This past June I attended a concert of one of my favorite bands, U2. This Irish band has throughout their career had deep affection for the country I call home. They again lifted up some of the values that resonate deeply with what I love about this land: the variety of cultures and ethnicities, this being a place of refuge and new opportunity that welcomed my own German and Irish ancestors many years ago, and country whose story holds up values of freedom, equality, and justice. Even though we don’t always live out these values faithfully they are sought out still. I was reminded that in the United States “We the people” are the government, and have a voice and place at the table. Also, when issues seem to challenge justice, equality and freedom we don’t despair but work together for just change. “We do not agonize, we organize” Bono stated to the crowds. These Irish musicians see in this country the potential to be truly great in our generosity to meet need, great by the vast diversity of cultures that populate this land, and great in the voices that continue to rise up for justice.
At this concert, I also noticed a man who may have been of Indian or Middle Eastern descent. He wore a black tee shirt and one word was printed across his chest in white- HUMAN. I don’t know if this tee shirt denotes a slogan or band name, or maybe he was reminding those who forgot that he too is a human being. After all, some see others as not worthy of certain rights, or basic kindness, or ability to exist due to race, creed, gender, conviction record or country of origin. I was reminded of an America different than the four Irish lads from U2 described. One where we can’t assume the fully humanity of all is recognized.
An even more stark reminder of this came to my attention back in February. One of my distant cousins, Ian, was at a sports bar in Kansas. Another man entered the sports bar harassing a few people thinking they were of Middle Eastern descent. Ian stood up for the two Indian men bearing the brunt of racial slurs, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani. The man bullying them was asked to leave and did. Unfortunately, the bully returned with a gun and after yelling “get out of my country” began shooting. Ian ducked under a table and began counting how many shots had been fired. When he thought the gun was empty he went after the shooter. However, Ian miscounted and was shot in the process. Ian and Alok survived with injuries, Srinivas died. In this horrific encounter, we see conflicting understandings of what it means to be viewed as a human being in this country. Of course, not all question another’s human worth with a gun but in lessor ways by who we choose to welcome into our communities, or who we choose to associate with, or what words we use about others.
Over the years my faith has grown more deeply rooted in God as Creator. This belief demands that I look on all creation as that which God has made. Those I call enemy or view as disreputable or those I disdain because they may view me as disreputable- all are HUMAN. If I am serious about sharing life in relationship with the Creator I must take seriously the human dignity and worth of what the Creator has made.
My cousin Ian is a good example, not only in what he did in that sports bar but in using the publicity from this incident as a way to encourage others to get to know their neighbors. A good friendship has developed between Ian and Srinivas’ family, Alok and many in the Indian community. Together they are seeing this as a moment for different cultures to learn more about each other and grow together as a community.
“It’s not about where he’s from, or ethnicity. We’re all humans.” Ian Grillot
In Christ, Pastor Marian