Mystic Mondays July 18, 2016
This post is in memory of Gavin Long.
Gavin is the lone gunman who lured police into an ambush in Baton Rouge yesterday and shot six of them, killing three of those who are sworn to protect us. I know that many of you are already reacting, “Shouldn’t this post be in memory of and in honor of the officers who were killed?” My answer is, of course, I have not forgotten them. This post is as much about them as it is about the shooter. This post is really about all of us. This post about anyone who wears the cloak of a human being.
In recent years we as a nation have rushed to memorialize the officers, civilians and victims of mass violence while working very hard not to mention the names of the perpetrators. Of course, there is good reasoning behind this. If the motivation by those who fired the shots is to leave a legacy, even an infamous one, we do not want to play into their hands. Why splash their name across the screen when that is what they wanted in the first place? I do get it.
But I also think this is a grave mistake. We do so at our own peril.
The truth is yesterday we lost another one of our sons. Yes, I know–at least on this one day he was actually a shooter, a killer, an assassin, a criminal, and the personification of evil itself. I know almost nothing about Gavin at this point. But I do know that he was more than just a killer. I know that he was someone’s son. He might have been someone’s brother or cousin or uncle. Someone may have called him friend. He likely was someone’s neighbor. There may even be funny stories from his elementary school teachers or military buddies.
I do not want to highlight his heinous crime. I do not want to give any more momentum to his hate-filled revolution. I don’t want to diminish in any way the terrible, life-altering grief that the families of those three officers are experiencing and will experience for months to come.
But I also believe that our way through this time where the seams to our cultural fabric are splitting and fraying will not be to vilify the perpetrators as some sort of foreign invasion to our land. The officers were not killed by an evil person. They were killed by an American citizen, a former Marine, someone’s son, a shopper at the local grocers, a member of a community, someone who might have even brushed up next to you on a busy sidewalk. He was one of us.
We didn’t get attacked by an outsider. Rather we lost one of our own. One of our own sons turned on us. I believe we do a disservice to ourselves to immediately vilify him as evil and say, “How could we have missed it?”. In fact, we do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to say his name, Gavin, as if by erasing his name from our lexicon we can keep this violence and hatred at bay.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. When we repress his memory and hide his name we are repressing the evil that is inherent in all of us and we are hiding from the truth of our own potential for evil. It’s not how did we miss his potential for evil, but why can’t we see our own potential for evil.
When my family traveled through Bali in 2004 I was struck by the way that the curbs were painted. In America I had become used to seeing curbs with no paint, yellow paint and red paint indicating where one could and couldn’t park. As our tour guide wound his way through some of the towns of Bali I was intrigued that many of the curbs were painted black and white intermittently. I didn’t understand it. Our guide told us, “In Hindu Bali the black and white is a reminder that every day we must each choose between good and evil.”
I think the Balinese have it right. It’s not that some people are good and other people are evil. Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy? We could just put a star on the sleeves of everyone who was evil and call it good. In fact someone tried that once and got it terribly, tragically wrong! And, in the end, did we not decide that the evil was not those who were wearing the stars, but the one who handed out the stars.
The truth is we are all saints in the making and assassins in the making. Every day we must choose in hundreds of little ways between good and evil. This is partly why I like the liturgy of the Reformed Tradition, of which I am part. In our services we take time to acknowledge our fallen nature. We set aside a couple of minutes for prayers of confession. What we are doing is battling the tendency toward repression. We are trying to overcome our tendency to want to hide from the truth. Every time we look deep within ourselves and confess our sin we shine a big bright spotlight on our potential for evil and strip it of its power. It’s not our potential for evil that is scary; it’s our repression of evil that gets us.
Gavin is no more evil than you or I. Gavin was one of us. I don’t know the story behind his actions, but I do know well enough to say, “But for the grace of God go I.”
Do you know who I think really believes this? Dallas Police Chief David Brown who was at the reins of the police department when Micah Johnson, another son of ours, opened fire on police officers killing five of them last week. Chief Brown has admirably handled this horrific tragedy and he has also refrained from vilifying Micah as a horrible, evil monster.
Why? Because in 2010 Chief Brown’s own son killed two people, one a police officer, before being shot twelve times and ending his 27 year old life. We are told not to mention the name of the perpetrators. But tell that to Chief Brown. Tell him that his son, David Jr. has been erased from our consciousness. Tell him that we will not give an evil person the light of day. Tell him his son never existed. Tell him his name has been deleted from the book of life. Tell him that mention of his son’s name only perpetuates the evil we are trying to eradicate.
We are David Jr. and David Jr. is us. We are Micah and Micah is us. We are Gavin and Gavin is us.
This post in dedicated in the memory of Gavin Long, and Officers Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola. Yesterday we lost four sons. We lost four of our own. We lost part of our family.