Monday, July 15, 2013

I Am George Zimmerman: How I've Helped to Keep America "Safe"

A photo snapped by a fellow writer-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center this past fall. 
One of my favorite mindfulness meditations asks me to close my eyes and envision my life as a lake. While there's commotion, change, and a city's worth of tiny movements below it, a lake's surface often appears calm, beautiful. Even safe. When we look out across this surface, we are calmed too. We can almost forget all that's happening under it. While this lake meditation's meant to help us in dealing with the realistic difficulties and change in adult life, there are times when we need to look deeper, dwell with what's hidden, dive into unfamiliar waters.

I grew up in a tiny, rural, wealthy community where if you weren't Mennonite or Amish and white, you were a minority. For most of my 32 years, I've been lucky and privileged--some would no doubt use the word blessed-- to not have to say that my life's been negatively affected by


And yet, of course, my life has been affected by these words--even if I'm blind or busy living in a relatively calm surface society around me, simply because I can. As I've been listening and reacting to the recent verdict of George Zimmerman, I've also felt a renewed call to repentance and reconciliation. You see, as a middle-class, non-minority, tax-paying U.S. citizen, and Christian, I played--and play--a big part in the America of today. I've actually been wondering why more of us--regardless of race--aren't posting our pictures online with homemade signs that read "I am George Zimmerman"-- not to support his actions or verdict, but to confess that we are part of creating and supporting the violence-driven realities of today.

The "Support for George Zimmerman" Facebook group page, created as a rebuttal to the "I am Trayvon Martin" movement, includes links to firearms websites, racially charged and hate-filled language, photos of guns, and many "God Bless George Zimmerman" and "I'm not a racist, but..." comments.  I might claim that these things make me sick to my stomach (and they do), but I am, in fact, more like George Zimmerman than the boy he killed because Zimmerman was trying to keep his own world "safe."

Americans of many belief systems continue to support a culture that believes in might, and often that our peace-throughviolence is justified by God. We support this by paying taxes without questioning what we are funding (drones, overflowing prisons, and decades of war, for instance), but also by smaller actions under the surface of our country and economy.

As a humanist, an artist, and as a 21st-century Anabaptist, what more can I do to show the world a third way, the way of nonviolence?

And as a member of an historic peace church, I'm often flabbergasted at my denomination's near- assimilation into society's militaristic and violent-ready identity, even with the chance to publicly support efforts like the Peace Tax Fund today (Imagine: every Mennonite household withholding the percentage of taxes that would otherwise go toward military spending!) Heck, asking Mennonite congregations to support nonviolence by buying only fair trade coffee seems impossible on some days... And yet, we, too, are shocked at violence met by injustice. But should we be?


We can repent today for our part in American violence. We can use this act as a new starting point, no matter how it might interrupt or ripple our familiar assumptions, lifestyle, or identity as a U.S. citizen. Will you join me?

Forgive me, O God, on most days
-for letting news outlets shape my idea and mental image of a "bad person"
-for being surprised that the man on drugs who murdered my great-aunt was white
-for forgetting that my tax dollars help to make more violence possible
-for avoiding any man speaking Spanish on the street, on campus, on a bus years after being mugged in New Mexico
-for being scared in many ways of what the Upside-down Kingdom might do to my comfort level as a white American
-for posting my thoughts, concerns, and beliefs on Facebook more than in prayer and everyday action
-for not writing letters to the editor, to someone hurting, to someone alone--and for not raising my voice in the face of injustice in other everyday ways
-for taking it for granted that when I step into an airport, a car, a classroom, I will not be profiled
-for catching myself leaving a little more distance between me and the young black men walking in front of me


  1. Oh, Lord, may I, too, repent of my sins, spoken and unspoken, done and imagined, seen and unseen, for my list is so much longer and grievous than that of this bold, honest, loving person.