There is power in a name.
One of the things happening in our world right now is that people are “naming” injustice. No longer are we just talking about statistics, numbers and data. We are lifting up the names of the victims of a failed justice system. And there is something in a name that humanizes and personalizes the issue, and wakes us up: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice.
The numbers have names.
They remind us of the collateral damage of a failed system, and the urgency of this moment. We can’t make injustice history until we make injustice personal.
For many people of color, the victims of injustice have had names for a long time. Emmett Till helps us know how far we have come; Eric Garner reminds us how far we still have to go. But now these names are being talked about in homes and around dinner tables all over the world.
Every name of a life lost is an image of God. When we lost them, we lost a little piece of God’s image in the world. They are friends, sons, sisters, fathers and neighbors.
All over my neighborhood we have names of lost lives — on murals, tattoos, T-shirts and car windows. There is a hidden graveyard memorializing the lives lost to injustice, inequity, poverty and violence. But what is happening now is not just a memorial movement. It is a freedom movement.
In the past, names like Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell have been a news flash for a moment. Amadou was unarmed when police shot at him 41 times and hit him 19 of those. Sean Bell, also unarmed, was shot the night before his wedding, showered with dozens of bullets by five officers. Both were headlines for a moment.
But now we are turning those moments into a movement. We are turning those names into an anthem for justice.
Even as we think of this season of Christmas, we recognize the power of a name — Jesus. In Jesus, God took on a name — a common name like Jose, or John — came down to earth and joined the human struggle.
And let’s remember Jesus came from a real place, a place maybe not too unlike Ferguson. He grew up in Nazareth, where people said: “Nothing good could come.” From the moment he was born, there was struggle. He was born a homeless baby, a refugee, one of us.
As he was born, little children were being killed by Herod’s empire — little boys who had names, and families. All through his life Jesus knew suffering, insult, hatred — even up to that moment he died on the imperial cross, next to two other men who also had names.
Let us remember this Christmas: God is with us. And God is with all those who hunger for justice and an end to the tears. God has a name. And it is “Emmanuel — God is with us.”
(Shane Claiborne is an activist and best-selling author, founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and popular speaker. You can find him at www.redletterchristians.org.)
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