“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” –Mother Teresa
It is Friday night, and 125 friends, new and old, crowd the yard at QC Family Tree. We are gathered to eat and to celebrate our students as they head back to school. Energy pulses up and down the block. Nerves, excitement, hunger, new friendships, the abandon of children chasing one another – all are happening on this day to celebrate the thrills of summer and to encourage our scholars for the days ahead.
As a member of a house of hospitality, what I most cherish in these moments is looking around to witness a miracle of extravagant welcome. It almost always happens, if you watch. Neighbors welcome in other volunteers and introduce them to the place. Children of every hue play tag. Tables fill with folks who would otherwise never know one another, but become friends over barbecue and sweet tea. This is Eucharist taken to the streets. I am filled with wonder and gratitude every time it occurs. I can’t arrange it. I only get to participate and to stand in awe.
What I have been drawn into here in Enderly Park, by the grace of God and the kindness of my neighbors (which may be the same thing), is a kind of belonging that I cannot fully articulate. Somehow, I belong to this place. I belong to these people. Knowing what I know about me, and what I know about the world we live in, this should not be the case. Yet what is happening on this night is that we are all learning that we belong to one another. This is an inexhaustible mystery.
It is the same Friday night, and I am in downtown Charlotte. I am walking with a group of protestors who are angry at the result of the trial of Wes Kerrick, a police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter in the killing of Jonathan Ferrell. Kerrick is white, Ferrell was black and was unarmed. This script sounds too familiar in our day. The result in court was a hung jury, essentially a non-decision. The sense in the street is that a non-decision is in effect a win for the status quo. The maintenance of things as they are is yet another cry of “Wait.” King’s words ring in our ears: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
This protest is not highly organized. It rushes from one place to another without plans or a thorough tactic. It is loud. Words of righteous anger echo through the high-rise canyons. Not all those words are stated in the most righteous fashion possible. The logic animating this group might be summarized as disruption. The world, they are saying with their bodies, ought to be – must be, has to be – disrupted from its normal course. The stakes are too high and their bodies are too fragile to go about business as usual on this Friday night.
We march to the new baseball stadium downtown. It is filled with fans tolerating a baseball game in order to get to the fireworks show that will cap the night. The fans stand elevated above the sidewalk level and separated by a fence. A few of them heckle the protestors, while another pours beer on them. The march keeps moving, shouting and chanting in fits and starts until it stops in the outfield, where two folks begin climbing the fence. They scale it to the top but stop short of hoisting themselves over. Two others grab the bottom and begin to pull the chain link up multiple feet into the air. There is now nothing between the crowd on one side and the crowd on the other.
The meaning of this improvised march becomes clear at this moment. A couple of unruly prophets climb the fence. A couple more undress it from the ground up. The barrier between the “us” and the “them” is no more.
Our city is pock-marked by fences of all kinds. They barricade us into segregated neighborhoods and segregated schools. They trap us in ghettoes of wealth or in neighborhoods of want. Fences keep us away from one another. They give the illusion of security, even if we don’t know from whom we need to be secured. Fences keep certain folks in and certain folks out. In Charlotte, we’ve been learning that erecting a fence now will influence every opportunity a child has for generations to come. We know this will harm some of them irrevocably.
The tallest fences we have built are around our hearts. Those are the thickest, too. They keep us from seeing and hearing one another. They keep us cool and unfeeling, never having to see deep inside the suffering our neighbors keep telling us about. They deaden our imaginations. Inside our fences there is safety and security. Come what may, we can always retreat into our fortress. We only have to see what we want to see.
We have forgotten that even our hearts are not our own. We belong to each other. Hearts are not meant to be caged, they are meant to be emptied. They are fullest that way. This too is a mystery. It is the Mystery that animates the whole world.
Standing there that Friday night, light poured in from the sidewalk to the stadium. It cascaded over the fence and slipped in underneath it. It filled every gap in the chains. It streamed into the grandstand and across the field. There was no need for fireworks – the display was happening in the flesh for anyone with eyes to see it.
Hearts full of love and eyes full of light cannot abide by some of our children bearing the full weight of our collective shortcomings. We belong to one another, and so the struggle belongs to all of us. The walls must be scaled. The posts must be dug up. All the fortifications must come tumbling down. Until then, we keep marching.