Tragedy and Turmoil in the Northwest

The last week has seen a mix of tragedy and turmoil in the Northwest.

First, a white supremacist verbally assaulted with racist slurs two teenage girls, one Muslim and one black, on a light-rail train in Portland, OR. The man was confronted by three men, also white, in an effort to calm him and end his tirade. The white supremacist, Jeremy Christian, then lashed out with a knife, killing two of the men and sending the third to the ICU. The two killed, Rick Best, 53, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, were mourned last week. The third, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, continues to recover from his injuries. Christian, being the heroic soldier of racial purity he is, fled the scene. When found and confronted by police, he attempted to goad them into shooting him. He was instead taken into custody and faces trial.

Second, Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, has been embroiled in a ruckus ever since school officials requested last week that white faculty, staff, and students remain off campus so the community could have a discussion about race. (Because limiting the activities of people in a free society based on the color of their skin is what the Civil Rights movement was all about). One white professor, Bret Weinstein, thought this a bad idea, told people so in an email, and showed up for class. He was then confronted by a group of students, who followed the requisite script of calling him a racist and demanding his resignation. Since then, minority students have been up in arms in perpetual protest, some of Weinstein’s fellow faculty, ever loyal, have called for him to be investigated, president George Bridges, after being met with a folly of curses and insults, capitulated to the demands of students to send an email to their professors instructing them that the students would not be fulfilling their class assignments while busy with the work of protesting all this injustice, and a loony-tune (either a real deal extremist or a hoaxer, who knows?) called in a threat to 911 that he would be coming to the campus with a gun to shoot all the “commie scumbags.” The college closed on Thursday and Friday in the face of this threat.

Our society, in spite of eight years of effort by the Obama administration to move beyond race (yes, that’s sarcasm), has become almost consumed by race. This is in no small part due to the efforts of activists on all sides of the political spectrum to focus on race, and in no small part due to the efforts of the mainstream media to focus on race and exploit every incident, however minor, into a major racial confrontation. Sadly, by turning every minor incident into a major incident, the heat has been turned up to boiling and we are now facing more and more genuinely major incidents.

It also is indicative of our culture of contempt, which insists that, if you disagree with someone, you must hate them and regard them with no respect. The video of the students confronting their college president in the link to the Evergreen State College story above shows a group of young people who obviously have no regard whatsoever for a person who is twice or more their age and in a position in their community that ought to demand respect. That Bridges presents himself as a spineless bowl of mush obviously intimidated by the students doesn’t help his cause.

What to do? I am an absolute failure in incorporating the values of the Gospel and the virtues of the Christian life into my own life. I am not a good person. When confronted by jerks of any kind, especially those who hope to exploit me financially, emotionally, or professionally, I tend to get frustrated and lash out in anger or boil inside with bitterness. The best way for me to be a good Christian is to simply avoid the jerks. When I meet one, I need to stay as far away as possible.

But, I don’t think that’s the answer. It’s difficult to avoid all the jerks, there being so many. What is the answer, then? I don’t know. But, I do know that my only hope when confronted by injustice is to remain conscious of my commitment to Christ and consciously try to respond with virtue. It is a matter of choosing, and choosing is a matter of keeping conscious of my commitment to Christ. When I forget that I am a Christian, or shove my Christian commitments to the back of my mind, it is then that I respond with foolishness.

I don’t know if the men who died on that light-rail train in Portland were Christians. I do know that they, as were we all, were raised in a culture inspired by the Judeo-Christian virtue of respect for all persons as made in the image of God. Let’s not make any mistake about the historical roots of that virtue. Were we still living under pagan or polytheistic moral influences, there is nothing that would have inspired those men to confront the murderous racist who wanted to de-value the dignity of the girls he attacked and hoped to inspire others to deny their dignity in the eyes of God. The Christian Church changed the West from a region that denied or had no thought of the intrinsic dignity of the human person to one that, at least in theory, is committed to respecting that dignity. We so often fail, but that we recognize that we fail is itself a confirmation of that virtue and that history.

So I, for one, will renew my commitment to keep Christ in the center of my consciousness. It is a matter, once again, of being conscious of the present moment and my place in that moment and the place of Christ in my life in that moment. And then to be a doer of the word, and not just a hearer (James 1:22). Accompanied by this is the conscious decision to reject the culture of contempt perpetuated and promulgated by the activists and the media types who desire only to push their particular agendas, keep their names in the papers, and sell those papers in which their names appear.

I have no other answer.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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