Despite the unnerving barometric swings our country is experiencing, I’m excited for the rain. We desperately need it.
“Why are they so upset about something that happened 400 years ago” “there are many other countries with much worse racism” “there has always been racism and always will be” “nothing bad will happen if you just obey the law” “it’s not near as bad as everyone is saying” “we just need to not call people white or black- that’s what creates the problem” “Jesus is the answer” “We’ve come so far, why can’t people celebrate that?” These are direct quotes from people I love and respect. They post video clips of a few rich and famous POC who haven’t experienced the pain, fear and loss multitudes of minorities live with and say there really isn’t a problem. Then there are the carefully chosen quotes from MLK, ignoring his many other powerful statements about the consequences of oppression (as a woman growing up and serving in evangelical churches, I know all about carefully chosen snippets to keep me in my place- but that’s another conversation)
speaking of MLK- I read his letter from the Birmingham jail for the first time last year. It was so amazing, I decided to make it an annual tradition. If you’ve never read it, I highly encourage you too. Here is a link. https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Letter_Birmingham_Jail.pdf
I honestly understand the attraction to this downplaying and denial. If I can stay in this safe echo chamber and build a bigger and stronger case against the reality and evils of racism and oppression, then I can avoid the pain of self-reflection and responsibility. Sadly, I was able to do this for a long time.
Throughout my adulthood I’ve read many classics and biographies of POC of the past and ached over the ugly history of my beloved country. My home church in Fairbanks has always had a heart for reconciliation and unity and actively engages with and supports local black and native Alaskan congregations. I’ve traveled extensively and lived in various regions of the US and been blessed with many friends who have bravely shared their stories. It’s been a long journey to where I am now, choosing to step out of my safe space, not knowing how to heal this massive wound, but knowing I can’t NOT do something. As a follower and lover of Jesus, it’s not an option to walk past my scared and discouraged neighbor; I cannot step over the broken body and pretend I didn’t see it or shift the blame on the victim (I imagine the priest and the Levite quickly created similar arguments in their heads to absolve their responsibility as they ignored the plight of their neighbor.) Jesus made it clear who He came to love- the sick, poor and oppressed- and as His followers we are to do the same.
I’ve casually listened for years, concerned and perplexed, but keeping my distance by holding on to some of the denial in these opening statements. But now it’s getting really loud and I either have to crank up my own noise, cover my ears, or step outside and listen like it matters. Because it does matter. These brothers and sisters matter. So instead of finding arguments to shut them up or deny their experiences, I’m quieting myself and listening. It’s painful and at times overwhelming. I’m losing sleep. I may be losing friends. (Sadly, I have found that genuinely trying to live like Jesus causes lots of rocks to fly, often from the hands of mouths of the religious.) But it’s OK. The Good Samaritan didn’t make careful calculations before interrupting his journey and carrying a wounded stranger to safety. He generously gave all that was needed for the moment and covered any future costs as well. Because that’s what love does.
So I’ve halted my plans, stepped off my donkey and I’m crouching down to listen to the cries of my neighbor. I’m not going to tell him that I wasn’t the one who beat him up, or to cheer up because this road used to be much more dangerous, or to groan quieter so my nerves aren’t irritated by his noise and I’ll be more willing to listen, or that his wounds aren’t that serious, or that he ought to be grateful he wasn’t on such and such a road where even more people get beat up. No, with love I’m going lift him up and respond as generously as I can. Right now that looks like listening, reading, researching, praying and being responsive to the people around me. I’ve begun a recommended book list and already I’ve learned so much and see so many opportunities and ideas for how to bring about healthy change. I love my country and I want to see all Americans enjoy the same safety, freedom and opportunities I have. This isn’t “us” versus “them”, “right” versus “left”, “black” versus “white”; this our community holding a flashlight for our brothers and sisters as together we come against the darkness of the enemy. But first, I must shine it on myself.