malala Yousafzai. These are just a few of the countless individuals who worked for positive change day after grueling day, one constructive choice at a time.
Adolf Hitler affected change as well, as did Osama Bin Laden.
Of course, working on ourselves is harder than raising a ruckus in the street, or repeatedly posting on social media about how incompetent government officials are. I get that. I can’t wrangle myself to lose the 20 pounds that would keep my ailments at bay. Self-discipline, self-sacrifice, taking responsibility for our choices, maturity…they’re all difficult to master.
But, there’s no other way to change the world.
4. What we do in our daily lives matters more than how we react when we witness a national tragedy.
Crimes such as George Floyd’s murder remind us that we will always have work to do because every generation has to conclude for itself this truth: every human life is valuable and irreplaceable and not ours to snuff out.
Scripture (2 Chron.) tells us to “…humble ourselves and pray; turn from our wicked ways…and then God will heal our land.” Notice the first directive is to humble ourselves. Good grief. How terrible we are at that. We can’t even accomplish Step 1.
So, we have a lot to do. We live in a broken world. We have easily corrupted hearts. The pain we experience at times makes us inconsolable. I have had moments like this since George Floyd was murdered. I cannot fathom the evil that won out in that incident.
But, I know two things for sure:
a. Our choices (i.e., our power) determine the path we end up on.
If we want a better society, we have to examine our own lives and the choices we are making daily (remembering the invariable fact that our choices affect those around us.) We need to work as hard as we can to be kind, informed, and outward-looking. We need to have minds of service – not cynicism – and commit to advancing the welfare of every human being. These efforts will divert us, and others, from traveling down the paths of lack and hardship, despair, and rampaging.
Will everyone join the charge? No. There will always be folks who choose various paths of destruction. (That’s the risk with free will.) We will never see a perfect world here on the planet. But we can do our part to bring light into the darkness. That’s all God asks.
b. In the end, God wins.
Scripture cautions us, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return” (Gal. 6:7). Vengeance and ultimate justice are in the hands of God. Nobody’s getting away with anything, including Derek Chauvin and his cohorts. Including looters. Including you and me.
If you are grieving over George Floyd’s murder and the awful things that have occurred since, I encourage you to hold onto these truths: “God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3.) And this: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt.5:4.) We are not alone.
Here’s something you can do today:
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THE MISSING PIECE. Thoughts on another senseless tragedy that occurred in my state.