The Blood Between Us

alton-sterling-philando-castile
Alton Sterling
Philando Castile
Black bodies are more than a hashtag. This, for you and unnamed others, in higher hope.
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I’ve been hiding. The past 2 days, I’ve been hiding and peeking around corners and turning off the lights and pretending I’m asleep a lot. When I am with people (especially white people), I’m still hiding– half-hearted smiles and cantaloupe at a barbecue and passing off tears for sweat.

And then I’m in a parking lot with my white-skinned fiancé and his blue eyes are panicked as I’m screaming and sobbing and I choke out a string of sentences that I didn’t even know lived in my brain…
You can’t wait to feel something until you have a black son
People deserve your tears all on their own
We’re real people
I can’t be the only black body in your life
They don’t see us as human

And the last one hung in the air with a stench… You will always be better than me

And I don’t know how it got to this place but in that moment, I realized something:
Telling a white person that you feel less human than them, makes you feel less human than them, for the simple reason that they will never have to say those words for themselves.

Staring at this white stranger face from a small rural town in central PA, I felt, with indescribable depth, a hopelessness. Despite all our talks of God, our mutual interests, our goals, all our love– in this moment we were made of different things in different worlds and there was no thought, no prayer, no word of wisdom that could bridge the chasms in and between us.

A year and a half ago, I wrote a post in response to Ferguson and police brutality. If you’d like to read the post in its entirety, do so here, I think it will be helpful if you plan to read onward. But in it, I call “for not only justice but reconciliation”. I ended with this, “God is for justice, yes. And the entire gospel cries out reconciliation. Why have we compartmentalized two missions of equal gravity? There’s a lot of talk about justice, but justice without reconciliation is a fool’s errand that will lead to more darkness than lightLet’s talk about fear. Let’s talk about tribes. We’ve talked about what we want; now, what are we going to do?”

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, a Facebook frenzy of bitterness, skepticism and pointing fingers, and that felt chasm in the middle of an empty parking lot is why it is time to answer my own question. What are we going to do?  Will we leash ourselves to lives of reactionary mourning and relational gaps or will we look down at our own crooked hearts and fix the lie that keeps pulling the trigger?

Rallies, protests, social media advocacy–they have their place and it is a meaningful one in pursuit of justice. But in the long and interpersonal work of reconciliation, we can no longer sit idly next to our neighbor, hopelessly waiting for a judge’s decision to mend our breaking hearts. We can no longer sit idly next to our neighbor, staring at a computer screen of opinions to fix the depravity of our own hearts. We cannot go one more day hiding from our neighbors while black body blood spills out without reason and creeps into the spaces between us. We will not survive on mere justice.

We need the restored humanity of our neighbor. Restored relationships. Freedom from chains of fear and blame. We cannot afford to continue to live out these scared, sad, blaming lives without the pursuit of reconciliation. And for the oppressed, that doesn’t mean we don’t cry, it doesn’t mean we don’t protest; it means our cries and our protests will be heard because we refuse to run away from the ears that need to hear us the most. And for the oppressor/bystander, it doesn’t mean you have the rights to the pain or story of your hurting neighbor. Or that we reconcile so everyone can “feel better”. The chief purpose of pursuing reconciliation cannot be to alleviate white guilt and make blacks “feel better”. Reconciliation in light of Christ means staring at our brother and sister who we’ve been made to believe are less human and seeing them for who they are, image bearers of their creator. It means staring at our brother and sister who we’ve been hiding from, mutually acknowledging the profound and unjust chasm between us, and in the acknowledgment itself, taking one step closer.

The more meaningful time you spend crying, laughing, learning, worshipping with people who are “not of your tribe”, the more time you’ll spend thinking about them, understanding them, trusting them. Seeing them. And I have to believe that truly seeing a person is ultimately what stays a hand from pulling a trigger.

In 2 months, I will marry a white male. We will not survive on mere justice. We need to be reconciled. Reconciled because of who we are, where we came from, what our fathers and their fathers and theirs did. Reconciled because of a country built on systemic racism and oppression.

In 2 weeks, another black person will die at the hands of a cop. Whoever they are, wherever they are, they will not survive on mere justice. Our society–the air we are breathing as a culture– it can be a slow poison and until we learn to address the heart condition of the people around us and the systems that made us this way, black brothers and sisters and the image of God they reflect will continue to be purged from this land.

What does this look like practically? I have, against my better judgement, made a 3 point list, because that has a history of making things seem more feasible. It is admittedly geared toward people who believe Christ is Lord, but I hope will still be helpful for others.

                              How to Pursue Reconciliation and Still Demand Justice:                                     Power, Lament, and Truth-Telling

If you are white and do not have at least one meaningful relationship with a person of color. Start there. 

