The Common Good

A Prayer for Derrion Albert

Every dawning day we wake to the news of human violence against humanity. We see images of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who've traveled a long way from home to fight terrorists. We hear the news of a roadside bomb or a suicide bomb. We hear of the violent oppression of distant peoples in distant places.

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Then there is the violence closer to our own doors. A census worker is found dead with the word "Fed" written across his chest. An entire family is found dead. And all this comes within the context of a recent history where young men bring automatic weapons to school and kill their teachers and classmates. We even see murder in church.

We develop calluses around our consciousness. Protective shields go up around our hearts lest the violence, the pain of strangers, becomes a missile attack upon our own fragile emotions suffering from our own losses, disappointments, and fears. It all threatens to become more than we can bear.

Derrion Albert was an honor roll student at Christian Fenger Academy High School in Chicago. He was a church-goer who refused to join a gang. As he was on his way to catch a bus, minding his own business, he became caught up in a battle between two groups of teenagers he did not know. He was beaten to death on the street. The structural violence that his attackers had absorbed exploded in subjective violence against his body. Derrion Albert is dead and at least four other young men have been charged in his killing. If they are convicted their lives will be ruined.

A community memorial to Derrion Albert was burned, another act of violence that denies a community its expression of grief. Our calluses thicken. Our shields go up yet again, higher and faster this time. What is the biochemistry of the calluses that harden around our consciousness? What is the physics of the shields around our hearts? What happens to our compassion, to the capacity to suffer with the Other from the core of our being? Do we lose a portion of our own humanity when our capacity to care weakens?

There is passion in compassion and that passion ought to be more than a co-suffering. It ought to be a love so deep, so radical, so fearless that we dare to act, to do something to step up to the challenge of the violence in this world rather than to step back or to step away. The passion of compassion is the passion of Jesus and the challenge of our faith to make our own bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto our God. (Romans 12:1).

Toward this end, I propose that we begin by making Wednesday a weekly day of prayer and fasting for the end of global and local violence. Many churches already have mid-week prayer services on Wednesday. Let us add the dimension of fasting to our prayers. This requires no ideological contest. It requires no act of Congress or presidential proclamation. This requires only a personal commitment. It requires faith as a grain of mustard seed. It requires trust in the worth of prayer and the power of the Church Universal praying on one accord to tame the roaring lion of violence that is stalking our world and eating us all alive.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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