How We Remember Trayvon Martin

As a Canadian, it’s hard to understand what America is going through this week with the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. All I can say is I lament the lingering (rampant?) racial tensions and pray for peace and reconciliation amidst so much senseless violence in our world."How Long, Lord?" rings in my hears.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing a lot of reading in preparation for my fall teaching, some of it history. One of the books - Moral Minority - traces how evangelicals navigated politics in the latter half of the 20th Century. Included are stories of how evangelical Christians engaged (and didn’t engage!) the civil rights movement in the 60’s and 70’s.

Sadly, I read these accounts of America in decades past I realize how far this culture still has to go. Comments I’ve heard and read this week could be inserted into the contexts of the 60’s and 70’s, and vice versa. And I wonder, do people not remember?

I actually think many people do remember the past. I’ve heard several references this week to how we need to look back and remind ourselves of the social progress of past generations, not repeating prior mistakes. These are important reminders when history seems to be repeating itself.

For some, however, remembering only hinders progress. Response to the racial implications of this tragedy are simplified to a plain “get over it” (forget) or a more nuanced “get on with it” (move on). The former is insensitive to the issue of racism altogether while the latter is insensitive to the painful process of healing. One only has to read a few article comment sections to see these responses illustrated.

But if we only remember the past, or ignore the past, or get past the past, we can fail to recognize just how influential history continues to be, both in our lives and in our world. My favorite theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, describes Christians as a “story-formed community.” I would suggest this extends to humanity and history in general. We don’t just remember history, we are shaped by history. Therefore, how we engage our past as communities shapes our identities in the present and the future. This is true for Christians. It’s true for Canada. And it’s definitely true for the issue of racism in America.

Remembering Trayvon Martin is important (and the countless other similar tragedies). But how we remember is just as important.

May we remember Trayvon well.

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