Protests and riots
Posted On June 3, 2020
The last few days has me thinking about protests and riots. These terms get used a lot. We use them without thinking about how they are defined.
We make assumptions about these terms. Protests are generally viewed in a more positive manner than a riot. Protests are assumed to not include violence or destruction of property. Riots are assumed to be chaotic and destructive.
Protests are thought of as a group of citizens marching or gathering, holding signs, maybe hearing speeches and possibly chanting something. The idea is to voice ideas about a situation/injustice/event/etc to those who are influencers and decision makers – it is a way to bring about change. Protests have been successful in the past, which is why they are still used. But not all protests work.
Riots are thought of as an unorganized collective of individuals who have turned off their intellectual thinking abilities and are expressing rage – riots are ways of lashing out at anything and anyone that gets in the way. Riots involve people with masks covering their faces to prevent being identified – those that have intent on doing something illegal or destructive or deadly hide their faces so they can’t be identified. Riots work from the stand point of reaching a specific goal – to cause damage and destruction. In some cases the damage is about physical property. In other cases the target of the damage is less concrete – institutions, ways of being, rights, forms of governance, etc.
How we use these terms is important. What I have watched in recent days is the interchange of these words depending on who is covering a protest/riot.
Protests and riots may not seem to have much in common – but they do actually. There is a thin line between a protest becoming a riot. Some protests are pushed over that line intentionally. Others just happen to go that way on their own.
Regardless, protests and riots have me thinking about a more theological idea. Christianity has been in the business of proclaiming a few key foundational ideas. One is summed up in three words – life, death, and resurrection. In most circumstances when these three words are proclaimed together, they don’t get much of a response, even within a church. It’s church-talk really. We know what these terms mean without really defining them, much like we do with protest and riot. And like these other terms we make assumptions about life, death, and resurrection. I wonder how accurate those assumptions are though.
I think that people don’t mind talking about life, death, and resurrection. They may find it uncomfortable at times though. The same could be said of protests and riots.
But it’s the implementation of any of these terms that really causes much angst for people. Actually living into these ideas is painful and if we are honest, it is destructive – destructive to our identity, our sense of control, our relationship with God, our ability to do self-examination, etc.
What does it really mean to live in the context of life, death, and resurrection? What does death really mean in that context? What does it mean in practical terms of how we live into our death?
Death isn’t something we like to think about. We don’t like to envision what it means for us. I think most people are afraid of death really. Even Christians who proclaim that death doesn’t get the final say are afraid of death. It feels too final. Even death metaphorically is difficult for us to live into. Jesus calls on followers to die daily to self. What does that mean in practical terms? It means we aren’t in control. Ouch. If we aren’t in control, then someone else is. And if someone else is in control, then we probably have to pay attention to the one who is and follow their lead. We don’t like that. This is why so many will voice the words, but resist allowing the words to flow through them, transform them, and shape them.
Resurrection is another difficult one. Because we know deep down that in order to get to resurrection, we have to go through death. And death just sounds so final. But resurrection is a complete change. We lose control in death and in resurrection we don’t gain it back – we don’t need control any longer.
Are protests or riots related to life, death, and resurrection? I don’t know. I’m not interested in making an argument about that. I do know this much – when we really start to examine what words actually mean, it opens us to new possibilities, to new understandings. It opens us up to seeing the thin lines that divide. It opens us up to letting go.