Monday, January 30, 2023

To See or Not See A Child of God: Why Tyre Nichols Died

Objectify (verb) 1. Degrade to the status of a mere object --Oxford Languages,

First off, I must confess I’ve yet to have the courage or the heart to watch the 67-minute video the Memphis Police Department released last week. The body and security camera footage showed in graphic detail, the arrest and subsequent torture, and deadly use of force, against Tyre Nichols. Up until that traffic stop, Tyre was just a young man out on a beautiful night, an amateur photographer shooting pictures of the sky.  And then he went to drive home.

And then…oh my God, then!

The details of this horrific killing at the hands of five Memphis police officers are now public record.  How Nichols was pulled over for reckless driving, a claim refuted by video footage. How Tyre was ordered from the car, then pushed down on the ground, then pepper sprayed, then chased, then tasered, then pepper sprayed again, then beaten by so many fist blows and baton strikes to the face and the head and the body, and then leaned up against a car and, essentially, left to suffer, by five human beings.  While Nichols lay dying, waiting for medical workers to arrive (who took too long to treat him), the five officers spoke to each other as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. They good naturedly ribbed one another, complained about work, swapped stories, and acted as if it was just another night on the job.

They behaved as if it was some “thing” less than a human being, they’d encountered that evening. To them, I can only conclude, after reading transcripts of the video, Tyre was not a fellow child of God suffering, in need of their immediate help, no. To see the still images of them that night, how they behaved, it seemed they saw Tyre as somehow subhuman. I don’t how else to explain this horrific occurrence, and the oh so many other horrific occurrences of police brutality and acts of murder, on civilians, and so often upon young African American men. Tyre now takes his place with Trayvon, and George and Stephon and Philando and, and, and.  

How does a group of human beings act so callously towards another human being?

How do they go from being dads and fathers, coaches and co-workers, church members and sons in one setting, but then in another setting, they suddenly become brutes? How do people sworn to uphold the law and “protect and serve” the general public devolve so quickly into a chaotic and bloody mob? Cops have one of the toughest jobs in the world, of that I have no doubt. I do not envy their work. I am grateful for the many good cops and yet, this must said. There is nothing, there is nothing in any ethical or moral system that justifies or excuses how Tyre Nichols was treated the night of January 7th.  How his injuries led to his death three days later.  How too many other young men have died in a similar way.

Where was any mercy, any compassion, any restraint, or any shred of humanity?

In some ways, what most disheartens and angers me about Tyre’s unnecessary and unjustified death and others like his, is how he was just an object to other humans.  Not a subject. Not a flesh and blood life, not a son and a community member and an artist. No. For when any of us as human beings decide to view another person as an object—because of their race or religion, their “otherness”--it can allow us to wrong that person, to hate that person, to hurt that person. 

After all, they are just an “It”, right?

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber opined that humans relate to other humans in one of two ways, in one of two kinds of relationships.  “I”- “It” or “I”- “Thou”.  “I”- “It” denies the essential worth of the other person and sees them as an object.  “I”- “Thou” affirms that all humans beings are deserving of dignity, respect, honor and yes, love. So, relationships become sacred, even holy, when we see within another person what we share—our humanity. By knowing another as “Thou” we can even see the spark and light of God that resides in every single soul.

“I”- “It”. “I”- “Thou”.

That is the choice for all of us as children of God. Tyre was a beautiful child of God, and my faith promises me that he is with God now but there is no joy in this, none. You see he was supposed to live for many more years and take so many more pictures and know love and live to his fullest. Be a human being and a citizen and a neighbor, like me, like you.

Thou. Thou. Thou.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts ( He blogs at and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch:






Friday, January 20, 2023

My Little Town: Returning Home After 33 Years Away

“In my little town, I grew up believing, God keeps his eye on us all….Lord, I recall, in my little town.” --Simon and Garfunkel, 1975, written by Paul Simon

Whoever said “you can’t go home again” was wrong, at least for me, at least on a recent chilly January Saturday, when I did go home. Again. 

