It’s been a week, y’all. I really couldn’t even tune into the hearings. I did watch a few clips following, however. Fair or unfair, I was convinced before it all began, that she would be exactly who she was, exceptional and credible, and that he would be exactly who he was, petulant and evasive, and at the end, that no one’s minds would be changed, and it would be business as usual, and I just didn’t have the energy. I was tempted to say that none of it mattered, making it all of it all the more horrific a display. But, that would be untrue. It did matter. Dr. Ford displayed great courage, and I am thankful for her sacrifice, and yes, it was a sacrifice. She also had to know that very little regarding the outcome would be changed despite her reliving perhaps one of the most traumatizing experiences of her life on national television on one of the biggest of stages, and with much to lose. However, she recognized a moment, a moment that actually mattered, that matters, a great deal, and did it anyway.
I’m going to try to keep my commentary on these specifics short because despite trying really, really hard to refrain — because in some ways, really, what is there to say — I couldn’t say nothing. Kavanaugh’s own high-ranking, Jesus-claiming, purity-culture pontificating, hypocrite supporters did not mount their defense on his innocence, but rather on “boys will be boys, and this should not preclude him.” The only possibility that I see in which he actually believes he is telling the truth is if he genuinely does not remember the events, which could be true, especially given what’s come to light of his drinking habits. Not remembering, however, is not that same as not doing. There are plenty of folks who remember much about his behavior over the years, and there could’ve been a moment in which he could’ve done the right thing and owned these things to be true, or at least a possibility, rather than vehement and indiscriminate denial, particularly given the well-documented history of Dr. Ford’s claims, long before he had a Supreme Court nomination for her to “tank.” But, that would’ve cost him everything, effectively, and so naturally he chose otherwise. This article explains things more eloquently than I could, (I went to an elite private boarding school that costs more than many college educations, as my classmates probably suspected, on a full ride, and spent four years at Princeton University. Prevailing culture does not mean this is everyone, but it is most definitely the prevailing culture. And even within the hallowed halls of both institutions, it was abundantly clear who got room, and who better not think of squandering this opportunity they were most certainly given…oh, the irony).
White men are hard-pressed in general to make it onto my sympathy ladder, and prep school-educated –> (insert whatever relatively cushy life trajectory), white men are pretty much a nah, if I’m being honest. They get no room from me. There are white men in my life whom I adore tremendously but, it is because they have been gifted to me by blood (I am bi-racial) and/or they recognize their place in and contributions to history and are not asking for my tears, nor are they asking for medals for basic decency. I’m not crying any tears for Kavanaugh for his “ruined” reputation or for the potential loss of his nomination (although, I’m sad to say, I don’t find that outcome all too likely). There are qualifications for every position, despite what he may have been taught most of his life, and someone who doesn’t believe the rules apply him, should not, in my humble opinion, be appointed to a lifetime of creating rules for the rest of us. It is not a position to which he, or anyone for that matter, is entitled.
All of that said, I was quite humbled by an Instagram post I read, written by a friend, the morning of the hearing. Jesus had a sympathy ladder, don’t get it twisted. He did not have time, a lot of the time. But, Jesus also loved perfectly. I am not Jesus, and so the latter is an impossible task. However, it is this pilgrimage to perfect love, that I claim to be on every time I utter the name of Jesus. And I had to sit with that this week. I had to sit in the ways that I fail to love, in which I revel in the failures and shortcomings, and occasional reaping of consequences of those I believe deserve it, in which I harbor bitterness and resentment and anger towards individuals, or towards groups of people.
Anyone who’s ever had a real conversation with me knows the depth of my great lament over our criminal “justice” system, and that my recommendation, if anyone asked for it 🙃, is that we burn it all down. It, unfortunately, is working exactly the way it has always been intended to work. I live in New York City, where people, mostly brown and poor, sit for months, and at times years, on Rikers Island before it’s ever been proven they’ve done anything wrong, simply because they cannot afford bail. There was a nation-wide prison strike going on last month. The demands made my heart sick. They were gut-wrenchingly simple and straightforward. Did you know that there are particular offenders who are never even given the opportunity for rehabilitation because they’ve been deemed too violent, too unhuman? They work in slave-like conditions, and we wonder why recidivism is so high. Could you imagine if they were paid fair wages that could be kept in an account somewhere for when they’re released, in order to actually start over, and weren’t excluded from finding work, or housing, or voting, and actually felt like a human being again, instead of all the things society has told them they are (many of whom from about the time they were Kavanaugh’s age at the time of the offense, whose lives we’ve had no problems ruining forever for some “youthful mistakes”). And don’t even get me started on the death penalty and life sentences. Like I said before, burn it all down.