           Power

 If we’re gonna start talking reconciliation we have to think about what kind of power each of us possesses–what we are willing to relinquish and what we need to steward to a better end. The power and image that we have can be the biggest barrier between us and the reality of our own sin. This is especially hard in terms of race because our power and image are both tied so closely to our different “tribes”. Cops are a tribe. Blacks are a tribe. And at the end of the day, we have these two tribes–unwilling to engage in each other’s realities because of the profound loyalty written into their very identity. When reconciling us back to himself and each other, Christ gives up all power, influence, and image on the cross. We need faithful cops acknowledging the injustice perpetuated by other cops. We need conservatives proclaiming black lives matter. And we need people with power and authority willing to discredit colleagues who have racial bias that limits their ability to function rationally. White brothers and sisters, if your primary concern when discussing race-related brutality is maintaining an image of integrity for yourself and the place you came from, you don’t just need to relinquish that power but you need to reorient your heart.

This also means better stewardship of power– use it to bridge chasms. This looks like teachers researching curriculum that honors black thinkers/authors and creating space for children to talk about race from an early age. For a tv producer, it might mean refusing to perpetuate black stereotypes and prejudices. For a parent, it might mean admitting to your children that you have failed at connecting with people who don’t look and think like you. If you are a believer, this means praying for God to expose how you view power dynamics in the relationships that you have. Do you think you are better/smarter/more capable?                                                                                                                  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3

            Lament

I think the reason my heart tends to crave justice more than reconciliation is a clever lie I’ve come to believe that reconciliation means everything is alright. In fact, I think reconciliation itself demands justice. It says something needs to be fixed because things are not alright. If you’re a believer, we are not reconciled back to God because we hung around with him and got to know him more. Rather, Christ on a cross fulfilled the demand of justice in order to establish reconciliation. Nothing was alright until he did so. For God, one could not exist without the other. He was not content with justice without reconciling his people back to Him and truth. And we see very clearly that he does not balance justice and reconciliation without lament. I remind myself that Christ on the cross could have been stoic and silent, but instead he gives us a picture of what our lament should look like when things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Father, let this cup pass from me. My god, my god, why have you forsaken me. Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do. This is an emotional God. A God in grieving. God now calls us to be agents of reconciliation in the world around us, and I can’t imagine how we’ve convinced ourselves that we can do so without lamenting fully the darkness of what we’re in. Our reconciliation will only be as deep as our shared lament. If you don’t feel sad, you are too far away. Get close enough to black brothers and sisters to recognize them as real. Close enough to see their tears. To be confused and uncomfortable. Close enough to cry with them and mean it. It may take time. Don’t fake it. Just get closer.
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13:1-2

            Truth-telling

This week I was fortunate enough to hear a man named Kyuboem Lee speak to college students on reconciliation. At one point he very simply and softly said, “if we want to see reconciliation we have to tell the truth”. I echo that now. We collectively need to relearn what it means to be truth-tellers or our picture of humanity will continue to disintegrate because of mistrust and biases. Whites need to examine their own thoughts/beliefs/privilege and tell the truth about it. If you grew up in an all white town with your only impression of black people being filtered through tv/media that labels them scary, stupid, or ugly, chances are somewhere deep down you might believe some of that. Tell the truth about it.  Be honest with yourself, your family, your friends. Clinging to an image of integrity amplifies distrust when pursuing reconciliation.
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other, that you may be healed.” James 5:16

Black friends, no matter how it feels or what voices you hear in the back of your head, being vulnerable about your pain/wounds to white people does not give white people more power over you. It’s twisted thinking and I’ve been there. You are not weak for your pain. They are not better than you for not having it. We as black people must tell the truth about who we are and what we feel, not because anyone deserves to hear it but because we deserve to be heard.
“And for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

 

Here I will confess that the distance between me and my fiancé in that empty parking lot was bigger than any 3 point list. Here I admit that even as I end this I feel less hope than when I started. I cannot imagine a world where unarmed black people are not being killed at 5x the rate of unarmed whites. Justice seems far and reconciliation seems further. If not for Christ, I’d still be hiding.
Praying this is helpful. And acknowledging a lack of closure.

But who needs closure in a blog post when black blood hashtags are trending on twitter.

Pray with me. What are we going to do?

If you think Jesus would turn away a newlywed gay couple at the door of his pizza shop, you are reading a different Bible than me.

Last week Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). While the fact of the matter is laws like this aren’t anything new, the timing of this particular bill comes uncomfortably close to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. Behold, the eruption of every LGBTQ/Conservative-religious cultural tension abounding on social media these past few days. In short, the purpose of the bill is to ensure that religious freedoms are not oppressed, nor are religious business owners forced to adhere to guidelines that compromise their religious beliefs.