I returned to one of the places I called home when I was growing up: West Springfield, Massachusetts. This little town was my home from the 6th to the 12th grade, from early adolescence and oh so awkward puberty to my eighteenth year when I grew a full mustache and beard and then went away to college and my parents moved. Again. Forty-three years ago, I left “West Side” as it was nicknamed, and set out for the rest of my life, never really looking back.

Yes, I’d returned to my little town once, a decade ago, spent an afternoon riding around its streets and driving past the homes my family lived in, houses that looked so tiny somehow, shrunken from my memory’s image, neighborhoods that were at once both familiar and yet, so foreign too. I drove past the high school I attended and tried to go in but the doors were locked and so I was forced to squint through the windows to try and get a glimpse of the place where I fell hard for my first girlfriend, at 16, Charlene, she with her Irish eyes and smile and kind ways.  At this school I grew to know all too well, what the phrase “sex and drugs and rock and roll” meant. It’s the place I was bullied for being unwilling to fight, and the place I found shelter in the love of a small group of loyal and fun and trusted friends. 

It’s the place I became, in part, the me I am this day. My little town.

So, on a Saturday last week, when my GPS directed me to the streets I’d walked as a kid and driven as a teenager, I was surprised by how much I knew the landmarks and did not know this place at all anymore.  When we return to the spot where we were born or where we grew up, its natural to take an inventory, of that which still is and of that which is long gone.

I crossed a familiar bridge over the wide Connecticut River that separates the city of Springfield from its western suburb. That crossing over evoked a flash of déjà vu, as if I had just driven over it in my parent’s pale green 1974 Buick LeSabre land yacht. The 1950’s era boxy glass and wooden church on Westfield Street where I first met God for real, at youth group--it looked the same too. 

But lots of places were changed or gone. The bank I worked at, Third National Bank. It became Bank of New England that begat Fleet Bank that begat Bank of America. The Sears Department Store where I bought Christmas gifts for my family as a kid (bubble bath for sister, socks for Dad) was torn down, replaced by a strip mall. Gone. As was Donut Dip where it was ninety-seven cents for a dozen donuts, as was Duke’s Variety Store, the best hangout corner in town.

Maybe I should apologize here for sounding like a nostalgic old man, but I guess that’s what I am these days, some days at least, especially that day I made a pilgrimage to the little town where a generation ago, I came of age.  When you’ve got more years behind you than years in front of you, it’s hard not to occasionally drift to the past and remember when, and if you are blessed or if you are mellowed, you can look back with fondness.

The best part of that journey back in time was just being with some of my oldest friends in the world. It was me and Brian and Joe and Bob, and by Facetime and text, Dennis, and Dave, all together again, over eggs and bacon and coffee. I hadn’t spent any significant time with these guys for thirty-three years. We all spoke of our families, kids, grandkids and spouses and jobs still going on and retirement and, of course, we told stories about life in high school all those years ago. 

The emotion I most felt, as I drove away from that reunion, was gratitude. It was a deep and abiding feeling that God had given me just the community of friends I needed at that time in my life and that though we were now separated by so much time that had passed, still we had been friends and we were friends, and we will be friends.

My faith has given me two ways to look at life that I could not live without. The first is that it encourages me to always, always look for the good in my world, for the blessings, for grace, for love that is looking for me, love unexpected, but there it is. Always. Wow. I can see this life as either a miracle of abundance or a deficit of scarcity. I can live with daily thanksgiving, or I can live with aggrieved entitlement. Faiths tells me to be thankful for gifts like old friends.

Faith tells me to be a person of memory and remembering too. In a way, faith is founded in memory. Folks of faith gather together to remember sacred stories and then bring those stories into this present life. When we remember, we re-member. We get back together. We hear the God stories again and give thanks and then keep on living and keep on loving.

In my little town.  I remembered. I remember. Thank you, God.  

