Traumatic stress is an emotional wounding that results from experiencing or witnessing a traumagenic event or events. A traumagenic event is a highly stressful, horrifying event, or series of events, where one feels a lack of control, powerlessness, and threat of injury or death. As Dr. Peter Levine says, “Traumatic stress occurs when our ability to respond to threat is overwhelmed.”
When Black brothers and sisters are killed at the hands of the police, no matter the situation surrounding it, it carries with it the potential of a trauma-producing event for any of our Black brothers and sisters. The event is never isolated, but is associated with the ongoing legacy and aftermath tied to the historical harms and narrative of devaluing, dehumanizing, and disposing Black and Brown neighbors, which is tied to the larger narrative White superiority. Therefore, my dear White brother or sister, our “But if he…” and “What about…” doesn’t matter because the reality of the trauma is much larger than the hypothetical.
So consider choosing empathy and listening, rather than a commentary based upon the hypothetical. Consider facilitating presence rather than a comeback-opinion. Consider taking the most human approach and understand the trauma. And if we follow Jesus, just be like him for God’s sake, and let’s choose to love our neighbor like we love ourselves and treating others as we would be treated if we were suffering trauma.
The reality of the trauma will always be bigger than the hypothetical.
If the gospel and the community it forms doesn’t ask something of me and my family, then is it worth living for? If the gospel announces that I can have life with God, a new way of understanding how life works, and a new kind of familial community (among other things), then isn’t it worth the change or transformation it requires, especially when the power to do so is a gift of grace from God?
But if the gospel and the community it forms is little more than self-help or a distributor of goods and services for me and my family, like “community,” programs, etc, then will I ever allow myself or family to be changed or transformed? Could it be that what I really want is for the gospel and the community it forms to be conformed to my likeness?
“Try Jesus.” And see if you like him? I’m not sure what the sign means. I suppose it could mean a lot of things. What the sign did for me was made wonder if Jesus is someone we “try” or trust.
Religious indifference is harm. Religious passivity is harm. Civil conversation in the name of peacekeeping is harm. Conversation without action is harm. What-about-ism grounded in defensiveness is harm. Trying to ‘win’ by de-centering historically marginalized voices is harm.
Unqualified compassion is good. Unqualified generosity is good. Hard conversation in the name of peacemakingis good. Conversation followed by action is good. Compassionate and hospitable listening resulting in honest self-reflection is good. Trying to create mutual partnership and collaborations that center historically marginalized voices is good.
ABOUT THE PICTURE In Myanmar, the police have indiscriminately shooting protesters in the head in an effort to silence demonstrations. Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng, pictured here, put herself between the protesters and police by kneeling in humble presence pleading with them to stop their violence. Two officers fell to their knees and joined her. *Photo and Narrative credit: Mike Frost
There’s a lot as a society we can disagree on. We should. Conflict itself can open space for hidden things to be revealed. It can be a place where the transcendent is discovered. In the Christian faith conflict becomes a space where the Lordship of Christ can breakthrough in transforming ways, calling each participant to an ethic of love. So yes, we should disagree freely, but without the trope of American Liberty being invoked (after all, many of us like free speech a lot less when someone says something we don’t like). We can disagree because it’s good.
But can we at least agree that we should have a human ethic to do no harm? If we cannot agree with that conflict will continue to be mechanized for violence. Violence hurts us all.