The Thin Blue Line that Runs through Everyone
Yesterday, the city of Phoenix buried one of its own police officers with honors from both the Police Department and the Air Force. But his true memorial was a mass held at his home parish in St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church out in the west Valley. He left behind a wife and two adult sons and his first grandchild. He was a quiet hero, solid reliable husband, father, son and brother. He was a faithful Christian who shared his faith and lived it in his job.
In some ways it was the sadder occasion for all of that, and in some ways it was a sweet occasion to celebrate without the shadow that lingers over some lives of wreckage left behind.
He loved his wife and children. He was good to strangers. And he died protecting regular people in between two different events, a car crash and a person with a weapon.
At his funeral and during the procession between the funeral and his burial there were thousands of images of an American flag with a thin blue line through the middle.
That image of the thin blue line goes back to the Crimean War in 1854 when a thin red line of British soldiers held off a sustained charge from the Russian calvary. But in current usage it is short hand for the role of police standing between order and lawlessness.
In studying culture to write about the kingdom of God, I learned that the police (unlike the military which is always kept separate) in most of history protected the forces of order from the forces of chaos which really meant protected the rich and powerful from the rest of humanity, the mob, considered less than human. The police enforced the will of the powerful on the people.
We are in a strange place in history, really, because of the work of Christian theology on how we view human beings, and the forces of history that have made us consider deeply who all is a human being.
Christianity teaches that every person is made by God and that Christ died for us, all of us, while we were still sinners. So every one of us human beings is a creature of God and worth the death of God’s son in our place. That is true despite racial or ethnic or class or economic differences or similarities. We are all in the reach of God’s grace.
We also fall short of that great love. We all sin. We are all capable of horrible things. We are all potentially chaotic.
The thin blue line runs through each of us. And our country and others are in a great experiment of a culture where the police are usually protecting us from ourselves, as we are both agents of order and chaos.
This reality means that our police officers come to be a symbol not of power, hopefully, but of order and peace that arises from within. Their symbol is properly a shield, not a gun.
Officer Paul Rutherford represented that internal order beautifully and showed that it came from love, God’s love lived through him to his wife, family, friends, and city.
As a Christian I sat and had my faith confirmed as I prayed with thousands of officers from around the state and the Southwest today. And I was reminded of how our symbol of the cross has come to mean unfortunate things for many outside of Christianity, just as the police shield has come to represent a lot of unfortunate things to many in our current moment.
We all fall short of our callings. Pray for the police in our cities and state and country. Pray for a renewal in our country of peace officers and servants of the law and order that comes from and is for the people. I know many officers who pray for that daily. We certainly prayed for more like Paul Rutherford today.
Pray for the church. Pray for a renewal of us, of good men and women who live lives of profound faith and goodness and start to rebuild a legacy of strong marriages, families, and good works. Be the kind of person whose life shines with peace and order.
We are a forgiven people, as we remember daily in Lent. We are a people who live on the mercy of God, but we are called to be a people who forgive, who offer mercy from the depths of the goodness of our lives.
May your life be worth a good funeral, and may you be met with the welcome of our Lord, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”