There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: . . . a time to tear down and a time to build up. – Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3a
First, a correction: last week I spelled a name incorrectly. The name was Stallone Trosper who was killed on July 18, 2015 at the Center of Hope in Riverton. I put only one “l” in his first name. I deeply apologize because I heard that I hurt his family by doing that. I confess that spelling is not one of my strong suits, but I also know I do not like it when people misspell my name. I also did not describe the weapon correctly. It was a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol that was used in the killing.
The Wyoming Association of Churches’ description about how the incident I described last week was questioned. I had used the word “massacre” to describe the shooting of the Northern Arapaho. One shared that using that word creates harm, not healing, because massacres of Native Americans happened long ago. The word I heard last summer from some Native Americans to describe what happened was “terrorism.” Is that the word I should have used? I certainly am not seeking to prevent healing.
I do know that language matters. I used the word “massacre” intentionally, having checked Webster’s Dictionary. The definition is: “1: an act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty. 2. a cruel or wanton murder.” In my mind, that fit. A witness to the shootings told me what it was like seeing two bullets enter Sonny Goggles, his roommate at the Center of Hope.
I used the word “massacre” to educate, not to sensationalize. I was influenced to use the word because in Chapter 1 of the Massacre at Sand Creek, the author Gary L. Roberts wrote, “For Cheyennes and Arapahos, on the other hand, the Sand Creek Massacre is an enduring trauma, not history, not even past, certainly not something that can be forgotten with an embarrassed apology.” He goes on to say, “Sand Creek is profoundly personal” and is “linked to enduring grievances.”
As a Christian and Methodist, I want to be sensitive to how my culture tends to look at our past only as a way to inform our future, when I am working with people who are suffering from the past and current wrong-doing. Even using the term “racism” offends some to name what happens that results in poverty for minorities in Wyoming. Again, I use that term to educate, not to sensationalize. I believe we cannot have true dialogue that leads to healing and change unless we name it.
What is the motivation of the Wyoming Association of Churches in taking on these complex issues? It is certainly not to become popular, but to promote justice. To love our neighbors requires that we get to know our neighbors and to learn that others may look at things differently. Sometimes it requires some tearing down before we can do building up. The issues and solutions are complex. But working together, we can tear down what needs to be torn down and build up what needs to be built.
Remember the Peace March is on Monday, July 18, 10 am that begins at the Rotary Park across from the Center of Hope at 223 W. Adams Street and ends at the Riverton City Park. Bring your signs and banners and show that you stand with the victims of the on-going tragedy.
Fear not. Be bold. Do justice.