The past 3 nights have been filled with explosions, flames shooting into the night sky, and sirens, sirens, sirens. My wife and I live just two blocks from Lake Street in Minneapolis where protests have been followed by fires, violence, and looting.
I watched the cellphone video of the death of George Floyd as passersby asked police to let the handcuffed man, held down on the asphalt with a knee on his neck, breathe. I could hardly breathe as I watched. That viral video of the incident sparked these nights of explosions, flames, and sirens.
Today I walked down Lake Street, past all the walkable shops, grocery stores, bus stops, and the "Y." Past places and people in the neighborhood where we live. Past burned and burning buildings. Walking on broken glass scattered over concrete that crunches in Minneapolis just like it did 38 years ago in Beirut.
Way back then, people that I knew, whom I had served in a small volunteer clinic in the 1982 invasion of Beirut, died because they were not important enough to live. They didn't matter enough to be protected, so they died in front of their homes in a Palestinian refugee camp, because the authorities that should have protected them, didn't. Basically, inhuman. Basically, wrong.
That singular event completely upturned my life as a university professor. That is where Questscope actually comes from, our history, our roots. That is where our motto first got its meaning, to put the last first.
On Lake Street today, that familiar crunching sound impelled me to keep in mind that George Floyd died because he didn't matter to someone. He was not important enough to someone to live. So he didn't. Basically, inhuman. Basically, wrong.
When the game of life is organized for one of us so that no matter how hard you play, no matter how good you keep the rules, you will lose, there is no space for growth, for humanity. The result is stifling, suffocating.
Equally so, when the game of life is organized for the other of us so that no matter how poorly I play, no matter how I mess up the rules, I will win, there is also no space for growth, for humanity.
Both of us need the same chance, the same space to grow, the same options, the same intent of the rules. If the intent of the rules is different, if you and I play the same, but only one of us will grow, then no one gets to fulfill the potential of a human being. What a terrible thing to waste.
When society can no longer be held together by love it will be held together by violent and abusive authority. But when people are violently deprived of the freedom which is their due, the society in which they live festers with servility, resentment, and hate – to paraphrase Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk, who wrote this in the 1960s.
None of us can survive, much less thrive, in such a festering social space.
How do we escape from such a negative story? By paying close attention to those on the margins. Focusing on our motto – putting the last first. Embracing the truth that those who have been wounded can be our healers. I saw this on Lake Street – dozens of Minnesotans, teens, 20- and 30-somethings, of all ethnicities, sweeping up glass, shoveling up debris, hanging plywood in window frames. The helpers that Mr. Rogers tells us are always there if we will see them.
I am amazed at how people came together for others in the crises in the Middle East in my past 4 decades of living there – in a part of the world known for chaotic conflict. Now Minneapolis is also a part of the world in chaotic conflict. We can get through this, together.
But we will have to practice at least two spiritual disciplines to get there. These are two of mine: first, is to give up needing to be in control. I cannot make the future. I can join with others in an unfolding future that is not clear right now. The second is not to fear uncertainty.
A well-known prayer of St. Francis of Assisi often comes to my mind in these days:
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
I cannot imagine the future. But I can imagine us being there, in it, together with other friends – consoling, understanding, loving, giving. These are the things we do. Together. Even as the glass crunches on the concrete under our feet wherever we are walking.
Dr. Curt Rhodes
Founder & International Director