The hashtag #alllivesmatter is a painful lie. In all corners of the globe, people suffer from various forms of oppression, violence, slavery, discrimination, occupation, poverty, etc. Yet some would not only ignore these realities, they would also seek to dismiss the core of them; the individual stories that might provide meaning to the ongoing suffering in our world. This is done simply by the violence of changing #blacklivesmatter to #alllivesmatter, and then doing nothing more. We do the same when, as religious leaders and communicators, we unthinkingly use phrases like “we are one” without providing explanation, context, or especially, doing the honest work needed for massive social and institutional transformation.
It is my opinion that grassroots movements around social justice issues are failing, for the same reason that churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are faltering. That is, they are opaque, vague, dishonest and not working toward the necessary kinds of change. This is clearly evidenced in the “Occupy” movements that garnered a great deal of media attention but fundamentally did not change any aspect of what the initial and subsequent protests were concerned with. #BlackLivesMatter follows the same track – people are fed up with an entrenched system of oppression, discrimination, imprisonment and brutality, but do not have an effective means of bringing about significant change.
So why say things like “black lives matter” in a sermon, but not name names? Why not demand that particular lives – these singular manifestations of Reality – matter? Why do we imagine that justice exists in what comes after this life but is not possible in the here and now? Whose justice is it? Justice matters, incredibly so for those whose lives and humanity are erased as a result of our collective inaction. Do not forget this: individual lives and deaths matter. If we don’t move to this change (and many more to follow), it will further alienate the very people who need to know, not believe, but know, that God is with and within us.
All this begs the question, why is the religious community today so ineffective at creating social change? Why has it stopped demanding justice, both for individuals, and at the collective level? Does it act on the construct that religion has a “place” in the status quo, now pushed lower than science, government, or business? Do we do this simply out of habit?
I am deeply cynical about our ability to collectively change. But these questions offer hope:
- What if we acted as a voice for creation as it is instead of our closely held beliefs?
- What if – imagine this! – religious leaders truly tried to speak for a God of Love?
- What if we sought to inspire a truly better world – as above, so below – instead of languishing in the status quo that so many of us benefit from?
The current state of resistance isn’t working, and it needs to work to unfurl the noose that still cuts the breath off of too many lives of people of color. Instead of crunching a sohbet or derasha based on the headlines from The New York Times, I believe that time spent in fervent prayer, rituals, and honest conversations can provide guideposts to us to discover creative, forceful actions to help un-knot the system. I myself question how it is that, if God is in everything and everyone – as I do know – then how do these murders and endless injustices happen, without challenge? Perhaps the answer lies in the question. Perhaps God needs to be challenged.
There is an enormous gap between what is possible and what is now. It’s impossible for me to imagine a world where all lives matter, but we can work together, if we are honest, focused and irrepressible in insisting that black lives matter.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.