RECONCILIATION REQUIRES FORGIVENESS AND JUSTICE

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I have really hesitated about engaging in a conversation about the murder of Botham Jean and the trial and sentencing of his murderer, Amber Guyger.

[Sidebar: I wanted to avoid the conversation because sometimes it just seems too difficult to be civil, when trying to navigate through an exhaustive conversation (about a 26-year-old black man, who happened to be an accountant and choir director at his church, who was murdered while sitting on his own sofa, in his own apartment, eating ice cream, by a white woman, who happened to be a Dallas police officer, who claims she mistook his apartment as her own and thought he was an intruder) with someone who will never really understand what “living in America while black” means.]

Then, news broke over the weekend that Joshua Brown — a key witness in the trial — was gunned down in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived.

Soon after, I saw this tweet:

Black woman who filmed Jean’s last moment, where he asked Amber Guyger, “Why did you shoot me?”:  fired from job, film confiscated by police.

Black man who testified against Guyger: murdered, suspects still at large.

Botham Jean: dead.

National conversation: black forgiveness.

It was the last line that got me.

As I listened to and read the commentaries on the “act of forgiveness”  — the hug that Botham Jean’s 18-year-old brother gave to the woman who murdered his brother, after the younger Jean finished his victim impact statement and the convicted murder was sentenced to 10 years in prison – I was conflicted.

I am not going to speculate about his reasons for hugging her, but will accept that it was something he needed to do to move forward.

What I am extremely disheartened by is this national conversation that is celebrating this “act of forgiveness” as some sort of proxy for racial reconciliation or some kind of example of how the oppressed should respond to the oppressor or some form of absolution from sin – in this case, the systemic racism that plaques our nation.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in extending forgiveness.

But I also believe in seeking justice.

Therefore, I believe that any conversation about “black” forgiveness must include interactive communication about racial justice. Racial reconciliation is no easy task – it involves both forgiveness and justice.

My hope is that the embrace from Botham Jean’s brother does not distract us from his mother’s message, urging reforms to a (racially and culturally) biased system (during the trial, allegations surfaced of tampering with evidence and police misconduct):

“What you saw and what you heard in the courtroom really showed what your system is and you must seek to do something about it …You saw a contaminated crime scene, you saw deletion of evidence by persons in high offices. You saw turning off of body cams …You saw investigations that were marred with corruption … While we walk as Christians, we still have a responsibility to show that our city does what is right.”

As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation – reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel. So, while we must practice forgiveness, we must also seek justice. Forgiveness does not negate our obligation to seek justice.

Miroslav Volf warns us, in his award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace, “forgiveness is not a substitute for justice.”

Forgiveness without justice is not reconciliation. Genuine and lasting reconciliation is possible only when both forgiveness and reparation of wrongs are satisfied. Reconciliation has two locks to open – forgiveness and justice.

Forgiveness is the one half of reconciling work that a victim exercises, while justice is the other half of reconciling work that is reserved for the perpetrator. Only after having achieved both goals can true reconciliation occur.

There is still plenty of work to be done. We all have a role to fulfill. Are you willing to do your part?

Posted in Associate Blog, News

EMBRACE THE POWER OF GRATITUDE

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I have experienced waves of gratitude during the past few weeks – much of it as the result of the prayers, thoughts, cards, love, and support offered to me and my family as we mourn the loss of one of my nephews.

I cannot find adequate words to thank my friends and family (including my Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates community) for their acts of kindness and presence during a very difficult time in my life.

I have been reminded that gratitude is more than an emotional response. It is an affirmation of goodness – we affirm that there are good things in the world that are freely given to us. Gratitude helps us recognize the sources of goodness that are outside of ourselves – we acknowledge positive things that come our way that we did not actively work toward or ask for.

It reminds us to never take our gifts and blessings for granted.

Gratitude is an attitude. It is about more than saying “thank you.”

Gratitude completely transforms our vision because it is about being able to notice and appreciate the gifts that are given to us – from the smallest things of beauty to the grandest of our blessings (including the gift of life itself).

While having an attitude of gratitude does not mean we will never experience negative emotions, I believe that shifting our focus to consciously notice the positive can help us avoid being overwhelmed by day-to-day stressors and negative emotions.

Even during the most challenging times, gratitude makes us available to opportunities to learn and grow and to extend ourselves with care and compassion to others. Showing deep appreciation for acts of kindness can uplift us and make a difference for us and others.

What if gratitude became a perpetual, daily experience — for not just the big things but for the smallest gifts we receive?

Posted in Associate Blog, News

There is Magic in Selfless Giving

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Amid the destruction and devastation of Hurricane Dorian, were bright spots of human acts of kindness:

– neighbors helping neighbors shutter homes;

— people donating food and clothing;

— people and organizations providing shelter;

— an anonymous donor who bought generators;

—  and Jermaine Bell, who emptied his piggy bank of the money he had been saving for more than a year for his birthday trip to Walt Disney World Resort and used the money to buy food for evacuees.

