For me, the tragedy that continues to unfold in Sanford, Florida stems from our culture’s difficulty in dealing with difference.
As I was working on last week’s sermon, the 911 tapes from the night that Trayvon Martin was killed were released. I listened to them all. I decided that my planned sermon on worry would have to address this, too.
The first part of the sermon was as originally planned – how do we manage worry in day to day life? Although a challenge for many people, there are techniques that can help. Learning to manage our worry can lead to happier and more productive lives.
But there is more.
Learning to manage stress and worry also allows us to live our Unitarian Universalist values more fully. All of our seven principles call us to our best selves and it is very hard to open our hearts and minds to access the creativity called for when we are overwhelmed by stress and worry. Stress and worry impede creativity and openness and love.
So, taking responsibility for managing our stress and worry can improve our lives and increase our chances to live our values – thus improving the quality of life for those around us.
But there is one last reason to address the worry and stress in our lives. In a state of diminished creativity and openness, not only do we do less good, but we can actually do harm.
We can do this by being short or cranky with those around us. Many of us have been on the giving or receiving end of that.
But it can also cause us to behave badly with total strangers.
I believe that anxiety and fear about difference within our human family can cause us to worry about things that do not need to be worried about. This, in turn, can lead to unwarranted suspicion and action.
George Zimmerman called 911 to report what he perceived to be a suspicious person and suspicious behavior. He expressed his worry that “these assholes*, they always get away.” Against police advice, he went in pursuit of someone who had no reason to be pursued. That pursuit apparently provoked an altercation that cost Trayvon Martin his life.
Our unmanaged worries do not have to result in death to do damage to our relationships and our world.
Learning to manage our worries develops our own spirituality, helps those around us, and, in the interest of public safety, it may also be a civic duty.
So what is the role of people of faith and of conscience in this situation?
My hope would be that we could help people see that assumptions based on stereotypes led to this tragedy. To have anything redeeming come from it, we must avoid stereotyping as we move forward.
If George Zimmerman’s assumptions, attitude, and actions were, in part, based on racial stereotyping or profiling, which made Trayvon Martin “other,” then our challenge is to call for justice without making George Zimmerman “other.” Rather than label him racist, as some would do, we need to see clearly how assumptions and generalizations do harm. Once we have seen, we can then work to eradicate those tendencies as they exist in our culture, our institutions, and our own hearts.
This is no small task, yet it is the work we are handed and I believe to which we are called.
(* Note: I have updated the sentence marked to accurately reflect Zimmerman’s remark on the 911 call. My original post read: He expressed his worry about “those people always getting away.”)