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The Real Story is Not the Obvious Story

by John Ballenger

The real story is not the obvious story.
The real story is back story and context.
It's history.
It's the story some have tried, through the years,
to tell that's been ignored.
The real story is below the surface
in the cross currents and rip-tides.
The real story—the deep story
is an ugly one
encompassing widely different educational options,
employment options,
the systemic injustice of our justice system,
and the myths we tell of equality and opportunity for all
when in fact, our country is a casino
advertising anyone can win
while the house takes it all to the bank.
God who hovered over the depths,
do not allow us to rest content on the surface.

The media has not been a help in truth seeking.
You can find the truth in the media,
but you have to dig for it.
The media does not lead with it.
They lead with what fits the easy categories of the surface story.
Respect to those journalists and broadcasters
who resist that—
who dig.
But we, who read and watch, need to be ever vigilantly aware
that there is information; there is misinformation (information that's wrong),
and there is disinformation (intentionally misleading information).
Our culture (which is synonymous with the privileged in our culture—
which is most of us—
though most of most of us don't know that)
is invested in our having to sift through it all,
and not know—
assuming we will then give up
any quixotic seeking truth
and accept the apparent—the surface story.

The system (which is again synonymous with the privileged—us again)
is not invested in the whole
(despite any and all rhetoric to the contrary).
It is invested in those who rise to the top—who float on the surface.
It cares about what's below the surface
only when the surface is disturbed.
and it is ruthless in maintaining a surface calm—
ruthless is suppressing (oppressing)
what rises from the depths.

Isn't it interesting—disturbing—heart-breaking—
that the first story put out
was about the violence outside the baseball game—
about the bar patrons disturbed in their revelry by the thugs.
Only later did we begin to hear of those imbibing at the pubs
instigated chaos—inciting those marching.
The first story we heard was of the violence of the youth at the mall—
the destruction.
Only later, that the police had shut down the transportation system—
not allowing the youth to get from their school to their homes—
isolating youth not predisposed to trust police
and closing in on them in full riot gear.
The first story was of gangs making alliances to harm police,
and only subsequently did we hear that no such alliances were made.
It's less heartbreaking though perhaps equally telling
that the first impulse is to laud the police.
And I am grateful for the good work of the police.
I tell my children that if they're ever scared or lost or in trouble
that police men and women are good people who will help them.
I am grateful within privilege, I know.
And we have to—have to—question the almost $6,000,0000
paid out over four years, to settle grievances against the police.
We have to question our culture's love affair with the myth
of redemptive violence—violence in the service of righteousness.
We have to question the assumption
that the ends justify the means
when the ends are very much for some and not for all.

The truth hard to hear
is that those who have spoken within the system—
worked within the system,
have been ignored by the system.
It is outside the acceptable channels of authority
that violence cannot be ignored
Does that excuse it?
But neither should we focus on that violence
when the systemic injustice that spawned it
goes unaddressed and tacitly excused.
Blame is easiest to direct at the immediate
and the superficial,
not the deep.
The deep challenges too many taken for granted.
If we're going to get at the root—
if we're going to get to the depths,
it's not the violence of today.
It's the violence of years gone by.
There are no true innocents when talking about systemic injustice.
Well, there are the children,
Yes. Always.
But no one else.
There is no quick fix.
Our truth was years and years in the making.
It will be years and years in the unmaking—the remaking—
the redeeming.

In these days of the social media,
in times of sudden turmoil,
there is the opportunity, the pressure, the temptation
of having the right thing to say—
and the opportunity, the pressure, the temptation
to speak to more than a local congregation—
to speak to a larger context—
to speak to the principalities and the powers—
the systems.
Some of that speaks to our immediate desire
manifest in the assumption:
surely there's something to do to fix this.
I've always called this the male perspective.
Maybe it's more truly the perspective of privilege.
But the deep truths are best seen in reflection ...
or by those who have been in reflection.
Others should be silent
and commit to reflection and the living born of it.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable to You, my God.

Yet I do have something to say.
We will keep being the church—
believing what we have been doing is vital.
We will keep praying
not believing that what is dictates what is to be.
We will keep studying the word week in and week out—
telling the stories—the ones that that call into question
the privilege we take for granted,
the systems that bestow privilege
and that justify its lack—
stories of a whole that values and celebrates all parts of itself.
We will keep having the conversations
of honesty and vulnerability and confession and of hope.
We will keep changing—growing—into grace and love—
discerning how to hover over the depths with the Spirit of God—
how to be in reflection—
and so to be prepared to speak—
to speak a word still being made flesh—
to live the story we hear and tell.
We are seeking transformation—
committed to being a part of transformation—
a reconfiguration of the depths and the surface.
"Let there be truth. Let there be light."

John Ballenger is a friend of the BPFNA who is pastor of Woodbrook Baptist Church in Baltimore, MD.

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