In Order to (Re)Form a More Perfect Union

I don’t know about you, but my heart can’t take much more. It’s battered and bruised… And bracing for worse.

It feels like 2020 could be the year of our undoing.

Collectively, we were already reeling from the deadly destruction/ ecomomic devastation/overwhelming despair of COVID…

104,000 dead.

Millions unemployed.

Suicide attempts.

Overdoses.

Isolation.

Burnout.

And then came three consecutive stories of black Americans killed… for no apparent reason.

Amaud Arbery… out for a run.

Breonna Taylor… in her own home.

George Floyd… pinned to the street, gasping for air.

Three human beings created in God’s image… beautiful and beloved, all.

I haven’t seen the video of George Floyd’s last minutes. I cannot bring myself to watch it. (Because just reading about it nearly gutted me.)

A Gospel-sharing, bridge-building, neighbor-loving “gentle giant,” George Floyd took his last breath on earth Monday. Now he’s safely home in heaven with Jesus… and his mama.

But his death begs the question:

How are we still here? In America? In 2020?!

Stuck in this cesspool of racism, injustice and needless violence?

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to stay afloat. The flood of emotions is coming fast and furious. I’m grappling/praying/hurting/ fuming/crying/pleading/grieving. Deeply. Sometimes all in the space of five minutes.  But the deepest, darkest valley I keep finding myself in is… fear.

I’m afraid for the people I love whose skin just happens to be darker than mine.

Afraid they will encounter the wrong person at the wrong time… and wind up injured.

Or jailed.

Or dead.

And that’s why I can’t just sign a petition or post a meme and move on. I know I need to ask God’s Spirit to search me and uproot my own prejudices and pre-judgments. I need to confess my own predisposition to dismiss or devalue some of my neighbors. I need to pray against my tendency toward complacency-by-comfortableness.

I need to listen more, learn more, do more. Where I can, when I can, however I can. Because…

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)

A couple days ago, I re-read Reverend King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to some of his fellow clergymen. His words are haunting:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

He goes on to write:

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

Oh LORD, help me be bold for you. Because…

Equity and justice are the foundation of your throne. ~ Psalm 89:14 (NET)

Help me be brave for my neighbor. Because…

No life is more “valuable” than another. (No life is more “disposable” either.) Our immeasurable worth is God-given and intrinsic (because we were made in His brilliant, beautiful image.)

Help me live and love like Jesus.

Genuinely.

Generously.

Help me do the right thing. Even when it makes me – or someone else – uncomfortable.

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives…
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

~ Isaiah 58:1-8, The Message

Let’s be justice-seekers and bridge-builders and hope-givers. Right where we are. However we can. 

Let’s be humble repenters… and revolutionaries for love. Lavish, lifesaving love.

Right in our own little corner of the world.

Maybe that won’t be the catalyst for sweeping change… but it will make a difference.

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.

Approaching the boy he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”

The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

The man laughed and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then smiling at the man, he said …

“I made a difference to that one.”

2020 could be the year of our re-making.

Let’s get started.

Wendy

P.S. Condemning oppression and police brutality doesn’t make me anti-law enforcement. I am praying fervently for our police officers, firefighters and National Guard tonight too. Calling for an end to violent, destructive rioting doesn’t mean I don’t support the protestors or understand (that I don’t understand) their outrage and grief. I’m praying for peace… and change. Join me?

Yes I Am

White and privileged, that is.

And frankly I’m dismayed that some attempt to deny it. They fuss and carry on, claiming “white privilege” doesn’t exist.

“White privilege” is a lot like it sounds:

Being white and being privileged. I am what I am. And denying it is absurd. (And bordering on delusional.)

White.

Lily white. That’s me.

To quote Lady Gaga, “Baby, I was born this way.”

Fair-skinned with a smattering of freckles and a tendency to burn in direct sunlight.

Privileged.

Yep, that too. I grew up and got my degree in the comfort and security of upper-middle-class suburbia. Intact family. Good education. Quality healthcare. Resources galore.

The fact is, so many of us in this nation are privileged. In some cases (to some degree) because of whiteness; in other cases, perhaps not.

Let me be clear.

Being white and privileged doesn’t mean your life is perfect. It doesn’t mean you never had to strive/strain/struggle. It doesn’t mean you didn’t have to make tough decisions or be resilient/relentless to attain certain things. It doesn’t mean you haven’t had to work hard/smart/long to pay your bills or sacrifice mightily to get where you wanted to go. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ve never been a victim of misjudgment, mistreatment, crime or calamity. It simply means ethnicity hasn’t been one of your hurdles.

“White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard; it means that your skin color isn’t one of the things making it harder.” (Not sure who said this, but… #realitycheck.)

My whiteness automatically places me in the majority in the U.S. And in many cases, it identifies me with the “people in charge” around here. Can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure my whiteness makes me less likely to be viewed with discomfort, fear, or suspicion, at least by the rest of the majority. (I daresay there’s less presumption when you walk around being white… than any other color. Safety in numbers.)