 The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts ( He blogs at and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch:





Saturday, January 14, 2023

We All Need Heroes and Heroines. Thanks Rev. King!

“The history of struggle is rich with stories of heroes and heroines - some of them leaders, some of them followers, all of them deserve to be remembered.”                --Nelson Mandela

I’ve always needed heroes and heroines in my life. Women and men, who, by the ways they live or lived, inspire me. Folks who by their life examples, make me want to just be a better person. To take whatever gifts God gives to me and then to use them, not for self alone but also to make the world a better place as well.

Who is your hero? Your heroine?

I discovered my first hero at eight years of age, a time when so many of us first find someone larger than life, someone to look up to. He was a baseball player named Carl Yastrzemski who played left field for the Boston Red Sox. For me, he was a Greek god-like person, who had seemingly superhuman powers to bend the will of the world to himself. Yaz was his nickname. (Is that cool or what?)

When me and the neighborhood boys would play wiffle ball on endless summer days in the backyard, I always tried to copy Yaz’s unusual batting stance. He held the bat so high above his head and at such a tilted angle. He looked like a coiled machine, ready to spring forth in an explosion of power.  He hit the ball over Fenway Park’s Green Monster. I hit the ball over the rusty chain link fence that marked the border and the back boundary of our playing field.

Then I learned my first lesson about heroes. He was fallible.

Heroes are finally just humans with feet of clay like you and I. That truth came home to me on the final day of the season in 1978 when he was the last batter in a one game playoff against our nemesis, the New York Yankees. I huddled by the radio that September afternoon and listened to every pitch, strike and hit with worry and hope, especially in the bottom of the ninth when Yaz came up to the plate with two out and the Sox losing 5-4.

And then Yaz popped out. Game over. We lost. Say it ain’t so Yaz.

Then I grew up a bit more and grew into my next hero, just as I realized my call to work in the church. I began that journey and got to go to the school where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had attended, Boston University School of Theology. It was in Boston that he also met his wife, Coretta, and they both fell in love.

And so I discovered a new hero, MLK.

He showed me that a preacher didn’t just stay in the pulpit preaching flowery rhetoric and praying poetic prayers. A preacher was also supposed to get out into the streets and world too, and take the moral lessons of religion and bring them into the social realm.  King put his life on the line to help secure the civil rights that all God’s children in America are entitled to, not just legally, but morally too, as a matter of justice. King spoke out on racism, and also on the sin of poverty in America and the waste of human life that marked the Vietnam War. King used non-violence and peaceful protest to get the message of radical love across to society, especially to his opponents.  That unwillingness to seek an eye for an eye confounded his enemies.

Like Yaz, like all the folk we see as saints, King was human too. He did not live without temptation and stumbles, but I’ve learned that the best heroines and heroes live fully human lives, and become vehicles for love, hope and peace to break into the world, not through angelic hosts but instead through cracked and earthen vessels.

Like Rev. King. Like you. Like me. 

And then Pastor King was murdered, cut down by an assassin’s bullet, killed not just by a gun but by hatred too and prejudice. America’s national sins that still burn brightly and call forth for more heroines and heroes to act for the common good. That’s the final lesson I’ve learned from my heroes.

Heroic work takes time, commitment, discipline, and a willingness to embody goodness in how we live.  Heroic work comes not overnight as some flash in the pan star or hollow celebrity shout outs, no.  Heroines practice, practice, practice.  Heroes try and try and try again. 

My new hero, new heroine? Folks who protest injustice with their feet and their votes.  Humble folk who serve the least among us in our world: the poor, the hungry, the forgotten, the lonely. People who see all the challenges our nation faces and yet they refuse to give in or to give up. They keep on keeping on.  They live hope.

Maybe you are the hero or the heroine our world has been waiting for. What better time that this Martin Luther King Jr. long weekend to find out. 

Be a hero. Be a heroine. You can do it.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts ( He blogs at and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: