Faith, Interrupting


Stella with her sign

I took my kids to their first protest this weekend. Ferguson solidarity, here in sleepy Boise, and by sleepy I think I mean predominately white. The awareness just takes longer to seep in, by fewer channels, into a city with more closed eyes than open.

There was a kid at the protest, maybe 12, or 13 (my children and I disagreed about this later) who took the bullhorn and said, “We’ve all gotta wake up from this dream.”

My kids didn’t recognize him as a kid, maybe because he is a little older than they are, but also because he was talking into the bullhorn, and they thought kids couldn’t do things like that. I told them actually kids are really good at this sort of thing, sometimes better than grown ups. Kids haven’t made as many binding agreements with their fear.

He said, “It’s time for America to wake up to reality.”

About a half an hour later a line of protestors stepped out into the street, blocking traffic for four and a half minutes, imitating protestors in Ferguson and across the country, commemorating the four and a half hours that Mike Brown’s dead body lay untended in the street.

My daughter was impressed. She said, “Daddy! We stood in front of cars!!!” The motorists were not so impressed. One shouted at us, like an angry mother, “NOT the way to do things!!” But she was gone before I had my pen and paper out to write down her suggested alternatives.

For a while, we chanted by the side of the road, simple things, true things. The cars either honked at us or they didn’t. My kids were hungry and my two-year-old had the sniffles. We drove past the place an hour later and the tiny protest had moved on down the winter street. The whole thing was like a flicker, a tiny disturbance: there and then gone.

Which is the dream?

The kid with the bullhorn was talking about the dream of post-racial America. He meant the dream of equal opportunity that has been painted like a whitewash over our history of bloodshed, domination and slavery. He meant this dream of numbness, the dream that allows us to all go about our daily business, our holiday shopping, our lives, instead of wearing sack cloth and ashes and ripping our hair out by the roots.

 Wake up, it says, like a rhythm in my Bible. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.

I get it that when we protest we look like rabble rousers, maybe obstructing justice (although I don’t believe in that definition of justice.) I get it that the stream of life doesn’t want to be interrupted in this way. People want the problem to go away, and those of us standing on street corners shouting and waving signs may seem like we are creating this problem instead of addressing it.

But here’s what I want you to know about me and protesting:

That circle of silence, lifting up the sacred dignity of Mike Brown for four and a half minutes in the middle of the street, was the closest I have been to church in a while.

And I do want to be clear about this. We are not aggressively creating sacred space around Mike Brown because we have him confused with Jesus. We do not hold him to a standard of equivalency with Jesus. We are creating sacred space around Mike Brown because his human dignity has been violated. We are responding to this because we recognize that violation to be a part of a pattern of violations against the freedom and safety and sanctity of black and brown people, both historical and ongoing.

I don’t know what we’re here for, if not to hold each other up. I don’t know what we’re here for, if not to stand in solidarity and hold each other up.

And sometimes that requires an act of interruption.

This is the best I know of faith, this interruption. It is an act of faith to stop the traffic of our lives and make these circles of sacred space, resistance. It is an act of faith to say I will not be swept up by the current, or lulled back into the dream. I will remember.

I do not forget Mike Brown. I do not leave his body in the street. I do not forget the humanity of black and brown people, or my complicity in systems that violate their humanity. I do not fall back into the rapid-moving dream of ordinary (white) life.

Except … you guys. To tell the truth, I always do.

I protested after the death of Trayvon Martin, although my children were not yet old enough to read his name. I protested after the beating of Rodney King, although at that point I was a child myself. I protested this weekend, and then I went home to my existence pretty much as it was.

How many more times will I protest, before these moments are more than a ripple in the dream that encompasses my life?

Here’s the thing. I can do a little bit, by myself. Here and there. But mostly I can’t do it on my own. Mostly I can’t do it unless more people will reach out for my hand and step out with me into that traffic.

What are we here for, if not to hold each other up? What are we here for, if not to stand in solidarity and hold each other up?

I’m afraid that traffic won’t shift until it is ALL of us. The dream won’t shift until it is ALL of us, grabbing hands there, in the street. Because unfortunately the dream of post-racial America is more than just a dream. It’s a cover-up. It’s a system. It’s a culture. It’s the air I breathe. And if I can’t get some more hands with me I will always, always keep slipping back.

I know it takes a bit of courage, to line up with the interruption, instead of with the current. I know it takes courage, but what else is faith for?

I’m not making this plea to all the people who don’t agree with me. I know there are plenty of folks who think I’m just starting trouble, and they can go home and complain about me all they want. I want to reach all the people who think yes, there probably is something going wrong here, there is truth to this claim of ongoing racial injustice, but we are not the ones who protest. We are not the ones who push against the tide.

I invite you to take my hand, step out and block this traffic with me. With your body, with your ego, with your skill to communicate, or with your prayers.

Practice with me our faith, interrupting.


Image courtesy of Esther Emery

Esther Emery
Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off the grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at
Esther Emery
Esther Emery

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