Long after #Ferguson is no longer trending on social media, we will still be engaged together in the social construction of Ferguson. We are Ferguson. Ferguson is us. As the collective, we co-construct in our relationships the prejudices, public perceptions, the dialogues that have happened and those that have not which created Ferguson.
We create Ferguson together. It is the privileging of voices and the un-privileging of others that defines the conflict in Ferguson, Missouri that has come to capture the imagination and wonder of the U.S and indeed, the world.
Had I walked down the middle of a street in Ferguson as a white man, I would never have faced the high risk of getting shot to death that Michael Brown did. I can hardly enter into the grief that the family of Michael Brown feels. I have two precious children, both eighteen years of age—the same age that Michael met his tragic death.
Ferguson has moved today from riots and police lines to a community forum sponsored by public radio. The space between demonstrators and the police line is the space where neglected dialogue turned to horrible and violent conflict.
The ideas of social constructionism—or relational constructionism—call us to communal accountability. We create our worlds together through our words, our worldviews and our actions. It is a process that we participate in, often unconsciously. As we become conscious of how we co-create our worlds and our relationships, we become responsible for our own choices. It is our choice to speak up or to be silent. It is our choice to participate or not participate in power over others. It is our collective choice to empower some voices and to disempower others.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder astutely observed on his arrival in Ferguson that there are deep and neglected conversations that need to happen. But, what are those conversations? They are surely about race, class, and community policing. They are about justice and discrimination. They are about participation and non-participation in democratic processes. They are about prejudice and diversity.
Does dialogue about diversity even begin to touch the depth of the conversation we need to have within ourselves and with each other? It has been said that justice is love finding its way into the public square.
Diversity and racial equality are agendas. I persist in maintaining that any time we begin with an agenda instead of beginning with attentiveness to relationships we walk down a narrow alley that is likely to have fierce combatants facing off against each other in deadly conflict.
The work of relational constructionism, as I understand it, is the work of peacemaking. It is also the work of place-making. How do we together create places where there are not privileged and un-privileged voices? How do we together create places where all voices are truly heard?
Even contemplating that question does not call me to the place of dialogue. It calls me first to the place of deep and silent and prayerful reflection. It calls me to the sacred place of relational presence. The space between the demonstrators with stones and law enforcement with tear gas canisters is uninhabited and uninhabitable space. The space of relational presence is the inhabited space where relationships are valued above agendas allowing the sacred potential of relational being to emerge.
With holy imagination let us enter into the place where we rise above the distinctions and differences that divide us. Let us enlarge in Ferguson—in ourselves, in our world– that greatly diminished space where the din and clatter of gunfire and protests quiet to the whispered voice of peace. May the task of relational constructionism, of place-making, of peace-building begin!