Advocates for the RFRA, would say that the bill does not allow for discrimination against the LGBTQ community, but is helping people live freely inside of their chosen religious beliefs. We want our churches to be able to feed the homeless. We want the right to wear our head coverings in the work place. It’s about freedom to maintain the integrity of a diversity of faiths.

Those opposing the RFRA would say it is opening the door for widescale discriminaton against the LGBTQ community. For example, businesses may now have the ability to cite the RFRA as a defense in businesses declining to cater a gay wedding. With no laws in place in Indiana to protect the discrimination of this population, people fear abuse of the RFRA is inevitable.

 

Indiana Statehouse 03/08/15 Photo by Darryl Smith

So I’ll start with what this isn’t. This is not a post to tell you whether the RFRA is wrong or right. It is not a post to tell you whether or not gay marriage is wrong or right. Frankly, my personal opinions on either is irrelevant and unhelpful for all intents and purposes. In fact, after days of protests, the RFRA is in the process of being altered to alleviate a lot of concern and so I imagine most of this will blow over in time. But as news of the RFRA has spread, there has been an outpouring of bitterness and spite on social media from Christians hiding behind the veil of “religious persecution”. Today, I am most interested in the supposed liberties that many Christians are readily laying claim to. To reiterate this is not about the RFRA or religious freedom in general; rather the ugly that it has spawned.

I will lead with this: if you think Jesus would turn away a newlywed gay couple at the door of his pizza shop, you are reading a different Bible than me.

This is what I’m hearing:

“They would serve gays in their restaurant, they just don’t want to cater their weddings. So what?”

“They are free to choose their lifestyle, we should be able to have that same freedom.”

“We are the ones discriminated against. I can’t even carry a Bible without someone accusing me of homophobia”

Here are my questions:

What in the Bible leads you to believe that you are meant to live a life of freedom and never be discriminated against because of what you believe to be true?

What of Jesus’ behavior and message indicates to you that providing flowers for a gay wedding is a compromise of faith?

How do you prioritize your own personal liberties in respect to God’s commandment to love your neighbor as yourself?

I’m writing this because I wholeheartedly believe there is something deeply evil surrounding how we engage in conversations about homosexuality and God. For this purpose, let’s take that homosexuality is, in fact, a sin and same-sex marriage equally sinful and dishonoring to God. The amount of unadulterated and excused hatred, disgust, and outrage that comes at the thought of this particular “sin” is, for lack of a better word, weird. It lacks reason. I’ve seen level-headed, Bible-reading, hands in the air on a Sunday, respected Christians at their angriest; not when we’re talking about genocide, or rape, or child labor or human trafficking; no, the real rage comes when homosexuality is on the table. It’s a blinding anger. And in my opinion, it’s evidence of how evil is so effortlessly weaved into our rationale in it.

If you’re a man and you think God says don’t get married to a man, then you cannot be expected to get married to a man. Me asking you to do so would be asking you to compromise your religious beliefs.

But serving a man who is getting married to a man? In what way is that compromising any law that Christ ever gave us? We must think critically about this line. What about who we are in God’s eyes, actually changes because we catered a gay wedding? Do we not trust that an all-knowing creator God, can see so far into us that he would know that we are not, in fact, supporting gay marriage, but serving our neighbor?

God at the Table

Jesus called a man by name down from a tree and said, come be with me. Zaccheus didn’t come to Jesus and say, I’m sorry I’m sorry, show me the light make me pure. HE WAS IN A TREE. We’d do well to stop telling the story as if Zaccheus had some worthwhile revelation and then and only then did Jesus call to him. No, in a sea of people fawning over and praising him, he saw a man in the tree, away from him. And chose him. A tax-collector, exploiting his own people for money–oppressing innocent people. Who do you think paid for the table they would sit at together? Oppressed and exploited Jewish people. Whose pain bought the food they would share? And yet it’s that house Jesus wants to stay in. A house built on sin.  You are mistaken if you think that Jesus’s place (and therefore our place) isn’t precisely with people who don’t follow the same rules as us.

Jesus himself broke bread with the very man he knew would betray him. A man who stood for the undeniable rejection of God and his kingdom come, and Jesus gave him a seat at his table.

This is not to say that we should not have claim to religious freedom, but how should we steward that freedom? Might I pause and think– not what freedoms I “deserve” as a Christian, but what the world “needs” in order to be brought closer to Christ.

Could it be that the reason we do not want to provide floral arrangements for a gay wedding is not, in fact, a defense of Christ, but of self? Our reputations, our pride, our fear–I wonder if we are dishonest in our justifications. We say, “Sin sin, They are sinning and I want no part of it.” Well I look down at my own hands and I see sin sin sin, and yet I’m told God still desires me. When did serving sinners become some sort of religious compromise?

