(Note from Trillia: Over the next few posts, I’ll have a small number of guests at my site sharing their thoughts, concerns, and prayers for our nation and, more specifically, the American church as we think through the recent shootings and the state of our nation. Today I welcome Catherine Parks. Catherine was one of my first friends when I moved to the Nashville area. We went from online friends interacting on trivial things to, after one meeting, dear friends pouring out our hearts on all matters of subjects related to marriage, children, church, writing and race. At that point, I knew she’d be a treasure of a friend who would help sharpen my thinking and increase my love for my Savior. I hope you’ll listen in on what she has to share today.)
By Catherine Parks
16th century English poet John Donne wrote these words over 400 years ago, but I think about them often when I hear terrible stories of death in the news:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
The bell in Donne’s time would toll to signify someone’s death, and one might hear it and wonder who had died. In much the same way today, we hear news of another shooting and wonder who these people are who have been killed. But if we agree with this poem, it doesn’t matter who it is–as part of mankind, when one person dies, a piece of us dies as well.
I’ve been thinking about these words in light of the many deaths of last week and I fear our grief is too easily politicized. If we express grief over the deaths of two black men at the hands of police officers without knowing all the facts, will we be accused of being “anti-police?” If we lament the deaths of the police officers, are we racist? What if we say nothing publicly? Do we care at all?
In the coming days information will come out about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Some will lionize them, and others will paint them as villains. The truth is, as with all of us, they were somewhere in between. It will be the same with the five officers killed in Dallas. For some, they are heroes. For others, they are the problem.
But perhaps we can start by simply grieving the loss of life. To be pro-life is to value all life, regardless of who they are, one’s contribution to society or his/her relationships with others. This means we protect the unborn not because we think of who they might be, what cures they might discover, or whose family members they are; we protect them because they are, in Donne’s words, “mankind.” We value not just the unborn, but all people, because they are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) and have immediate value based on that alone. We grieve the loss of life in recent days because these are image-bearers dying at the hands of other image-bearers. This is not the way things were meant to be–it’s not how we were meant to live.
I think if we start by grieving the loss of life perhaps our conversations will change. We position ourselves to be better listeners–we more easily set aside our assumptions and anger and start to ask questions with an intent to understand what is unfamiliar to us. Perhaps then, slowly, things will start to change. But the change will not come from social media arguments, or probably even blog posts like this one. We can only start the process here…real change has to happen in our communities and neighborhoods. As I heard Pastor Derwin Gray say once, “Proximity brings empathy.”
For example, when our Mexican friend was racially profiled, accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and imprisoned facing deportation, my husband and I quickly learned a lot about our own privilege and the very real fears of our neighbors. It made me recognize that I don’t think to ask my friends about their experiences as immigrants. I don’t think to ask my black friends if they’re ever scared or hurt. I don’t think to reach out to law enforcement officers and their families to find out about their struggles. But in light of the current tragedies in our nation, we have a real opportunity to reach out and start asking those questions, not assuming we know everything, being willing to learn and have our assumptions challenged. We should stop assuming we already know the answers, and start building relationships right where we are.
It’s been humbling for me to have my own myopia exposed in recent years. Trillia has been a dear, patient friend to show me where I have many blind spots. I too easily view the world through a white middle-class lens. Without her, and other patient friends like her, I wouldn’t see these things that I need to see. But I still have so much left to learn. Let’s be patient and extend grace to our fellow image-bearers. Now is the time—we have to stop the rhetoric, recognize the value of every single life, and start engaging before it’s too late. 1 John 4:7-21 tells us God is love, and those who follow Him will love others. He is faithful to bear that love as fruit of His Spirit in our hearts, flowing into the lives of those around us–both other Christians, and those who do not yet know of the matchless love and grace of our Savior. Let’s pray for that love to overflow into our churches, our neighborhoods, and our nation.
Catherine Parks writes from home in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, Erik, and their two young children. Catherine is the author of A Christ Centered Wedding: Rejoicing in the Gospel on Your Big Day with her mother Linda Strode.