I took Uber from downtown St. Louis to the airport and engaged in a fascinating conversation with my African American Uber driver, named Alex, about the state of racism in the St. Louis area. As we were nearing the airport I noticed on his GPS that Ferguson is near the airport. I asked Alex if he would be willing to give me a tour of Ferguson. He agreed.
As we were approaching Ferguson, images of a city in flames, riots, tears, and protests filled my mind. Then I remembered all that happened this time last year. Wow. Not sure what I’d see, I tried to prepare myself.
I sure wasn’t prepared for what I saw. Upon entering Ferguson I was greeted by a quaint wooden sign with engraved colorful flowers next to the words “Welcome to Ferguson” in swirly cursive as if it were a sign for a floral shop. The sign was set in front of a nice looking CVS on a busy street corner that looked like every other busy intersection in America.
As Alex took me further into the city, I was transported to idillic “Main Street USA.” Beautiful Christmas lights graced lampposts and store fronts. Wine bars and consignment shops lined the streets. There were few signs of the chaos that unfolded this time last year; just a couple new construction sites where buildings were burned down during the protests. Was this really the same Ferguson? Was it true that Michael Brown was killed blocks from this place?
I had a feeling that things weren’t as they seemed. Sure enough, they’re not. One block away from the twinkling lights and quaint shops, I was greeted by dilapidated homes and poverty; mostly black poverty. Alex told me most the store owners on the main street were white and despite what is seen on the news, Ferguson has a large, white, blue collar middle class. Alex also told me that most middle class white families send their children to schools outside of Ferguson.
While things looked relatively peaceful, it was easy to sense a tension – a divide. Alex said that while tensions have eased, wounds have not been healed. He thinks it will only be a matter of time before something sets off the anger again.
Driving out of Ferguson, Alex pondered what could be done to heal the wounds. I did too.
I remembered that Christians all over the world are currently celebrating that God became flesh; Immanuel, God with us. Jesus entered into the brokenness of this world. He was born in a stinky stable among unclean animals. In a great twist of irony, the impoverished God Child, quickly became one of the richest around after receiving the gifts from the Magi. Jesus was born into the margins: the rich and the poor. God embodied the reality of both. The beauty of the incarnation is that God understands us because he became one of us.
I wonder what the incarnation could mean for Ferguson. From my limited perspective, it doesn’t seem like there is much incarnation happening; many impoverished black communities are living within feet from “Main Street USA” yet there is a deep chasm of injustice and racism between their communities and what many consider the American Dream. Author Miguel De La Torre suggests that ethics can only properly be practiced when done from the margins. For many many years, impoverished black communities have practiced their ethics in the midst of communities of privilege. What would it look like if privileged communities learned to practice their ethics from the position of the marginalized? What could change if we learned to incarnate love, empathy, and justice?
As a white male from Seattle, I will never fully understand what it is like to be a black male from Ferguson. But Jesus teaches me to learn from people like Alex. To listen his story and to stand with him.
Leaving St. Louis and Ferguson I find the cry of the biblical prophet Amos near to my heart. “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” – Amos 5:4
Thank you Alex for showing me your community and thank you Ferguson for being a great teacher.