Could it be that we are compromising the message of Christ if we do not serve the sinner?

Whatever work God has set aside for you to do, is for the good of ALL PEOPLE and ALL CREATION. It is not our job to choose who is worthy of our gifts and labor.

In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well. She has 5 husbands, hate between her people and the Jews, some would say an adulterer- considered immoral by her own people’s standards. And yet, the longest one on one conversation in all of scripture is with her and Jesus. And he doesn’t just talk to her but asks her for a drink. Sinner. Immoral. Anti-God. Anti-truth. Samaritan woman. He asks for a drink from her, knowing full well this would deem him “unclean”. Over and over again, the Jesus that I encounter in text is about bringing people who are far away from him, closer to him. We read that in scripture and we think how sweet, what a Jesus… but then we isolate the character of God in our attempts to be like him and maybe we think, Dear God, if I ever cross paths with an adulterous polygamist wife who hates Christianity, I will love her like you and then she will come to know you and everything will be okay. But Jesus’s exchange with the woman at the well speaks to the character of God in a profound way. He is for all people. He would compromise what is perceived as his very own law, to engage and serve those who are perceived to be far from God.

I believe we must stop pretending that our main concern is “compromising our Faith” and admit the true and simple factors that send us running to this guise of “religious freedom”. Reputation, pride, and allegiance, not to God, but to our unique tribes of this world are what send us running from our neighbors. You don’t want to support gays. You don’t like it and so you don’t want it. I hear you. But might I be a voice of reason in the chaos and unapologetically declare on page, providing flowers for a gay wedding does not inherently support the wedding, it serves a group of people that we’re too scared or prideful to be associated with.  If you are not the officiator of that wedding, declaring them married under covenant with God, you are not the reason that wedding happened. You are a servant– serving people who you believe to be living in brokenness.

If we truly believe that the core of who we are to and for Jesus is being compromised by serving a gay couple on their wedding day,  I would encourage you to talk through that with pastors and peers. But I suspect when we’re talking about homosexuality, 9 times out of 10, Jesus is just a pretty name we plaster to our ugly so that we can feel good about wearing it. It’s not about Him. Because he is about service and sacrifice. It’s not about him because he broke bread with Judas. It’s not about him because he ate at a table built on injustice. It’s not about him because he called Zaccheus down from the tree.

When we serve a God who is so clearly in the business of bringing people closer to him, I think it peculiar that God’s followers are so bent on pushing people away.

So I ask you two simple questions I’ve learned to ask myself.

Whom do we serve?

Christ.

Who did he serve?

All*

Let us go in peace and truth and “be not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

 

*the sick, the paralyzed, the inconvenient, the sexually immoral, the fraudulent, the oppressor, the thief, the embarrassing, the unseen, those walking in darkness

 

 

 

 

 

[Addendum: Acknowledging this is too vast a subject to capture in a single blog post. This is only a starting point for a conversation that is most fruitful in groups face to face with a Bible open and a prayerfully humble heart. I encourage you to do that. I am open and willing to be a participant in that conversation. ]

Love is in the Air

This one is for the girls who pretend to like sports.

And the guys who would pay money to be able to grow a full beard.

You are loved immeasurably. Read this and weep.

His name was Alex Kilpatrick and he had a rat tail and a binder full of Pokemon cards that he traded at recess.  I was eight and he was eight and he was the first guy whose name I ever scribbled down in tattered notebooks. I still remember the time he picked me 7th for his kickball team in gym class. The time he called me smarter than Molly Bright. And then the time he asked Molly to be his girlfriend. And as I sat against the rusty fence reading Goosebumps and they played tetherball in the field, I will say, I didn’t so much feel sad as much as I felt lonely.

We are lonely people.

And what if, why that is, has more to do with who we were created to be with; rather than, who we have lost.

The most fascinating thing I’ve come to know about God is his desire, above all else, to be with us. In Genesis, he doesn’t just create Eve and Adam and retreat to watch someplace from afar, but he is with them. He walks with them, talks with them, finds them after they eat that fruit. Might it be that the most overlooked truth in the story of creation is simply that, we were created to be with God. And we know from scripture that “God is love”. And God was with us. So True Love was with us. Can you even believe that? Most days, I don’t.

