By Valerie Elverton Dixon
Derrion Albert was a church-going honor student who had refused to join a gang. He was on his way to catch a bus last week when he was caught between two gangs fighting and was beaten to death on the street in Chicago. The absurdity of this paralyzes the mind. His mother’s precious tears pierce our defenses, drills down to the inner core of our own grief, and command our compassion.
Attention must be paid.
His grandfather’s faith stands strong. Awash in grief, he declares the necessity to pray for the perpetrators of this crime. His faith connects him to his grandson’s killers. He does not retreat from a radical responsibility to care about them and thereby to inject meaning into the madness.
Such is the purpose of faith.
Human beings are feeble creatures. As individuals, we are puny in relationship to oceans and mountains and old growth forests. We are small standing next to bridges and skyscrapers and the various wonders of the world. We are fragile. Our bodies break and bleed easily. A piece of paper can draw blood. A virus, bacteria or bug bite can kill us. Even if we live 100 years, it is less than a blink of an eye in eternity. We are psychologically sensitive. Nine people can tell us we are wonderful and we worry about the one who thinks we are not. We are vulnerable to symbolic violence, an ideological violence that assigns our identities to categories of good or evil, beautiful or ugly.
We are nothing. We are everything.
We are insignificant. We are important and irreplaceable.
One committed person can make an indispensable difference in the lives of family, community, nation and world. The tragedy of violent premature death is the potential and the possibilities that die when a dying boy or girl breathe their last breath. The world will now never benefit from the gifts and graces and commitment of Derrion Albert. He reminds us of all the other young people who die every day from violence.
We grieve. Faith connects us. At the same time, it helps us to maintain our equilibrium in the space between our importance and insignificance. Our faith trusts in transcendence, divinity, unity, radical love, God. Faith is the counterweight to the symbolic, structural and subjective violence that assaults us. Faith affirms our being. Faith also puts us in community with like-minded believers. We are responsible to them and they are responsible to us.
We share our hope and dreams, joys and concerns, triumphs and tragedies with others. They help us to celebrate the holy moments of our lives. They help us carry the load. They share our outrage and work with us to make the world a more sensible place.
In the wake of the death of Derrion Albert and the alarming number of murders of school age children, the faith community in Chicago and clergy from across the nation have issued an urgent call for action. October 1 was a day of prayer and fasting. Some of us have committed to fast and pray every Wednesday for the end of local and global violence. Faith leaders have written a letter to President Obama asking for stronger and permanent gun laws, a national summit to address gun violence and a federal agency dedicated to the collection and dissemination of national data on gun violence and youth. These leaders are asking people to meet in their local congregations and communities to think about solutions to the problem.
Violence is a Goliath of a problem. It is woven into our culture. However, according to the World Health Organization, if we think of violence as a health issue, it is preventable. Faith looks at giants and tells us that they can be defeated. It assures us that if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed that we can remove mountains. It urges us to believe in miracles. It promises us that when we pray with expectancy that there is someone somewhere who hears and moves. Faith tells us to lean on the mystery that is God, knowing that God will be our strength in the struggle. Faith says that weak feeble, puny, fragile, sensitive, vulnerable human beings can bring the peace and justice of heaven to earth.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder JustPeaceTheory.com. She taught Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, MA and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.