Tuesday, July 12, 2016

To my Dear Brothers and Sisters

This is primarily written to my white brothers and sisters of faith.  Please may I say to you at the beginning that this is not an attack.  No matter how you might feel about the issue at hand, I love you. Let's not lose sight of our common ground, and the truth that our King is great and is working all things toward the culmination of the fullness of His Kingdom.  I look so forward to celebrating that day with you.  

Sunday night, after the kids were in bed and the dinner dishes spread out to dry,  I drove to Wal-mart. Our project that afternoon had been to lay a paver patio for our outdoor table.  We were five pavers short, and I was determined to finish before bedtime.  I paced up and down the outside aisle of mulch and dirt.  No patio pavers in sight.  Disappointed, I trudged back to my car, and as I opened the door, I noticed a middle-aged couple a few spots over struggling to fit a large box in their trunk.  He was African-American; she was white.  The box wasn't fitting.  He called over his shoulder to a youngish white man.  "Young man, you come over here and give me a hand, will you?"  The man gave him a look of utter disdain and disgust, muttered something which I could not hear, and walked right past the black man.

The look on the black man's face was a pain and anger so deep that I wanted to look away.  He stared after the white man, and for a moment, he looked as if he wanted to follow after the man and respond to whatever hateful thing had just been said.  The woman touched his arm as if to keep him there, and I wondered how many times she had done that, how many times she had held him back in the face of blatant disrespect and disregard.

I knew then, the stinging tears welling up in my eyes, that I needed to write this post.  It is the post I didn't want to write.  It feels as though everything's already been said.  The Internet is a swollen river of opinions, and there are plenty of hot-headed rapids but so few eddies of grace.  Did I really have anything else to say, and I did I really want to enter the raging waters?

Monday, I walked home from work.  Two yards over, a giant Confederate flag waved from the the tailgate of my neighbor's truck.  One yard over, a black man lives in a bungalow with maroon shutters.  The flag waves only a stone's throw from his front door.  Every time he leaves or returns, how can he not see it?  Is he supposed to see it?  Is it a message for him, I wonder?

Church, do we see?  Are we listening?  

May I tell you one more story?  This one is my story, and I am sure it is also the story of many of you who are not African American, but who are women.  I am a woman who walked streets in India and was touched on the bottom or breast by men walking the other direction.  A woman who stood in a crowded subway and had no where to escape from the men who rubbed themselves up against me.  I am a woman who runs the streets of her small hometown always on alert.  I am not paralyzed with fear, but I am aware of every loud truck, every car that slows down, every man walking on the other side of the road.  I  abhor the cat calls and whistles, and I want to get right in the face of every man who offers such and remind him that I am not an object for his pleasure, I am a image bearer of God.  I've even had men yell at me when I was in my front yard weeding my flowerbeds. When I come home and tell Aaron of another whistle, another objectification, can you imagine the pain I would feel if he responded with,

"Well, it's your own fault for dressing like that."

"You were in the wrong place; you shouldn't have been there."

"You're imagining a threat that's not there."

"Statistically speaking, only one woman who was out running has been raped in this town in the last decade."

If he did (and he doesn't), my heart would instantly shut down.  Aaron would not be a safe place for me to share my vulnerability and fear.   He would not be a person I could trust with that burden.  And here's the kicker -- even if all of those statements were true, they do not change my reality.  My reality is that I will always feel slightly threatened as a woman when I run alone.

My reality as a middle class white woman is not anywhere close to the reality of black America; I have been born into a privilege that I've done nothing to earn but automatically inherited.  But oh friends, those imaginary responses to my reality?  I am so deeply grieved that they are responses I have seen offered to the black community this week.

I have cried over these answers I've seen held out.  I have cried the hardest because we--followers of Christ--have had some of the strongest reactions.  We're offering our statistics; we're insisting our mantra of "all lives matter" does more to reconcile than their mantra; we're drawing lines and choosing sides.  And maybe, just maybe, what we need to do most is just sit with our black friends and weep with them.  To tell them as many times as we can, "Your life matters.  Your people matter.  I am sorry."  If we did this, what would that tell black America about Christians?  More soberingly, what are we telling them now?

From my broken heart, here are the prayers I'm praying for us.

Father, please help us to stop changing the subject.  Please help us to be brave enough to sit in the pain of racism and let it uncover the truth in our own hearts.  Please help us to listen to the black community and to be humble enough to not need to offer a rebuttal.

Father, please help us to stop assuming we know how black people feel.  You've let me hear the stories this week: the mother who reminds her 14 year old son to not wear his hoodie outside of the house because more than anything she aches for him to come home alive.  The black pastor who visits several grocery stores asking for donations for a charity event and is given nothing, but when he returns with a white colleague, receives donations from every stop.  Jesus, help me to validate these stories by my admission that I do not understand the weight of a dark skin color in this country. Take away my pride that would say otherwise.

Father, please help us to stop claiming that we aren't racist and that racism isn't a thing anymore.  We pray that you will open our eyes and our hearts.  We pray that you would bring injustice to light before us.  We ask for a unswerving humility to replace our indignation that we might be considered racist.  Would you uncover our silence in the face of oppression?

Father, please break our hearts.  Jesus, forgive us for our sin.  Jesus, forgive us for the sins of our fathers.  Forgive us for our assumptions, opinions, and worldviews that we have held onto more tightly than we have held onto You.  May we see your Cross with such great clarity in this time, your cross that calls us to die for our neighbor and for our enemy alike.

The world is watching, my friends.  We are the face of Christ to a world with gaping wounds, and oh, let us not convince the world that the face of Christ is white, or Republican, or middle class, or fill-in-the-blank with any of our ideologies that we confuse with the Man himself.

I love you, Church.  You are my brothers and sisters.

But I am convinced that we can do better than this.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us.

*A footnote with a couple things I've found very helpful.  If you're concerned about the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement, I urge you to read this transcript of a recording by Pastor John Piper.  http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-can-we-learn-from-black-lives-matter  
For a kind and honest perspective from a black woman, check out this blog post.  http://www.shannanmartinwrites.com/2016/07/dear-white-christian-women.html