Fast forward past that beautiful reality and we have Adam and Eve, led to disobey God, under the guise that they will become like Him. In that moment they inadvertently choose themselves as gods over the true God. The ripple of that being, an exchange of true Love for the love of ourselves. We want to be the most loved, we want to feel chosen, want to feel “destined” for someone else, and so we end up searching for capital L Love in each other instead of finding it in it’s creator. I don’t mean to say that human love is nonessential or irrelevant or even incapable. But without the firmest grasp on the reality of Agape love, love from your creator, I dare to say that human love will prove futile.  Love from people matters, yes. But it is not everything. It is flawed and often corrupted by a love that is more about ourselves than the person we’re loving.

And so here we are. Here we are pretending to be bad at math so that a guy might feel the need to rescue us. Here we are puffing our chests out and crushing cans on our heads so that a girl might find us a suitable rescuer. Here we are sitting against the fence watching Alex watch Molly.  Here we are changing as much as we can about ourselves to convince someone we are actually worth knowing. All the while our creator himself stands by shouting, I already know you. Whispering, I only create things worth loving. We have, in the widest tragedy that ever was, made ourselves our own gods- gods of faulty love, desperate love, empty love, in order to supplement the inherent void we are meant to feel in a true God’s absence. We have become people that look left to right with desperate eyes, begging to be loved because we’d rather our friends and family worship us than the God who created us. Yes, it is no longer worth pretending that that small voice in your chest screaming “love me, love me” is not that of an idol. We have made ourselves our own gods. And because of that, we are lonely people.

Enter a baby– swaddled in cloths, under a star, and “He will be called “Immanuel”, which means ‘God with us'”. God created us to be with Him. We messed up, you know the deal, but then God went to great lengths to be with us again through the person of Jesus. So when I say “love was with us”, I mean “love is with us”. Love came back for us. And some of you probably know and would say that you believe that much. But when you take a second to be honest with yourself, I think you might also admit, that at the end of the day, you spend more time reaching for the people in your life who might like you, than reaching for the creator that already does.

No greater tragedy maybe; but, no sweeter truth.

God is with us.

We are not alone.

And Love is in the air, because he created the air; not because you do or don’t have a feeling.

So Happy Belated Valentine’s Day, you beautiful saps.

*names changed to protect the real Alex and Molly who maybe got married and lived happily ever after

The Last Thing You Want to Read

“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.” -Kofi Annan

“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.” -Kofi Annan

This is quite possibly the last thing you want to read. You’re tired. You’re tired of reading about it and so am I. I want to scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feed and see “what song are you?” quizzes and people dumping buckets of water on their heads and middle school selfies. I could never get tired of that. I will never again be tired of that. Let’s just go back to that.

Because when I read the word “Ferguson” I feel the things I’ve only read about in books.

When I watch the videos of Garner’s skull being crushed against the pavement, my insides turn to mush and I’m holding my breath with him.

And when I see a red hoodie or skittles, all I can think about is my own little brother. Just not him. Keep him smart. Keep him sharp. Anyone but him. 

I’m tired of reading about it. But what’s more, I’m tired that I have it to read. I have no desire to read about another black man/black child dead on the street at the hands of a white cop, while the world screams Racist Killer or Thug Who Deserved It. And so I retreat. I tell myself that the last thing the world needs is another black voice telling it to pay attention to black voices. So I read every other voice I can find. And I cry. And I pray. And I theatrically punch my headboard. And I keep my voice tucked deep between the lies that I don’t matter and nothing will change.

But as I lay here trying to tuck that voice a little deeper, a little farther back, it begins to scream. Like nothing you’ve ever heard because it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt. Because Eric Garner… and I can’t breathe. And Trayvon Martin and I have a little brother and I cant breathe. And he had his hands up and I’m typing with mine, and no one can breathe– no one can think– no one can live if, despite all our best efforts, at the end of the day, the color of my skin ignites so much fear in a person, that they’d rather kill me than speak words to me.

And if you are tired of reading about this, tired of hearing about this, please wake up. Stop scoffing at protesters and dismissing Facebook posts. Stop rationalizing your privilege and power, stop defending the justice system and this nation’s great strides. And instead, just acknowledge that a population of people is hurting in such a profoundly painful way that some of them might just feel like the only thing left to do is precisely what they’re doing. Think about that. What would drive a person to bash in the windows of their neighbor’s bakery? Think about that. Why would 200 people lay down in the middle of Forbes avenue and stop traffic for hours? Think about that. Stop thinking about your own small world for the next 24 hours and enter into the pain of the people whose hurt has proved an inconvenience to you instead of a plea to your humanity.

People have voices.

And that’s gonna sound cliche and corny to anyone who has never been burdened with the lie that they don’t have one. I know that’s a lie now. Maybe I’ve always known it. And I will use as many words as I need to, in order to tell you: This is not the way it’s supposed to be. These are my thoughts on the past 3 weeks of American history.