Jermaine, who has since turned seven years old, explained to the news media that his motto, “Live to Give,” was the reason for his actions.

As the hurricane approached the South Carolina coast, Jermaine used the money form his piggy bank to buy hundreds of hot dogs, bags of chips, and bottled water to serve (free of charge) to evacuees who passed through the South Carolina town where he was visiting his grandmother.

As I thought about Jermaine’s motto, I was reminded of the power of unconditional giving that comes from the heart – giving without expecting something in return.

I was reminded that you don’t have to move very far from where you are to make a difference or have a positive impact – people in need are all around us.

I was reminded that everyone has something to offer to others.

From my vantage point, selfless giving is the basis for living a meaningful life. It seems to me that when we find meaning in the lives of those in need and do something about it, we also find meaning in our own lives.

Jermaine models for us how to live life with purpose by making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. His motto encourages us to live by our beliefs and values. He is another one of my young heroes.

(Note: Officials at the Walt Disney Company gifted Jermaine, on his seventh birthday, with a trip to Disney World).

Posted in Associate Blog, News

SOCIAL MEDIA – GOOD OR BAD?

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Is social media a good thing or a bad thing?

I’m pretty sure that there are as many answers to that question – on both sides – as the number of people you ask to answer it.

I think that social media, like many things in life, is what you make of it.

For me, social media is a way to connect with people. Those connections often lead to positive outcomes for me.

That actually happened yesterday. I was feeling a little discouraged and with the little energy that I had, I opened Facebook on my phone (hoping to find some “good” news being shared).

The first thing that I saw was a quote posted by a friend. Those words gave me relief and hope:

God always has something for you,
a key for every problem
a light for every shadow
a relief for every sorrow
and a plan for every tomorrow.

Those words reminded me that the joy of the Lord is my strength!

As human beings, we experience ups and downs as we journey through life. During those “down” times, we can often find encouragement in places we may not expect – like on social media.

Just like a smile can brighten someone’s day, a positive message shared on social media can lift someone’s spirits.

How do you use social media? Whether you use it or not, do you think that it is a good thing or a bad thing?

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Whistle While You Work

Blog by Associate Frank Bevvino

Hanging on the walls of the basement office in my home are two fairly large poster prints. One is a photo of Grand Central Station in New York City taken in 1939 and the other is a picture of steelworkers who were building the Empire State Building in 1930 sitting on a steel girder enjoying lunch high above the Manhattan skyline.

At a time when we celebrate the great accomplishments in technology that have given us iPhones, Facebook and the convenience of ordering online anything and receiving it at our doorsteps in minutes or hours, little attention is made of the major works of art that stands as a tribute to the American worker such as Grand Central Station and the magnificent presence of the Empire State Building on 34th Street in NYC.

Every day, more than 750,000 people pass through Grand Central Station. Most of these people are going to and from their jobs coming from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Many of the people who use Grand Central Station are the 15,000 people who work in the Empire State Building alone.

My point is that while we celebrate the titans of business and industry in the press, in movies and documentaries, we seem to have lost the gratitude and appreciation of the workers who built these great structures decades ago. We need to be conscious of the people today who maintain these buildings daily, year after year. They are black-skinned, brown-skinned, yellow-skinned and white-skinned. They speak many languages and worship God in different ways or not at all; but in their need to sustain themselves and their families, they allow you and me to be able to work and perform our services to sustain our lives and to help others.

Grand Central and the Empire State Building are just two of the thousands of buildings throughout the United States which stands as a monument to the American worker — workers who were our mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. Workers who migrated from all parts of the world to build and maintain these great structures that still function to make America work.

As we paused from our work on Labor Day, I hope we took time to celebrate the ordinary everyday workers who make this country run. They may not make great scientific or technological discoveries or invent the efficiencies which get us our goods and services quickly; but they clean our houses and buildings, they make sure they get us to and from our jobs daily. They clean our restrooms, prepare our food, pick up our trash and make sure our baggage gets to the same destination we travel to.

The workers of America make it possible for you and I to work every day. They keep our sick healthy and safe, they assist our seniors in getting through their daily lives, they get our children to school safely and teach them how to read and write.

If there ever is an example of sisters and brothers in Christ functioning daily as a family it is those who work every day to benefit others.

God created us to love Him with all our heart, and with all our strength. We do this daily just by completing tasks that ultimately help others.

We should celebrate the common workers that we encounter each day because without them you and I could not do what God calls us to do. Billionaires and millionaires are the visible signs of American success; however, it is the worker that we encounter daily that we need to thank. Without them there would be no billionaires or millionaires.

Posted in Associate Blog, News