I was standing on a subway train. He was sitting in the corner. It took me a moment to realize he was talking to me. I looked up from my book, which I was holding in two hands around the silver pole.

I realized he was inviting me to sit next to him and I recoiled. “No thanks, I’m okay.” I put my head back down into my book.

He stood. I rolled my eyes. He made a mock, exaggerated bow and offered me the whole two-seater bench. I didn’t like the attention, but I sat, curling my arms around myself.

He spread his body out to fill the open space in front of me. He stood with his arms slightly outstretched, letting his weight rock with the motion of the train car, smiling broadly enough to show his teeth. I looked away.

He said, “Are you afraid of me?”

I didn’t answer.

He said, “Are you afraid of me?”

I said, “Of course not.”

He said, “I’m not gonna hurt you. Jesus doesn’t want me to hurt you. He wants me to protect you. That’s what it says in that book.”

I looked up then, at his eyes, at the silver cross around his neck, hanging loose like his long black dreads, his eyes again. I was on my way home from a white church in the Back Bay, still holding my Bible.

Was there aggression towards me? In that memory, floating years ago on a subway train in Boston, was he obnoxious? Or was I? Was he aggressive? Or was it my desire to suppress his very existence, to pretend that he was not in that car with me, that was the very first act of aggression?

Why did he need to have that conversation with me, anyway? Why couldn’t he just leave me alone? Was it because I was holding my Bible on the train and he wanted to preach to me, share with me, about his faith in Jesus Christ? 

I can’t say. I didn’t ask. But today there is #Ferguson.

The photo above I got from here. (h/t Jeremy Harper) You should just go read it, really. Go read their names. Even if they are fake names. Just know that they have names.

Today there is Ferguson.

Black people crying out, loud, making noise, saying “I AM HERE.” Saying with a Molotov cocktail, a handful of broken windows and a lot of cardboard signs, “I was here. I was human. I had a voice. What does it take to get someone to hear me?”

We say, “Why they gotta be so loud?”

Today there is Ferguson. Today there is mourning. There is grief. There is sorrow. There is the sound of weeping in Ramah. And there is a military police response. “I will not see you as human. I am not required to. And if you demand that I converse with you? I will roll in the tanks and the military gear. I will train my gun on your chest.”

Today there is Ferguson, and today again there is this exchange. Pressure from Black people to be seen and heard, pressure to get the White power in their community to say, “Yes, your lives matter. Your deaths matter. You matter.”  A plea to be seen and treated as fully human.

And the tanks roll in.

Why should I care?

I don’t take responsibility for all the steps that led to this. The racial tension in Ferguson, where Blacks are most of the population and hardly any of the power structure. For the Black kid who ran, the cop who shot. How could I take responsibility for this? Generations of power wielded by the powerful, far away from me. This is not a problem I can solve. This is not a problem I created.

Why should I care?

But I should care. It does matter if I care what is happening in Ferguson. Because Black lives matter. Because human lives matter. Because people have names.

Please, don’t imagine this is about self-punishment. I am not into self-punishment. Not even for my privilege. Not even for my bigotry that I might call by the name of fear. I don’t think it really helps anybody if I go to town whipping myself.

But I do seek to walk into a different fire, the fire of compassion and mutual transformation. I am ready to say yes, I will go to bat for this. I will see, and I will report. Today I am ready to know their names. Marissa. Michael. JohnTrayvon. The countless others who didn’t make the press.

A perfect love casts out all fear. Or so I have heard, from a man with long dreads on a subway train. I am only human as far as I can see humanity in others. And I am ready to be made free. I am ready to live forward into a Kingdom dream, of city streets where Black people walk free.

May we interrogate our fear and our defenses. May we see in those defenses the inequity that makes Black boys walk unsafe on our streets. May we hear their voices. May we hear their names.

May we see and hear the riot and let it set a riot in our own compassionate hearts. May it triumph compassion and justice over a peace that is no peace.