I will start with this: I do not believe this to be a “cop vs. black” thing. It’s a “fear and hate vs. the unknown” thing. I stand by that.

We have boiled it down to the former and I think that does little to bring rational progress to a situation that has unimaginable depth. The problem is not cops. It is people. People who have prejudices ingrained in them and become cops. People who have prejudices ingrained in them and become jurors. People who have prejudices ingrained in them and become judges. This is the problem. While brave and noble in occupational choice, I need to be reminded that cops are just people. They are the same people that sat next to me in class. The same people who cut me off and don’t use turn signals. I want them to be superheroes… I’ve made them to be. But they are just humans; hateful and scared like the rest of us. The problem is this: prejudiced individuals who use their positions of trust and authority to invoke power over that which they fear.

What if, Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown that day was not in fact a malicious hate crime of years of pent up aggression toward blacks? What if Daniel Pantaleo was not actually thinking die black guy die I hate you as he squished Eric Garner’s throat above the cries of his voice. What if, despite popular opinion, their dominant emotions were actually fear? I could never be sure, could I? But when I am thinking rationally, I believe that this might be more of the case than I ever choose to think about. I want to boil it down to hate so I can hate them back. I want it to be all about the hate so I can keep things clean and tidy in my head and hate them back. But the truth is, white people have been conditioned and trained to fear black people. And many of them are still virtually isolated from minorities in terms of any kind of relational intimacy. And then you give an ignorant and scared individual a gun and a badge and train them new, but they are still those people.

I have a handful of family members that are officers and I have come to believe, cops are and will always be a remarkable people. They protect, they serve, they rescue– all at the risk of their own futures. They sacrifice. And above all else, perhaps, is their loyalty. If you’ve noticed, this issue has a pretty palpable divide. For cops-Against cops. For blacks-Against blacks. Now here’s the thing, there is a form of kinship that comes with being an officer that you can’t expect to understand. They are not merely co-workers. They risk their lives together. They face the dark together. They are a tribe. You might be hard-pressed to find a cop or a close family member of a cop (even an African American) willing to stand up and say “we want an indictment…we want justice”. They are a tribe.

And then you have the blacks and guess what? They’ve risked their lives together. They’ve faced the dark together. They are a tribe too. You might be hard-pressed to find a black person (who is not a cop) willing to say, “trust the system…justice was served”. Because, that could’ve been my brother. They are my kin. And I want justice for them.   And so, at the end of the day, we have these two tribes–unwilling to engage in each others realities because of the profound loyalty written into their very identity. Or perceived identity.

And when I think of Darren Wilson, I can’t help but also think it does little to demonize one man for the sins of an entire system of inequity and an entire population of racists. He is a cop and so we should hold him to the highest of standards, but if that’s all we do– if our only goal is to see one man punished, to see the name of a few cops slandered, I fear that we will only end up changing laws not hearts, nor the future. Indictments, yes, of course they are worth fighting for. Tragedy is here and justice has failed and it’s not okay. But could we be pushing for more?

Here it is: white people are more afraid of black people than other whites, because the majority of what they read in magazines, see on TV, and hear secondhand is stereotyped, uneducated, oppressive propaganda and the soft undulations of systemic racism. Now, what are we going to do about the fact that it is 2014 and the black race (enslaved, noosed, burned alive, segregated, shot with our hands up) is still seen as the biggest threat in the United States of America? What are we going to do? Justice is a step. But so is reconciliation.

When we serve a God who calls us to reconciliation, what do we do? To not just change laws; but change hearts, what are we going to do? Since the fall, our entire world echos but two cries: fear and blame. We fear the other more than we fear ourselves and so we do unthinkable, hateful, cowardly things in the name of protection. We blame the other for our pain and our chains, and so we take it upon ourselves to punish them back. Make someone pay. Hate them back. I am here embarrassed to admit, that even as a Christian, all I want is to make someone pay. Death for death. Tear for tear. I feel like I don’t matter, and to combat that I need someone to suffer so that I can feel like I matter. Look closely, you might find there is a deep darkness that we wear underneath our impassioned robes of justice and freedom.

If you are a minority reading this and you want justice so that you can feel worth something again, you have been lied to. You have a voice,  whether they hear it or not. You matter and you are worth fighting for and the small whisper in between your eyes as you’re falling asleep, chanting no one really cares about you, you are powerless, you are helpless, it is not of God. I’ve heard it and I know it’s not. And what’s more, God is not sitting around biding his time until he can come back and set things right. He is moving. He is active and he is fighting for the oppressed like he always has and will. Right now in the present. And he is using His people to do that. Be one of them. We are with him; not just waiting for him. In Psalm 42 I have found both space to grieve and space to hope. Read it if you need either.