And while pride and prejudice aren’t strictly white “diseases,” they still run rampant in some circles.

Ugh.

No one is better than anyone else, period. (Let alone because of color.)

For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:11)

Sadly though, there’s a lingering air of superiority in a few of the wealthy, mostly-white neighborhoods I’ve visited. I know I’m not the only one that can smell that stale stink… Can we open the proverbial windows and let in some fresh air, for heaven’s sake?

Because a superiority complex is ugly… and ungodly.

As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

See?

And on the heels of superiority come its partners in crime and co-conspirators:

Suppression. Oppression. Hate.

(And when hate happens, things get ugly… quickly.)

As far as I can tell we’re all descended from the same original bloodline. So in essence, that means there’s only one race:

The human one.

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(And btw, can we please try to keep the “kind” in humankind?)

How about we start here? Take a few steps outside our comfort zone. Befriend someone outside our demographic. Listen, if my only friends were white, middle-aged, married, Midwestern, mom-types (the list could go on, narrowing my circle based on identity politics and personal preferences)… my life would be so sad and small. And frankly, the more I spend time with people who – at first glance – seem vastly different from me, the more I realize how much we have in common. (When I make a frittata, it doesn’t matter whether I use brown eggs or white ones. Breakfast is fantastic either way. Because what’s inside the shell is… the same.)

So, what if we just quit labelling our neighbors and start loving them?

For real.

Instead of pot-stirrers, let’s be peacemakers.

Listening to each others’ stories and learning from them. Welcoming our neighbors – black and white and every color in between – into our lives, homes, hearts.

Instead of “us” and “them” – let’s be… we.

Collectively, we’ve got to resist the temptation (however weak or strong) to  judge/label/belittle/demean someone simply because their complexion (or community) is a shade different than our own.

I think Benjamin Watson said it best: “Racism is not a skin problem. It’s a sin problem.”

Discrimination = sin. Disdain = sin. Divisiveness = sin.

Yes, we’re all sinners. You, me, every human being that’s ever been born. But you know what I want to be when I grow up?

Revolutionary.

A revolutionary for love.

*Full disclosure: In a previous draft, I used the word “colorblind.” My intent was to convey impartiality, fairness, justice… but instead, I unknowingly “erased” the uniqueness and value of all of our God-given beauty and diversity. My sincerest apologies to those whom I offended. (And many thanks to a dear friend who turned me on to the phrase “revolutionary for love.” I dig it. And I’m aiming for just that.)

I think that was Dr. King’s dream for all of us. To be love revolutionaries. To look at character instead of color. To see aspirations not appearances. To treat people with kindness and respect, regardless of skin tone or eye color or body type. Regardless of race, religion, gender, socioeconomic or immigration status, sexual orientation, genetic differentiation, diagnosis or disability.

Fair and impartial treatment. Common decency.

That’s what I understand social justice to mean.

Dr. King was a preacher and an activist. The Bible was his instruction manual. (Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength… and love your neighbor as yourself.) He believed it and taught it and lived it. He wasn’t flawless, but he was forgiven. He wasn’t perfect… but he was prophetic. He wasn’t fearless… but he was free.

Free at last. 

The night before he was assassinated, Dr. King gave a speech at a church in Memphis, and he talked about things that would/could/should change the world right before his – and our – eyes. He taught scripture. He preached fairness and forgiveness. He promoted radical humility:

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness, he said.

He spent a good deal of time that evening re-telling Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan – who risked life and limb to aid a stranger in need, when others (“religious men”) would not. He talked about sacrificial kindness and compassion and what might hinder it.

Busyness, bigotry, “blindness” to the victim’s plight.

Or perhaps…

Fear.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about… 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

That’s the question before you tonight.

And that’s the question before us still.

Are we willing to show sacrificial kindness and compassion to others – black, brown, fair or freckled? Or are we going to let our own fears or busyness or bigotry or “blindness” to others’ needs get in the way of love and mercy?

We were put here to help. Not simply help ourselves to whatever we can grab. But how willing are we to use whatever resources (and yes, privileges) we possess for the good of others? Even if it’s inconvenient. Or costly. Or difficult. Or downright dangerous.

Dr. King didn’t hesitate. He just did what God told him to do:

Justice.

Mercy.

Humility.

( ^ See Micah 6:8.)

Because he knew the eventual (eternal) outcome:

Glory.

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the LORD!

The man who spoke those words the night before he was murdered knew that his dream and his mission could cost him his life. But he was undeterred and unafraid. This was a man willing to practice what he preached. And what Jesus lived (and died) to demonstrate…

Dangerous unselfishness.

Hello, my name is Wendy. I’m white and privileged and determined to live dangerously. (Honoring Dr. King… by following his King.)

Chasing the dream,

Wendy

P.S. Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 90th birthday, and I have no doubt the celebration is heavenly. (Jesus prepared the place.) The Promised Land has plenty of room… and everyone’s welcome. Join us?