We’ve been seeing protests against racial injustice growing and expanding like never before. In the wake of what happened to George Floyd, in the midst of a global pandemic, right after a few other high profile cases of black people dying in police custody, there is an aching hunger for righteousness. And the public is voicing it. And with the rise in public demonstration, we’ve also seen further instances of brutality and unnecessary force.
I’ve been contemplating those two officers who shoved that 75 year-old protester to the ground in Buffalo and did nothing while blood painted the ground around his head. They just let someone else clean up the mess they made. Well, now they’ve been charged with felony assault and this is a good time to think about what it means to enter public service.
Not everyone’s job makes them a public servant.
Not everyone’s career requires that they take an oath.
I come from a family of public servants. My grandpa was part of the fire department, was mayor of his small town in Nebraska, and operated a grocery store—protecting, leading, and feeding his people. My other grandpa worked for many years as an engineer, helping to literally build our society. My grandma was a teacher. My mom was a teacher. My dad was a nurse. My sister is a lawyer. We help people, that’s who we are.
Way before I was a priest I worked a summer in the accounting office for CA Dept of Parks and Rec. I commuted by light rail, seeing the many derelict and redlined areas of our city until I finally got to my stop at 9th and N. I had a very small paycheck and had almost no human contact on the job because it was basically just data entry. But as a government employee I was still required to swear an oath to uphold the constitution. I often walked to the capitol on my lunch break to remember what I was part of.
Later, I worked in education. No oath this time, but I very much felt the sense of duty that comes with being a public servant. I’ll never forget the feeling of taking care of my kids when bad things happened—knowing that even the kids posing a danger were under my care. I was proud to work for the people of Roseville, to use my gifts in serving students, and I was charged with the responsibility of helping to fulfill each student’s right to an education.
When I became a priest, I made vows that I think about everyday. It guides my actions, tempers my thoughts, and reminds me exactly why I’m here.
Most of us have days that we feel like we’re not living up to our oaths and that’s normal; it calls us to work harder and to keep trying to become better. And if you really can’t live up to it then the most faithful thing you can do is stop pretending, because that’s how people get hurt.
So to those who are public servants, and to those who swear oaths or make solemn vows: let it guide your actions, let it temper your thoughts, and let it remind you why you’re here.