Ferguson Queries

As I was coming home from work the other night, a song came up on my headphones: “The Suburbs,” by Arcade Fire. I have always thought of that particular piece as a “prophecy song,” in large part because of the music video, which can be found here. It’s about six minutes long, and I encourage all to watch it.

For those who are unable to watch, the video centers on five friends, in their early teens, enjoying their life among wealthy suburbs, riding bikes, playing with BB guns, roughhousing, and in general becoming fast companions. But they live in a slightly different America, a dystopia, set against the background of, as the song lyrics say, “a suburban war—your part of town against mine.” Armed soldiers patrol the streets. Occasionally people are dragged from their homes in the depths of night. Military helicopters fly overhead, trucks and tanks are common sights. And gradually this background seeps into the foreground, as the twisted world the kids live in begins to destroy their friendship, culminating in an act of brutal violence.

As I listened to the song on my headphones, I thought of the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri—the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed, unarmed, prompting protests and riots. I thought of the militarized police that has been so aggressive and so criticized in Ferguson. And it finally hit me, years too late: Continue reading

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Introducing the Weekly Query

In my branch of the Quaker tradition, there are no set statements of belief, no precepts. In their place, Friends over the years have worked out queries. The queries are sharp, probing questions, not intended to be easily answered, and never intended to be answered in a rote fashion. They are intended to provoke thought. Nor are there any “right” answers, since the questions are often deeply personal–and the answers for any individual or group may change over time. They are often asked in groups, organized thematically. Answering them can be a spiritual discipline, and in theory the introspection leads to action.

Consider the following queries, out of many, on equality:

Do we avoid being drawn into violent reactions against those who are destructive of human dignity? Do we reach out to the violator as well as the violated with courage and love?

In short, the queries are tough.

I’m embarking on a new series for the Generous Grasp: the Weekly Query. While I may occasionally draw on classic Quaker queries, mostly they’ll be hard questions I’ve thought of or had to face myself. You can respond to the queries, but bear in mind that if you have an instant answer, you may wish to think again.

Moreover this series will always give you (and me) a reason to come to the blog on a regular basis, something which I feel I’ve lacked in my haphazard postings.

As the queries reflect long-running problems and processes in our lives, I may repost ones from time to time. The terms “you,” “we,” “yours,” and “our” may be used indiscriminately throughout. Interpret them as you choose.

Let us therefore begin.

Are we aware that we speak through inaction as well as action?

(Taken from the North Pacific Yearly Meeting Book of Faith and Practice)