In your letter to me last week you asked four questions, the first of which was, “How can I hope to bridge the gap and promote meaningful conversation in regard to race?” While I don’t have THE answers, I will attempt to respond to this question and the remaining three in a way I think may serve to bridge that gap, rather than divide.
Sometimes the bridge you speak of may take us into unknown territory. Sometimes the crossing may feel precarious or fragile. Yet we both know the journey is imperative if we are to establish, heal and restore relationships.
It’s important for us to continue to ask questions, to be honest in our responses, and to be kind and compassionate, just as you have done in your letter – as we and our readers have done so far in this conversation. We must make room for a diversity of responses and do our best to understand the cultural view and experience of the other. And we must speak from the foundation of the love and grace of Christ.
“How can I make my white brothers understand what a black mother fears these days?”
Truthfully, Lilka, I don’t know if our white brothers have a desire to understand this, just as I honestly don’t know if they have a desire to understand what women in general fear or are concerned with. I believe our conversation must start with women: mothers, sisters and daughters. We then must identify both men and women who are free in Christ, who have received His grace and are able to see beyond their own agenda, who are willing to allow the Spirit to transform their hearts and minds.
We must work to gently open men’s hearts one step at a time; we must be vulnerable with them, even though this, in and of itself, can be intimidating. I only know anger does not work. Anger begets anger and leads to marking territories. If we are able to take them by the hand and look them in the eyes and see their hurt, and see each one as God sees him, I believe we may have a chance.
Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, let God transform you from the inside out by renewing your mind and changing the way you think. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and what God finds good, pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
“When a man chooses to take a stand, or in this case, a knee, why is he ridiculed, threatened and viewed with disdain? Why can’t people see there is a difference between an ‘idol’ and respect?”
We have seen this before (and have written about it previously) regarding the flag and the pledge of allegiance. As Christians, our memory is short. We forget we are to have no other God before our God. Yet we make the same mistake as the Hebrews in Exodus who worshiped the golden calf; we worship many things as our idols, and become angry when others fail to worship them. A flag, a song, a candidate: none of these are God; none of them has the power to save.
Didn’t Jesus speak for the broken-hearted, for those who received unjust treatment? Are we to turn a blind eye because we refuse to take the time to understand the neighbor who Jesus said to love? Do we automatically scoff when our friends jeer and mock because it’s all too easy to ridicule what we don’t understand?
Yes, it’s sometimes hard work to get to know someone, to take the narrow road to find out who they are and what they think, why they experience hurt and pain and anger when we don’t. It’s so easy to shrug our shoulders and say something sarcastic or dismissive. But Jesus tells us otherwise, and I like the way Eugene Peterson interprets his words in The Message:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up! You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:44-48)
“I understand if you think it’s not ‘your problem.’ But the problem arises when you don’t object; you permit injustice to continue and entrench itself even further. Is that what America has become?”
Lilka, as I said last week, the first thing we need to do is what God expected Cain to do – become our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. I fear our country is becoming more and more “hands off” – not only from other countries but from each other. There was a time it seemed things were moving forward. We seemed to care about people in other countries or states suffering from disasters, we cared about our neighbors, we cared about our families. There was a time great movements happened that changed history for the better.
Now it seems we have folded in upon ourselves; we have become afraid of looking outward. We must become courageous once again.
We must first get to know our brothers and sisters who we see as “not like us.” We must be willing to start the hard conversations. We must be willing to validate the experiences described, take them at face value, and call them what they are: injustice. We must step onto the bridge, even when we don’t see the destination. If we do anything less, we discredit and negate the stories of people of color. For these are not random stories; they are a monumental and statistically significant collection of incidents that make up a system of injustice.
We must then take the hands of our brothers and sisters and take a stand with them. We must see these systems for what they are and work together to change them.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend the documentary, “13th.” You can view it on Netflix.
(Addendum: Please be sure to read Pete’s comment below.)