January 14 – May 31, 2019
I sit here in California at my desk tonight, looking back across the country at my home state of Maryland. I am filled with anguish as parts of Baltimore are being ripped apart and descend into chaos.
Businesses are looted and a community center burns. Police are pelted with rocks, fire trucks with cinderblocks. Efforts to put the fire out are hindered by hoses being cut. Among the people instigating the riots, apparently there was a large group of school children as they were getting out of school. This is insane.
Sense cannot be made of this.
A young man's life has been snuffed out way too early, and it is a tragedy.
I have no idea what kind of man Freddie Gray would have become, and now we will never know. I have no idea, either if he was mistreated by the police and how his own actions may have contributed to his own death. I only know that his dreams of love and life are no more, and this world is a lesser place because of this loss and every loss like it.
Too many of us have found in these tragedies an invitation to resort to the basest versions of ourselves.
The young people rioting today are doing so because they are responding to this invitation. As a magma chamber builds up explosive pressure, they are erupting with the molten lava of anger, frustration, hopelessness. They are rioting not only in anger at the loss of one young man's life, but in the hopelessness of their own. Do they not see anything better in life to aspire to?
We ask how it is that some people could burn down their own community and destroy the organizations and businesses that serve them. I think we miss the point, however.
I see in Tijuana the same dynamic. It is possible to inhabit a city for a whole lifetime and never feel that you are doing anything other than passing through. How do we cultivate in these kids' lives a sense of ownership of the community they inhabit, and how do we make that community worth owning? Until that point, I doubt that there is any way to redefine their relationship with the authorities and peace officers in their city as anything other than "us versus them."
There are others who have responded to the invitation in a very different way. As each of the tragedies of the last year have occurred, they fill the Internet discussions with hatred and vile. The anonymity of the Internet allows them to say things which most people would never say out loud. (At least the Internet gives us insight in to what people really are thinking). In this rioting they find confirmation for their racist views, calling the rioters "savages" and worse.
When everybody is pulling the world apart, how do we bring it together? How do we advocate for justice for Freddie Gray and also seek to ensure that a generation of young people still living have a chance to fulfill their dreams of love and life? How can we offer a healing balm for the burned out remains of our cities?
"All creation waits in eager longing for the revelation of the children of God."
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God"
Ray Schellinger, a longtime BPFNA member and friend, is a missionary with American Baptist International Ministries living in Chula Vista, California. He and his wife Adalia run Deborah's House, a domestic violence shelter in Tijuana, Mexico.