Last week's events knocked the breath clear out of me.
So did the words of the young black man who stood in front of our congregation on Sunday.
"Silence is violence."
His voice rang clear, reverberated, and fell full right into the laps of our predominantly white congregation. Three words out of that man's mouth, and this time I was the one shot point blank.
Found guilty in 15 seconds flat.
But this time, justice was served. I’m guilty as charged. I have been silent. Conspicuously quiet. Lacking words.
What do you say when the wheels come off of a well perpetuated illusion?
What do you say when confronted with crimes you didn’t even know you were committing?
You say something. Anything.
If silence is violence, then we must speak up.
I texted my friend Jackie with her dark black skin and smooth Kenyan accent. “How can we do better?” I asked. “Where do we start?” “What can we do when we don’t know what to do?”
I, a white Christian, asked these questions of Jackie, a black Christian, because the burden of inactivity had grown too great to bear. And I’d rather ask questions than remain silent.
I’d rather risk being viewed as ignorant, unaware, and undiscerning rather than appear uncaring or unconcerned. As a Christian, I might be able to justify being any of the first three, but I must never be the second two. I must go out of my way to make sure I am never the second two.
“Thank you so much for asking.” Jackie wrote.
Thank you so much for letting me. For giving me room to fumble this issue. Because without a doubt I will.
And instantly, I know what it is that has me entangled and afraid - what it is that has kept me silent? That demon, pride. My trepidation in broaching this issue has been tightly tied to the fear that I would do it wrong. Make a misstep and expose myself for what I am - flawed and complicit. A part of the problem. Pride goeth before the fall, and so I stumble on down.
I’m not educated enough about these issues to talk intelligently about all the ins and outs of how we have gotten to the place where we are. My perspective and knowledge of the causation, the history, the social psychology, and daily realities of this thing are dim and lacking.
But I have eyes to see what is going on right here right now. I have a voice with which to cry out. I have hands with which to reach out.
So just because I feel inadequate to speak authoritatively about these issues from a social perspective doesn't mean that I am unequipped to address this issue from a theological perspective. That I can do because God has given us plenty of direction on these very things.
So let's start with what God has plainly made clear and go from there.
This is about you and God.
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." Matthew 22:36-38
First Things First: What it is and what it isn't
White Christian, the first thing we must do is get our heads rightly wrapped around this issue. We must see it for what it is.
It is not primarily an issue about the color of one's skin but about the state of our hearts.
It is not primarily an issue of having a right relationship with our fellow man, but about having a right relationship with our God.
This is not primarily a social issue, but a theological one.
We'll never get this right if we don't work this issue from the inside out. This issue begins with you and God.
This is the place we will find our footing.
This is where all of it first began making sense to me.
I may be murky, unsure, and self-conscious about how my black friends, neighbors, and the black community in general could view my feeble attempts to get this right, about their expectations of me, and inevitable disappointments in me on this - But I am crystal clear on what God expects from me here, and I know full well how far His grace extends when I fall. When I rightly see this issue as being primarily about me and God, the correct order of things begin falling in place. So if this thing is primarily about us and our relationships with and obedience to God, then what charge has God given us in respect to these matters of race, injustice, and social inequality? As always, we will find our way by following the light.
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
We must cling to Biblical truth on these matters. Here is what the Bible teaches...
We are all created in the image of God.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them Genesis 1:27
We are made in the image of God.
Each and every one of us.
From the man holding the gun to the man staring down the barrel of it. We dehumanize and demonize each other, and in the process we belittle the One in whose image we are made.
There's something within the DNA of each and every human that reveals to us something about God. I don't want to miss the opportunity to learn something more about Him while I'm here because I refuse to slow down and look those who are different from me full in the face, searching intently for that thing in them that God has placed within them: His very image.
What do their specific characteristics reveal to me about Him? What can they teach me about Him that I don't know? As image-bearers we bear the burden of sincerely seeking out His image where He has placed it; in each and every one whom He has created.
We are called to love our neighbor.
Well knowing the capacity He had placed within the human heart to love, God charged us not just to love Him, but also to love each other.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:36-39
Love is a verb. An action word. It always acts on behalf of the other. And neighbor is a term we mustn't get tripped up on.
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:29-37
Did you catch that?
A neighbor is not a person you have but the person you are. We must "prove to be neighbors" as we seek His image out in every person along the way. And as the good word tells us, when we seek, we will find...
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them,
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:34-40
We find God when we show love to our neighbors.
Wherever people are in need.
Wherever people are alone.
Wherever people are hurt.
Wherever people are afraid.
Wherever people are vulnerable and oppressed
This is the place where Christ-followers should be. Because this is the place where Jesus is.
When boiled down to basic Biblical truths, the dingy and convoluted waters of racial tension become so suddenly clear. Gods' expectations from us on this issue are as such:
We must love Him. We must recognize others as made in His image and love them as such. That's pretty basic. But how revolutionary.
How do these things play out practically in the day to day living of our everyday lives?
(Many thanks to Jackie for spelling it out for me.)
We must pray.
Because only Christ can get to the heart of these issues. Only He can bring the clarity, conviction, peace, and unity we need.
We must be present.
This will look a million different ways in a million different places. It might be as simple as eye contact, a smile, and small talk in line at the grocery story. It might mean inviting those you've never invited into your home over for dinner. It might take the form of praying with families of police officers. It might mean hugging a mom who lost her son. However it looks, being present means that we refuse to not be there. Christians, we are the first-responders. We must be a part of it. Engaging the messiness and trusting God in the midst of it.
We must listen.
Let me be more specific: We must hear each other. To do this, we must intentionally place ourselves in places where we have a chance to really listen to different realities. We cannot rightly live our life expecting others to come to us, we must go to them. We must enter into their lives and listen to what they have to say.
We must talk.
We must make room for conversations to occur. We must actively engage. We must ask questions, fight hard to understand the issues, and discuss solutions.
We must do these things now.
We must be proactive instead of reactive. So that the next time our breath is knocked out by the nightly news, our "I'm praying", "I'm so sorry", "I'm here if you need me" won't fall flat but actually mean something. And what a far way we will have travelled by that point, from saying nothing to actually meaning something.
How absolutely revolutionary might that be?
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