November 2015 Archives


Michael Lee Marshall

It's the season when we feel a sudden flush of concern for the usually-forgotten homeless population. Our mailboxes are full of charity appeals, and we're eager to help make sure nobody dies of cold on our streets and everyone gets a feast on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. But there's one homeless Denver man who didn't get his turkey dinner this year. He missed it because he was killed a few days before Thanksgiving.

Life is dangerous of course, for homeless people. But Michael Lee Marshall wasn't killed on Denver's streets. Instead, he died in the Denver jail at the hands of those whose avowed duty is to serve and protect. Michael had schizophrenia. After 'disturbing the peace' at a Denver motel, he was arrested. At the jail, a sheriff's deputy restrained the frail fifty-year-old facedown on the ground with a knee in his back. We don't know exactly what happened next--but he was pronounced brain-dead when he reached hospital.

Michael had a lot of cards stacked against him. He was mentally ill. Suffering paranoid schizophrenia from the age of sixteen already placed him in a marginalized and vulnerable position. He was homeless, as so many chronically mentally ill people are. He was in a disadvantaged age group, an older person too young to be considered a senior. But Michael was also African-American. I can't help but wonder if any of this disastrous chain of events would have happened to a white man in Michael's position. Denver has a bad record with regard to violence against prisoners of colour.

There's a lot going on at the moment for the Black lives Matter movement: the recent anniversary of the acquittal of Darren Wilson, the Black Friday protests in Chicago that peacefully shut down an upscale shopping mall, the protests in Minneapolis after the police shooting of a young black man. It's easy for Michael Lee Marshall's death to pass largely unnoticed--although a vigil was held outside Denver Detention Center the next day. But as a Justice and Peace blogger living in Colorado, I can't let this tragedy go unmentioned. My emotions are still raw--Marshall's death touches so many nerves, not only about how we treat people of colour but also about how our society relates to those who are mentally ill, homeless or both. I want to raise my voice in outrage. I want to say, "This must stop. End violence against inmates." I want to speak truth to power--although those in power probably won't read this blog. But perhaps most of all I want to speak to all of us--the kind and compassionate people. The vulnerable in our midst need us to remember them and to raise our voices on their behalf. It's our job to be the friend of the friendless and voice of the voiceless.

Please tweet @MayorHancock to voice outrage and demand change.



10th October: A peace march in Ankara, Turkey, turns to carnage, more than a hundred people killed by a suicide bomb. We're left without words, our emotions raw, thinking of the beautiful country where we were welcomed with so much friendliness and hospitality.

15th October: My mother dies, three days into our nine days of fire ceremonies for Divine Mother. Prayers for her mingle with our intense prayers for all the world's refugees and conflict areas.

31st October: A Russian plane crashes in the Sinai desert, killing two hundred and twenty four. Despite being recently bereaved myself, I can't fathom the grief of someone who lost their son, daughter-in-law and two-year old granddaughter as they returned from a happy vacation. Intelligence soon emerges suggesting this, like the Ankara attack, is an ISIS bombing.

12th November: two suicide bombers detonate explosives in Bourj el-Barajneh, a suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, killing forty-three. A Shia mosque and a nearby bakery are targeted--places that are bound to be crowded with ordinary people, for bread and prayer are central to Middle Eastern life. Many of our friends never hear about this, since it receives minimal coverage. Our news source, Al Jazeera, is on the scene, making sure we take the sorrow of our Lebanese sisters and bothers to heart.

13th November: There are multiple attacks against Shia in Baghdad, including a suicide bombing of a funeral at a Shia mosque that kills 19 people. ISIS claims responsibility.

13th November: The Paris attacks kill more than a hundred and twenty people who were out enjoying a Friday night in the home of joie de vivre. It's a punch below the belt. Again I'm left without words, emotions raw, thinking of such sorrow in the beautiful city where I spent a happy summer decades ago.

For years we've been praying our hearts out over the unraveling situation in the Middle East and North Africa, weeping with those who mourn, yearning for the safety of the refugees. Now we see, for the first time, suicide bombs in Western Europe--the very place to which refugees are fleeing for safe haven from bombs, guns and ISIS. Amid the raw emotions, the pain, shock and horror, I ask what is needed--what is needed from me, as someone who has dedicated their life to world peace? What is needed from us, the privileged inhabitants of wealthy nations. What is needed from us, the human race?

We need to mourn. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. We need to mourn for Paris, certainly--and for Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara, Aleppo, Burundi, Borno, St Petersburg, the West Bank and Gaza too. Only when we are able to mourn together can we find healing.

We need to be painfully aware. This means seeking out news sources that give us a real picture of the suffering of our fellow human beings--and taking the time to absorb and digest what we see, hear and read. It means feeling the losses of people of different continents, cultures, religions and skin colours as our own.

We need to stand in solidarity; solidarity with France, the birthplace of the ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité--liberty, equality and fraternity. And we need to stand in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in conflict areas around the world.

We need to maintain compassion and an open heart. Please don't let these incidents turn us against the refugees, simply because they, like the attackers, are from the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.

We need to commit our lives to the ideals France espouses: liberté, égalité, fraternité. Let us turn our sorrow to compassion, our shock to activism, on behalf of those who are not free, those who are not treated equally, those who remain ignored, unheard, outside the bounds of our fraternity.

Peace for Paris, peace for the world.

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Where do the dead go? This question is as old as humankind. As children we used to visit Sutton Hoo, where an Anglo-Saxon king was buried in his ship, perhaps to sail to the next world, accompanied by all kinds of treasure. While some think consciousness ends with death, many of us intuit that our loved ones are still available to us even after physical death. Though subtle and not-so subtle signs, they reach out to let us know they are still here and still care.

Yesterday I received the first real message from my mother. It was Sunday evening, and after a relaxing day enjoying the late autumn sun and last golden leaves, I had jut gone into the bedroom to fold and sort laundry. Sadananda was cleaning the kitchen and I noticed he was listening to a radio programme on KGNU, our local station, which sounded interesting, so I turned on the last five minutes of it. The show seemed to be talking about coming to terms with death of loved ones and remaining inspired by them.

Suddenly my ears pricked up. The show was going to conclude with a poem written by Henry Scott-Holland, Canon of St Paul's Cathedral in London. Now my mother was a London child and St Paul's was the centre of her world throughout her childhood and girlhood. She described to me how each morning, after a night of bombing, she and her parents would go out to look and see if St Paul's was still standing. As long as it was, they were alright. And Mum was a devout Anglican throughout her life. So I could see very clearly that if I had just more-or-less randomly turned the radio on and immediately there was going to be a message from St Paul's Cathedral about death, this was something Mum really wanted me to hear. And here it is.

Death is nothing at all

I have only slipped away into the next room

I am I and you are you

Whatever we were to each other

That we are still

Call me by my old familiar name

Speak to me in the easy way you always used

Put no difference into your tone

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow

Laugh as we always laughed

At the little jokes we always enjoyed together

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was

Let it be spoken without effort

Without the ghost of a shadow in it

Life means all that it ever meant

It is the same as it ever was

There is absolute unbroken continuity

What is death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind

Because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you for an interval

Somewhere very near

Just around the corner

All is well.

Nothing is past; nothing is lost

One brief moment and all will be as it was before

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Canon Henry Scott-Holland, 1847-1918, Canon of St Paul's Cathedral

From, 'The King of Terrors', a sermon on death delivered in St Paul's Cathedral on Whitsunday 1910, while the body of King Edward VII was lying in state at Westminster:

Published in Facts of the Faith, 1919


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    This page is an archive of entries from November 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

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