The Incarnation of the Issue: Gang Related


In Christianity we have a fundamental belief that God became flesh–all of who God is entered deeply into the human struggle. We call this mystical act “incarnation”–the Word became Flesh. I have recently been obsessed with the idea of Mutual Incarnation–when an issue takes on flesh and when I am willing to allow all of myself to enter into the struggle illuminated by that incarnated issue. This is a blog about one of those experiences.

I am not trying to hide my perspective on these issues, but debate is not my intent. Rather I am inviting you to explore your own opportunities for mutual incarnation!

Two of the most dehumanizing words I have heard–and used–in the wake of death are “Gang Related”. In our increasingly gentrified neighborhoods, these words are often coupled with the proclamation that “they” are making our neighborhoods unsafe while the rest of “us” are trying to make it a healthy place to be.

A couple of days ago I had the privilege of joining with brothers and sisters in Denver to participate in a practice called a Moment of Blessing. This is a practice started several years ago that seeks to reclaim the space of a violent death as a place of life. It is a beautiful gesture of refusing to run away from the pain, fear, and anger. Instead we choose to touch the pain, fear, and anger–stubbornly acknowledging the Imagination of God in even the most difficult of circumstances.

In what felt like divine intervention, a car pulled up beside our group as we prayed over the small memorial of stuffed animals and flowers. The woman driving got out of her car and asked us a few questions about who we were and why we were there. That woman turned out to be the mother of the young man who died on the sidewalk we were in the midst of blessing. She graciously accepted our invitation to stand with us as we finished our Moment of Blessing.

Her tears were human. Her pain was human. Her son is human. Her presence ripped to shreds whatever dehumanizing labels associated with “Gang Related” remained within me. Her tears wiped my lens and helped me to see what this really was–a mother thrust into a reality where her son was gone forever. Those of us in the circle who were parents connected our hearts with hers and we felt her pain, even if only for a moment.

The lie of labeling a death as “Gang Related” is in the way that it convinces us that we need not care as much as we should if the person who was killed was not affiliated with a gang. He is seen as a burden to the community, not as a member of it. We mourn his death only so much as it causes us to fear for our own safety. This label convinces us of the Us v. Them narrative so prevalent in our gentrifying communities.

The mother of the young man who was killed revealed to me how our fates are truly connected. She showed me the truth that our communities will heal only when there are no longer “Us’s” and “Them’s”. Our communities will not heal until we can learn to weep together. Our communities will not heal until the violence of displacement is seen as equally unjust as the violence of bullets. Our communities will not heal until we are willing to join hands with the “Them’s” and touch our collective wounds, name them, and offer them up for communal healing.

Of course this blog is not about solving the problem of gang violence. I am not so arrogant that I believe myself capable of doing that. This blog is about how a grieving mother invited me to the space beyond the labels–the space that proves once and for all that there are only “Us’s”.

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