The Not-So-Near Death of A Mini Dachshund and Events in Ferguson

R-20110118-0006.jpgLast week I was anxious and sad. Although I kept going with ordinary life, I feared our old dog was dying. Mysterious yelps, sudden bulges, listlessness and clouded eyes reminded me of every dog I’ve had that died from cancer. I held off going to the vet, avoiding bad news. Finally when a tennis-ball-sized swelling appeared overnight, I took him in. The vet lanced the abscess, gave him antibiotics, and today he’s skittering around like a puppy.


I should have known better. I’ve worked for years on facing fear. But I’m taking the episode as another lesson in assumptions.  Because I assumed he was dying, I delayed going to the vet, causing him extra pain and jeopardizing his health. Assumptions cloud our judgment. They blind us to truth. They get in the way.


I’ve learned this lesson before. In addition to experiencing it in life, I was trained to notice assumptions during my spiritual direction internship program at Bread of Life. Walk down the ladder of inference, we were told repeatedly. Try to get to the level of concrete details.  Do this not only for yourself, but with your directees.


What did you notice? What did you see? What feelings did it trigger in you? What did you say or do in response? From this foundational level, grounded in observable experience, one can carefully create a safe container within which to search for truth.


As I’ve watched events unfold in Ferguson since the shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown, I’ve grieved for the absence of such a container. Many factors are at work in the tragedy being played out, but I believe the destruction has been magnified by the speed of people’s unconsidered responses.


The facts about what actually happened are unknown at this point. Conflicting stories are being told. Information is being released in small, disconnected bits.


Into this factual vacuum, emotion, assumption, judgment, and fear have rushed. Using strategic and partial bits of information, all sides have made pronouncements, presenting their points of view as if they were facts.


Around the country, on city streets and at kitchen tables, the violence continues, as we square off against each other, not even knowing, exactly, what we are fighting about.


Into this maelstrom stepped Captain Ron Johnson, now overseeing security in Ferguson.  Johnson, a commander in the Missouri Highway Patrol, grew up in the area. His first step was to walk with the protestors through the streets. “We are going to have a different approach and that approach is that we are in this together. I am here to protect and serve everybody.”


Johnson removed the heavy riot armour and SWAT trucks that had so enraged the citizens. He met with residents on the streets. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” he told a young man with a red neckerchief. “Just like you and me are doing.  We’re talking. We gotta start with me. And we gotta start with you. We’re gonna be alright. We’re going to continue to talk.”


Unfortunately, violence has continued to escalate in Ferguson.  Peaceful protests have turned violent. Riot armor has returned to the streets. A curfew has been imposed.  Looting continues. Last night the police command center was attacked. The governor has called out the National Guard.


On Sunday morning Captain Johnson attended Greater Grace Church and spoke to Mr. Brown’s family and the congregation. “My heart goes out to you, and I say that I’m sorry. We need to pray. We need to thank Michael for his life. And we need to thank him for all the changes he is going to make.”


I’m following Captain Johnson’s advice. I’m praying for the people of Ferguson, for Captain Johnson, and for all of us, praying that we will open our eyes, ears and hearts, listening for truth, listening for wisdom, listening for guidance about how to heal our brokenness and live in peace.



Burial, Walter Gramatte, 1914, Germany courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

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