We’ve been journeying through the book of Romans in our small group, and this past Friday we read through the end of Romans 1 and the beginning of Romans 2…easily one of the most depressing passages in all of Scripture. It’s all about the depth of the depravity of the human spirit, about what happens when God leaves us to our natural inclinations. But, then, God shows up, and God is kind, and it says that God’s kindness is to lead us to repentance. That whole “kill them with kindness” idea was actually God’s first, pretty much the entirety of the story of the Bible (this is why context matters…I won’t go down this rabbit trail today though because I’m already doing a bit much here). And Paul asks the readers a poignant question: But if you judge those who do them and yet do them yourself, do you really suppose that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you despise the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience? Don’t you know that God’s kindness is meant to bring you to repentance?”
We should generally be wary of keeping too long a list of things we could never do. By the grace of God there are a whole list of things, of specific ways of wronging my neighbor that I hope to and believe I shall be able to say that I have never done at the end of it all. But, I know what I’m capable of, what we’re capable of. I open my eyes every morning and step onto the streets of New York City, or turn on the news, or read a (real) history book, and am painfully, despairingly convinced of our awfulness. And yet, God has shown us mercy. And if I wouldn’t wish this criminal justice system in all of its truly disgusting brokenness, on my friends, or strangers I don’t know but, can empathize with their plight (even if there was true wrong doing), I cannot wish it on my enemy (also, I used to think that “enemy” language in Scripture was rather extreme, but present realities have convinced me otherwise). I cannot, in the love of Jesus, wish death and destruction on even those who might really seem to deserve it. And I would argue that those who, even throughout Scripture, are asking for those things, are not doing so from a place filled with the Spirit of the God who has always been principally in the business of Shalom-making. Drew has used this illustration before, of this lovely, but soberingly poetic passage in Scripture, a word of lament and exhortation to the people of Israel: For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! [Isaiah 5:7]. The Hebrew words for justice and bloodshed are mishpat and mispach respectively. Eerily similar, easily mistaken one for the other from a distance, and yet, as the prophet Isaiah makes the point, God makes clear, do not co-exist. How often we make the same mistake.
What does this mean then? How do people pay for their actions? I’m a firm believer in consequences for one’s actions. Mercy does not mean a free pass, but rather it is an opportunity to be better than we were before. It calls people back to their humanity, so that we might live more out of our identities as image bearers of the God who created us, as the only way to even begin to make amends. (We try so hard to remember this even in parenting). This, in its truest form, leads the offender naturally to offering up and carrying out the restitution and reparations due. But, I’m not going to lie, as a woman who can stand with many of my sisters (and brothers) in saying #metoo, as a W O M A N, and as a B R O W N woman, I’m past tired of feeling like I’m inordinately on the end of having to demonstrate mercy. And I most certainly understand the positions of many of my brothers and sisters who are bout done, and who are angry, and who just refuse to go there any longer. I’m angry as hell. So much of the time. About so many things. And I side-eye more than a little bit some folks’ “redemption” stories, especially when those get weaponized in order to delegitimize the reality of systemic brokenness. But, I believe that if there is any hope that makes sticking out this thing called life worth it, it’s that justice has to look like Kingdom justice. That justice’s principal purpose has to be to draw the offender to the heart of God. And often that does look like the “mighty” being brought low. It is appropriate, as many have forgotten who they are, and have believed that justice is theirs to dole out as they see fit, and that power is theirs to hoard as suits their gluttonous advance, at the stomping out of others. Those things are not the heart of God, but it’s near impossible to see it, to be transformed, when one is living under the delusion of being without need. The way of the Kingdom of God always is for our good, for our flourishing, and the flourishing of our families, and our communities. I know what people claim but, it is NOT an ethic that hoards and lords power, that dismisses trauma, that ignores the cries of those who are hurting and otherwise forgotten, and that makes excuses abusers (I would also argue that it is not an ethic that offers half-hearted, dispassionate platitudes where evil needs to be specifically, and passionately called by name). It IS a place where justice rolls down like streams of living water, where the last are made first, and where there is more than enough of all that is good and beautiful to go around.
I conclude not knowing completely what this looks like practically. I start with a sincere prayer that God would grow my heart of love so that my anger might be holy and righteous and lead me to the work of Shalom, rather than towards more death and destruction, lest I be destroyed in the process. When these words are more than platitudes, that this path forward is impossibly difficult, yet opens up the potential for impossible beauty, and wholeness, and flourishing. For the sake of my soul, and yours, I’m fighting to hope (not in people’s capacity for goodness…that ship has sailed) in the magnificent grace and might of my God, and to practice love as it looks like caring for the least of these, AND calling out problematic, dangerous, and wrong when I see it, especially when folks are putting God’s name of stuff God’s name most certainly does not belong on, because justice and truth-telling are inextricably linked, but with a heart that does so because I truly desire the oppressor to experience freedom from the depravity destroying their soul. I leave you with these words of Jesus and a link to this liturgy that we did as a church on Sunday that is helpful on my continued journey of healing, particularly of my experience of the church:
And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Jesus [Matthew 5: 3-11]
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons daughters of your Father who is in heaven. For God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Jesus [Matthew 5:43-48]
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Jesus [Matthew 25:31-46]