Bishop’s Statement: A Response to Violence in Our Time

My Dear Friends,

Last Thursday evening, a large Grand Rapids Police Department SWAT vehicle stopped in front my house. A dozen officers in full riot gear – helmet, body armor, shields and machine guns – moved with precision up the steps towards Dana and me as we sat on our front porch. At the top of the stairs, they turned right toward the four apartment house across the open lot, taking no notice of us. Immediately behind them followed another dozen or so armed uniformed and plain clothes police officers who took up positions at each corner of the neighboring house.

We quickly went inside, locked the doors and hid behind the curtains timidly peering out on the frightening unfolding scene. Dana downloaded a Police Scanner App to her smart phone so we might figure out what was happening. No luck. We watched and wondered, scared and confused, for a very long fifteen minutes until the tense scene began to break up with officers lowering their weapons moving back down to the street.

One riot gear clad officer came near our house so I went out and asked what he could tell me about what was happening. He very politely and directly said this was not an active scene. He said they were acting on a search warrant. I presume it involved drugs because soon after two police dogs appeared next door. He apologized for using our front steps. “No, no thank you for your service,” I said relieved the incident had ended peacefully and without violence.

Over the last two weeks, we have experienced gut-wrenching violence against police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. I am very thankful for those who take up the difficult, almost impossible job to protect and serve – police officers, fire departments, emergency medical technicians and our military personnel. To put one’s life in harm’s way for the sake of another is noble and holy. Please continue to pray for these servants and their families.

My recent encounter with our local police force was frightening, to say the least. I was, if only momentarily, very afraid for mine and Dana’s safety as that heavily-armed team moved toward us.

I think I may better understand now why people of color, who experience disproportionately more violence than white people, fear the police. Fear is never a reason to commit violence against another and yet fear is always the root cause of it. Perhaps, our fear of police officers is reflected in their being clad in armor which in turn reflects their own fear of us. It is fear that causes us to distrust each other, fear that leads us to arm ourselves and fear that moves us to acts of violence perpetuating a never ending cycle of violence and fear, fear and violence.

What do you fear? How does fear affect you, your relationships, your actions?

I am so deeply saddened by all the recent violence in our world that I barely know how to respond. The burden of it all bares down on me such that my spirit aches. The only thing I can control in all of this is me. So, when my spirit needs healing I return to my favorite source of comfort and strength I find in the Rule of St. Benedict as presented by John McQuiston in his simple book, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, Morehouse Publishing, 1996. Listen to what he says about Paramount Goals, p. 21-22:

“What is wanted is not that we should find ultimate truth, nor that we should become secure, nor that we should have ease, nor that we should be without hurt, but that we should live fully. Therefore we should not fear life, nor anything in life, we should not fear death, nor anything in death, we should live our lives in love with life. It is for us to train our hearts to live in grace, to sacrifice our self-centered desires, to find peace without want without seeking it for ourselves, and when we fail, to begin again each day. If we adopt an outlook of confidence and trust and perfect our experience by care for others, if we live in the certainty that we are heirs in providence of the outmost mystery, we will begin to change into the persons that we have the potential to be.”

Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage, hold fast that which is good, render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint-hearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor all people; love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you this day and always.

+Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.
IX Western Michigan

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