If you are a white person and you want justice because you feel the shame and guilt of another man’s actions, you have been lied to. The shame and guilt is not yours to bear. A friend cries into my shoulder and chokes out, I’m so sorry. We’re just so awful. I’m so sorry. And then softly, I hate myself. And you need to know, curing shame with hate is a fruitless pursuit. The best thing you can do is raise your voices with us to the people that don’t hear us. I have never felt more hated than in these past 3 weeks. But I have also, maybe, never felt more loved. A lot of hate on my news feed, but also a lot of white voices speaking the words that I wish I could. People lamenting, educating, even just asking questions. Racism on social media has a weird way of making you feel like you don’t exist. With each post of compassion, I feel seen. And loved. I’ll take that over guilt any day.

I don’t know it all but I know enough to know this is not the way it’s supposed to be. God is crying with us. He is moving with us. And maybe you don’t need to feel the hope of reconciliation before you start working towards it. Most days, I don’t feel it. I choose to believe it’s there. I think that’s okay. God is for justice, yes. And the entire gospel cries out reconciliation. Why have we compartmentalized two missions of equal gravity. There’s a lot of talk about justice, but I believe justice without reconciliation is a fool’s errand that will lead to more darkness than light. Let’s talk about fear. Let’s talk about tribes. We’ve talked about what we want; now, what are we going to do?

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18

No really, read Psalm 42:

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?

42 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?[b]
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation[c] and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

Healthy Eyes. Light for Dark.

If you asked somebody, they might tell you I care. I’m the girl who cares about the world’s great injustices. I’m the girl who lays in the dark on her bedroom floor sinking tears into carpet fibers for months on end after a week-long mission trip. Yes, I’m the girl. The one who spontaneously gives more money than she should to the sad fly faces online and in catalogs. The one who makes a donation to some relevant global nonprofit instead of giving you a real birthday gift, yes I’m the one.

Each morning I read the latest on CNN World and for the larger part of the past 2 months, that’s mainly been about Iraq and Syria and the extremist group on nobody’s lips and everybody’s televisions, ISIS.  And here is where I confess that yesterday was the first morning in quite a few mornings that I cared.

If you are reading this, I think you are one of three people.

  • You might be the person who thrives in oblivion. You’ve heard the word ISIS, you’re pretty sure you hate ISIS, you aren’t entirely sure what it stands for, but you know about the hate and you leave it at that. You shake your head solemnly, keep your eyes downcast and pick the lint off of your sweater whenever anyone mentions it in conversation. You live in oblivion and you love it there, because it doesn’t require much work and it’s happy there; and the problems, you can touch.
  • Or  you’re the person, like myself, who reads every morning, knows just enough about just enough conflicts to sound like you care enough; but in actuality, what you read changes next to nothing about how you think, pray and live each day. We are the scariest, maybe. We know and we know and we can toss it in the kitchen sink with our coffee mug each morning because who can carry something like that around with them?
  • Or you might be the person who has it all just right. You have that balance between knowing and caring and doing and telling and you have hope. I’d love to meet you. And that is not sarcasm.

When I was 19, I shook hands with a 47 year old Haitian man named Manno. He had dug a hole and was chiseling away at rock 7 feet deep into the earth and his family had died and his skin was like leather and he was digging and digging because God told him he would hit water. God told him he would bring water to the entire village. I stared at his black-blooded hands and his yellow eyes and my heart went out to him, it really did. It must’ve, because later on that night as we gathered around our compound with our sanitized hands and bright eyes and plates of rice and fried yucca and fresh fruit, I skipped over the water jug. Solidarity, I thought. And don’t judge me because I was young and still didn’t know what to do with things like despair and shame. And I thought my heart was going out to him. And after 4 trips, eventually I think it really did. I’ve not only read the horrors of this world, but I’ve seen a few. A few is enough really and here’s the thing– it comes on like a toothache but all over my skin, maybe to my bones– here’s the thing: I can live my life as if I never saw a thing.

I can, I promise you. Because last week I [knowingly] almost spent the money that I had promised to Water for People to buy Chinese food. We are the scariest, maybe. The fact that I can see and hear and know, and still live my day to day life as if the world’s biggest problems are my own, is terrifying. And let’s not kid ourselves enough to think that we push those realities out of our day to day thinking so that we can “get by”, so that we can “get on”. No, we push it out because we are undeniably selfish, self-serving, self-oriented beings. And so we live in the dark or pretend to live in the dark about reality and we say it’s because we need to be happy. We can’t dwell in the dark. We want to feel happy. We want to feel light.  We want to be where it’s light. But here it is plainly: I live in the dark and I mistake it for light because Scandal is premiering and I get to wear scarves again and all pumpkin everything and the truth is I like to feel light more than I like to be it.

