Last week one of my friends tagged me on Facebook to complete the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I’ve known two people who died from this disease—a kind and humorous high school teacher and a generous elder from the congregation that launched me into ordained ministry. So I was happy to donate to research that might find a cure for this truly awful disease. At the same time, I was a bit ambivalent about completing the ice bucket part. Was this just a fun stunt that detracted from any serious discussion? Would this really contribute to care for people suffering from ALS? And most especially, what was I communicating by participating in this challenge while doing so little publicly to address the slaying of another young black man in America?
I read an inspiring article by a pastor whose husband is suffering with ALS, someone who expressed gratitude for this attention to the disease that had crippled her loved one. So I completed the challenge, posted the video on Facebook, made a donation, and challenged two more people to do the same. My husband took great delight in pouring water mixed with a 22 lb. bag of ice over my heard as I was finishing my not-so-grand soliloquy. Perhaps the preacher had said enough and he could finally do something about it! Yes, we had some fun with it as well.
Yet I haven’t been able to shake the sense that I couldn’t complete this challenge without doing something or at least saying something about the events that have unfolded in Ferguson, MO. Failure to speak out is tantamount to ignoring (and thus being complicit in) racism and injustice, and that is all too easy to do for any white person, myself included.
I followed news of the protests in Ferguson through Twitter and read numerous insightful analyses, thanks to the provocative posts of a few Facebook friends. With that said, however, I noticed a glaring discrepancy between my Twitter and Facebook feeds. News of Michael Brown’s death, the militarization of the Ferguson police force, the obstruction of journalism, the prayerful protests: all of that flooded Twitter. Videos of friends taking the ice bucket challenge flooded Facebook. While one article suggested that the algorithms for these two social media outlets actually may have contributed to this apparent discrepancy, I suspect that too few of us have responded to Ferguson.
And this has left me with another question:
Whose bodies matter?
The ice bucket videos and donations for ALS research witness to the fact that those whose bodies have been eroded by this degenerative neurological disease matter. They matter to us. We’ve given some witness to their value, their inherent dignity. In some sense, we’ve cried out for the deterioration of their bodies to end.
The protesters in Ferguson, MO, with their hands held high, chanting “Don’t shoot,” witness to the fact that Michael Brown’s body matters. The bodies of black boys and men gunned down by law enforcement officials matter. If the blood of Abel cried out from the ground, so does Michael Brown’s. The question is: do we hear that cry? Or has white privilege deafened us to his cry and blinded us to his body?
Michael Brown’s body was pierced with six bullets, the last of which entered his skull while his head hung down. Michael Brown’s body was left uncovered, lying in the street for hours. Where was the respect and dignity? Michael Brown’s body is one of many criminalized black bodies in a nation with a history of criminalizing blackness. (See “Michael Brown and Black Men” in the NY Times.)
The incarnation (birth, life, and death) and resurrection of the second person of the Trinity, reveal that the body matters. God took human form, came into the world in naked vulnerability, left it tortured and mangled, and returned forever marked by this suffering. (Jesus’ rose with his wounds still visible, as the account of his interaction with Thomas reveals.)
The church is the body of Christ—Christ present in the here-and-now acting with justice and mercy by the power of the Spirit in and through a gathered body (that is, many bodies united by the Spirit). The church is the broken body of Christ—broken, in one sense, by complicity in sin (and in this instance, the sin of racism), and broken in the sense of being poured out for others in love and solidarity. Too often we resist the latter and fail to confess the former.
Whose bodies matter? Christ’s tortured body and Michael Brown’s criminalized body. We cannot clearly hear Christ’s last cries on the cross nor faithfully proclaim his broken and resurrected body unless we do so alongside of Michael Brown’s and all of those like him (not just those who are like us).