The Perkins Perspective | From the Director | Spring 2012


Questions of Life, Justice, and Hope

Questions of Life, Justice, and Hope

ByTali Hairston, Director of the John Perkins Center at SPU


The death of young people weighs heavy on any community. Specifically, the grieving parents lament the loss of a life in ways others can only imagine. We rush to them in these moments attempting to console the anger providing empathy for pain.


Anyone who has witnessed a parent in this moment undoubtedly recalls the occasion with tremendous clarity. Regardless if the child dies in their adolescent foolishness or “incidentally” at the hands of others, the lament and sorrow is often described as unbearable.


As our nation continues to debate the call for justice in the Trayvon Martin death, it is easy to forget the parental pain of this unbearable experience in the struggle to resolve and reconcile race and justice in America. The minute inferences of race enter the public consciousness; empathy and lament for a grief-filled mother and father seem to fade to the background.

But as a parent of three beautiful children, I am stuck mourning for a mother and father who lack any sense of peace. What I hope is America will do like the gospel writers narrating Jesus’ crucifixion did: Mary, the mother of Jesus is not forgotten in this gruesome and painful experience. In reading this story we are brought back to her pain.

To Identify With the Grieving

Why is this important to reflect upon? When we enter the pain of the parents we are also drawn into solidarity with the questions of life, justice, and hope they presently carry. This solidarity challenges and extrapolates notions connoting how we are like the parents of Trayvon — hurt, embittered, and seeking peace within.


In contrast notice how the current energy builds on identifying with Trayvon, which in turn implicates the shooter. We are then drawn into the “us versus them” dialectic. The demonization of the other builds, sides are chosen, and we are left to wait for the justice system to resolve the conflict while the community falls apart.


I argue this is one reason we lack reconciliation and hope for a better future. In this way forgiveness is as far as east from west. Bitterness grows and intolerance driven deeper. Hatred becomes daily bread.


By entering into the pain of the grieving parents, we are drawn closer to reconciliation. The community is brought nearer to the possibility that the perpetrator will acknowledge his own pain and misgivings, because the public consciousness is squarely focused on the healing of a grieving family. From bitterness and anger to forgiveness. Families can lament the loss of life, and truth has a chance of embracing justice.


Is this too “fairy tale” for some. No doubt. Does this mean we disengage the justice system? No! It means the market place of ideas, churches, neighborhood organizations, etc., must engage its own process of healing. A process the justice system was never designed to do. The end of all matters is not a conviction. The end is that enemies become friends.


Tali Hairston

Tali Hairston has guided the Perkins Center at SPU since its founding in 2004. He is leading Seattle Pacific in a comprehensive initiative born out of a dream and a partnership between SPU President Philip Eaton and the legendary reconciliation advocate Dr. John Perkins.


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