And so maybe I or you don’t know the light well enough to identify it or Him.

That is what’s true.

We walk around and we shake our heads at CNN and mumble god oh god we lift them up and we might even gasp at the hot new footage of this beheading or that bombing and what evil what evil but if we could just snap out of our self-absorbed, mostly feigned disgust for just a few seconds, maybe we’d realize that ISIS is not the truest evil at work here. The reality is, nothing is black and white. People are driven to desperation, to brutality, to evil. And it is evil, yes. And what am I?

The truest evil here is me. Because I know me.

It’s me sitting on my couch every night watching Grey’s Anatomy and falling asleep while I pray and only pray that God just makes me happy in my new apartment. It’s me moaning to my friend that I am “starving” as I pass Chipotle at noon and my morning cereal passes from my stomach to my bowels and I’ve never really known hunger but I’ve cradled tiny bodies that have. It’s a congregation of 20 or more Christians gathered on comfy couches in dimly lit rooms and not a single person mentions that the majority of our “brothers and sisters in Christ” are hiding out in basements, losing their homes, children, and lives for their faith. It’s not just the brutal tactics of extremist armies or mass genocide or human trafficking that represent the pinnacle of human depravity. Maybe if we took 5 minutes to care and to think, we’d look down at our own well manicured hands and find that it’s us. The non-carers. The unfathomably self absorbed.  The people who know everything and it changes nothing. The people who know nothing and don’t care to change anything.

We are the truest evil maybe.

And if that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, I’m sorry and I’m not–go wash it out with a pumpkin spice latte.

Because I know what you’re thinking, what a drag Cole, we can’t possibly just walk around all day dwelling in the dark sad realities of the world. Well good news, I’m not telling you to. This is not a call to walk around with sad eyes and pumpkin latte-less stomachs or angry eyes and picket signs. It’s a call to walk as if you care– as if you think– about more than your own brief and fleeting singular life. As if you care and think about more than your own brief and fleeting singular life. As if you care and think. As if you care. As if you think.

A man throws his crying daughter haphazardly through the doors of a low flying helicopter to escape a mountainside of bullets and bombs and the evil in me is so deep, so enmeshed with everything that I am, that I can live my life as if I never knew a thing.

I can live in a different reality.

I can live my whole life– without challenge–feeling light instead of being it.

 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.” Luke 11:33-35

an article that’s less of an angsty rant and more like practical and encouraging steps to live like you care (I’m still working on articulating that bit of things)  >> http://www.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/worldview/justice-isnt-just-action-justice-way-life

***I do not condemn Scandal, scarves, or pumpkin spice lattes. They are beautiful things to be enjoyed. But they are not everything.

Another Blog

A professor of mine once told me, “It takes a great deal of arrogance to be writer… it’s a beautifully arrogant thing to believe what you have to write is important enough to be read.” I remember staring dumbly at the biscotti crumbs clinging to his goatee and the yellow ring snaking around the neck of his polo and he seemed like the grandest thing that would ever happen to me. He had it. And I prayed for it.

The thing is, I am arrogant. I really am, but not in a way that counts. I want to be arrogant in the writer way… in the read-this-for-you-not-for-me-way. I want people to scoff at my cliche conclusions and laugh at my labored wit and see life and God in new and old ways. I want to be beautifully arrogant.

And I think somewhere deep down where it matters, I’ve always wanted to have a blog. I just never wanted to be one of “those people”. Those people who think their thoughts are new and big and maybe more important. Those people who googled words to all of their favorite songs or bible verses so that they could find a blog title they could feel okay about (yeah I did). Those people who write for people so much that they forget how to write for themselves. Yes, it’s as judgmental as it seems. But it’s not so much that I personally feel that way towards bloggers; rather, I am fearful of other people feeling that way toward me. You see, I am quite wrapped up in what most people think of me, and because of this I have acquired a subtle but real fear of being a “those people”. And it’s all very dumb, I know. And it’s all very self centered. And I’m trying, okay?

I’m trying because I think God has made me a writer. I think words written are my most honest. And when I am most honest, I’ve found that He uses me to bring others to Him. Not always, but sometimes is enough.

So yeah, it’s just another blog really. But I’ll try my best to keep it fresh and funky. I’ll try my best to steer clear of most alliteration and to live by the rule of “less is more”. I’ll try my best to be bold and not just make a home for myself on the backspace key because I’m afraid and I want to be liked. I’ll take a stab at arrogance. Because if I’m writing what God is leading me to write, is it ever really arrogance at all? Maybe beautiful arrogance is really just holy confidence. In Him and not me.

Is that a cliche conclusion? Then perfect. Let’s begin.