Thursday, 4 December 2014

'Breathe...': A Theological Reflection on The Death of Eric Garner

Eric Garner, an unarmed black resident of New York City, was strangled to death by an NYPD officer. A grand jury ruled that the officer will not stand trial for Garner's death, regardless of the fact that the incident was filmed by a bystander at a few feet away and the death was ruled a homicide by the city coroner. 

For a nation with the history of deep racial and cultural divisions that the US has- with its indigenous population; with those brought here as slave labour; those Hispanic cultures still deeply resentful of the Mexican-American War’s land grab that left many on the wrong side of a border they didn’t help draw- the events have exposed festering wounds that, for many, have never closed, much less healed or even scarred. That all this has happened in the shadow of yet another notorious police shooting of an unarmed black male in Ferguson, MO with an identical grand jury decision, the situation was like pouring salt into those wounds.

Garner’s last words- repeated gasps of ‘I can’t breathe’- have become a rallying cry for many who have taken to the streets in outrage at the events.

Garner said ‘I can’t breathe’…

Those in the streets say, ‘We can’t breathe…

‘We can’t keep living like this.’

Personally, I ask myself, what can I do?

I believe that theological reflection has an important role to play in social transformation, in radical social change.

I believe the role of the radical theologian is to frame the process of social transformation using a spiritual paradigm, as well as helping to push it forward through the moral impetus of that framing.

Like so many others, I’m drawn to Garner’s last words, ‘I can’t breathe.' 

Genesis 2:7- 'God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.' 

Mark 15:37- 'With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.' 

It is out of the creative love of God that we have our life and breath; it is out of the violence of the state that Jesus' breath- and Garner's- was taken away. 

In John 20:22, after Jesus was raised, 'he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit."' 

Through the resurrection, God overcomes the brutality of the state powers that murdered Jesus and through his restored breath once again blesses us with new life. 

In our own context, breathing is life, the evidence of our life in God, and the presence of the spirit of God within us.

By breathing, we bear witness to the resurrection, God's destruction of the structures of death and oppression. 

The antithesis of the resurrection, of the God of life is, of course, the reality of death- whether that death be immediate or drawn out through oppression, poverty, and marginalization. 

In any case, it is life taken; 

Stolen by oppressive power.

By living a life infused by the breath of the spirit of God- of peace, justice, truth, and mercy- we bear witness to the God of life and build resistance to the structures of death.

this way, breathing is, in and of itself, civil disobedience; 


Resistance to brutality, 

To power,

To cruelty...

Psalm 150:6- 'Let everything that has breath give glory to God...'

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