On Making a Scene

For nearly 3 months now, I've been dragging a solid granite boulder around Los Angeles on a wagon, to convey to all who see it the weight that people of color carry in America. I'm pretty sure this chunk of rock weighs over 100 pounds, (but I'm not sure because I can barely lift it, much less put it on a scale). It has goes nearly everywhere with me: to class, job interviews, church, etc. because there is no place I can go without feeling the weight that America's tradition of racism has laid on the black psyche.  So much is happening as this journey continues to unfold, that it feels really urgent to begin writing it down. 

So, here's how it started:

I was sitting at my computer in Greek class when the news of Alton Sterling's death at the hands of the police began circulating on Facebook months ago. What was most outrageous for me was the fact that everything in America would keep on turning as though this were normal and inconsequential--and a part of that "normal" would be that we'd continue to see dead black bodies on the news. I was fatigued and stressed from seeing profane images of black bodies bloodied, mangled, and in many cases abandoned--in an almost pornographic way. For the next week, my mind was preoccupied with the historic obstacles that people of color continue to stumble over in this country. I couldn't focus in class anymore. I lost the energy to keep up with loved ones. I lost my appetite. In my mind, I swung from frustration to despair to hope and back again.

Courtesy of Jonathan Stoner Photography

Courtesy of Jonathan Stoner Photography

Finally, on Monday July 25, I sat down to force myself to eat. Suddenly, a mental image appeared in my head: I was in Old Town Pasadena with a large white boulder on a wagon, and I was reciting bible passages--the beautiful ones where God describes vivid pictures of a world free of injustice, corrupt systems, and violence (e.g. "they will beat their swords into plowshares..."). A moment later, I was in tears, as I sensed the "vision" was an instruction. I did not want to find a boulder and walk around Pasadena--sane, intelligent people don't make a scene like that. Nevertheless, I felt that I would not be able to live with the decision to ignore the vision and the compulsion I felt to realize it.

So, I posted on Facebook "Does anyone know where I could find a bulky, heavy rock?" The initial responses were unhelpful: a mixture of jokes, sly comments, and suggestions that I drive an hour to the beach or desert. But eventually, my friend Aaron commented back, "How big?" I knew that meant he must have a boulder, so I texted him. He sent me some pictures of the boulders lodged in the ground around his yard, and invited me over for dinner, where I could choose whichever rock I wanted. It was too perfect: for starts, Aaron and his wife Sarah live just 15 minutes away from me. Second, Aaron pastors a Vineyard Church in Monrovia--which meant that he was not going to think that my reasons for needing a boulder were strange at all.

Courtesy of Jonathan Stoner Photography

Courtesy of Jonathan Stoner Photography

When I arrived at Aaron and Sarah's house, I was hoping they might tell me that I was sounding like a crazy person. In tears, I told them that I didn't want to do something that would make me look so foolish. But they told me, gently and compassionately,  "If God is leading you to do this, you've gotta' do it." It's easy for people to say something like that, when they're not going to be shouldering the weight; but they were not giving me that kind of cheap advice. They immediately offered me their help for the work ahead: they offered to buy the wagon I would need , opened their home to me whenever I would need to come by and rest, and prayed for me. 

I left there place to purchase the wagon and some white paint, then returned to their house, to pick up what would be my cumbersome assignment until I feel released to no longer carry it--a dense chunk of solid granite, about the size of my torso. That night, I assembled the cart and painted the boulder white. The next day, I sat in the middle of my seminary campus, and began to write on it the societal realities that weigh so heavily on the black psyche: mass incarceration, police violence, strategic exclusion, red-lining, white privilege, white supremacy, eurocentrism, the names of victims of police violence, etc. And to this day, the boulder, the burden, the scandalon (as my pastor calls it) goes where I go--to make visible what has always been present with us.

F.A.Qs:

How long will you carry it? I don't know.

What is your end goal? I have no end goal. I'm only trying to be obedient to the task.