“Asking existential questions is a luxury.”
Words to a friend from last night, as a group of us sat and talked about life, still-palpable griefs, hopes for children, and questions that remain unanswered–both in figuring out details and in asking those “BIG” questions about what an incident says about our humanity, our world, and our universe.
It was a flip phrase–meant not to dismiss the importance of asking big questions (we were a group of clergy and a heath psychologist, after all) but to emphasize that, in the midst of crisis, there are questions of survival, of maneuvering legal and social service systems, of mental and physical health, of justice as a concrete event that deserve attention and must be addressed before we turn to the speculative, imaginative, and philosophical/theological.
Today, as I woke up to the news of the death of Philander Castile, on the heels of the death of Alton Sterling, two more names added to a litany of names of black men and women who die in encounters with law enforcement, I thought of an essay I wrote about a year ago which was theological, speculative, and tried to parse the Babel-like confusion of America’s failed conversation on race in light of Ferguson and the #Blacklivesmatter movement. I wondered if I might have a responsibility to write something similar today.
When I write, I try to be a reasoned, thoughtful voice. I try to recognize the levels of privilege that shape who I am, how I encounter the world, how I write. I try to be fair, open to the limits of my own perspective and critique that names those limits. I suppose I think that makes me a good moral voice, as a pastor, hardscrabble theologian, an advocate and ally.
But today, I keep coming back to the words I shared with my friend.
Existential questions are a luxury.
It’s a reminder, perhaps even a rebuke, to the ways I let my mind betray my heart.
For today, I don’t have good words. I don’t have sophisticated, heady questions.
I feel foolish for ever asking them.
Today, I have angry accusations.
I have accusations that I want to lay at the feet of our entire culture–accusations that zero in on our gun culture, the ways we portray and conceptualize Black Men, the ways we portray and conceptualize our Police Officers, the way we understand accountability.
The way we, myself included, excise ourselves from the accusations concerning America’s original sin: Racism.
As if our respectability saves us. As if our ability to write reasoned critiques, smarty-pants answers to difficult questions means that I don’t benefit somehow from the very same culture that bloodies a man’s shirt, kills him with four shots, at the moment he reaches for his license and registration.
So today, I sit with my mixup of anger and sadness. I collect my accusations and I find my way to a mirror.
But I look to tomorrow. I will allow my own vigil of anger to pass, and I will look for better questions to ask.
If we are to be anything better than a culture that hammers out a litany of names of dead men, then we must ask better questions: Critical questions about who gets treated differently under the law, why we ignore the statistics that buoy the claims made by people of color about equal protection under the law. Measurable questions that lead to policy changes. Questions about our behaviors that make us better allies.
Our questions cannot give way to ruminating. Our questions must give birth to change.
Ruminating is a luxury.
Change is what we are called to do.