Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Regarding Charlottesville: An Open Letter

Once upon a time, long, long a few years ago, when significant world or national events occurred, I would jump into the fray, quick to let the world know my viewpoint, absolutely positive that I was right. I just knew lives would be changed. I was in for disappointment.

Instead, I rapidly became thoroughly convinced that just about NO people's minds are changed by a social media post, and the only thing gained was a mixture of angry or supportive comments and maybe a few "likes."

The outcome was nowhere near worth the energy it took to navigate the resulting calamity, nor the wear and tear on my thumbs. 

Since then, I've spent most of my time sitting back and watching the world burn, which is certainly what it feels like. Every now and then, I have forgotten myself and waded into someone's comments section. It didn't take long to remember why I'd kicked the habit.

I like to think I've gained some perspective since then, just from listening - a little bit of listening goes a long way. But I haven't really considered jumping back in. The water looked cold and crowded, and I could see the sharks circling.

Then, over the weekend, in Charlottesville, VA, armed,white supremacists and counter protesters clashed at the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, with tragic consequences: three people lost their lives and several others were badly injured.

Many of the subsequent responses that passed through my news feed saddened, angered, and perplexed me...but I still wasn't wading in. Everyone else had plenty to say, and I saw no need for me to add my two cents to the already deafening din.

I watched with pride and sorrow as my pastors managed their social media accounts in the aftermath. As leaders of a very intentionally multi-racial and multi-ethnic church, they were obviously and understandably hurt, grieved, and outraged by the events. Nevertheless, for the most part, they spoke words of strength, solidarity, and unity into what otherwise could be a very polarizing situation.

Still, for the last two nights, instead of sleeping, I have wrestled with internal questions over how we, as Christians, should respond, and whether we might be missing something. The Bible definitely calls us to seek justice for those oppressed, but it also calls us to seek peace, speak with wisdom that is pure and gentle, and to love our enemies.

At times, it seems impossible to pursue each avenue equally: on which side should we err?

I knew the answer I felt pressing into my spirit ALL NIGHT LONG, and today, I sought to share that with one of my pastors. When I walked out, I had gained some insight into his heart and philosophy and he into mine, but where we agreed when I walked in, we still agreed, and where we differed...well, that hadn't changed remarkably either. 

However, there was one thing he said that resounded in my heart like a gong: I have a voice, too, and it's my responsibility to use it.

I am overwhelmed and convicted by the fact that I am more than aware of my calling to speak the words I feel God has put on my heart, but until now, I've been too scared and fearful to address racial tension, and instead, generally stuck to what was safe: my all too often realizations that I have jacked something up and the lessons God has taught me in the mess.

Today is no exception.

I have felt for some time that I had no right to speak about racial tension: after all, I'm the whitest of the white. But today, Pastor Kyle taught me that to withhold my voice from the dialogue is wrong because only when we share our hearts with love and humility can we truly make a difference.

So, without further delay, here are a few of my thoughts and feelings regarding our current racial climate:

To my friends and family of color...
I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry to see you hurting, and I'm so sorry for what you have endured, what you are enduring, and what you almost inevitably will endure in the future. I am praying for peace and love. I am hoping beyond hope that you will not allow roots of bitterness to strangle your hearts, but will instead, throw yourself  into the arms of Jesus and grow your roots deep into Him. It's a tall order, I know, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless. If I can help you in any way, I will -- but you'll probably have to let me know how to do that because I don't always understand fully. I try, but I'm pretty sure I get it wrong. I love you.

To my fellow white folks with noble hearts and pure intentions...

Keep trying. You might jack it up, but some effort is always better than no effort at all. It's confusing for us, I know. For me, there's some level of shame and guilt, particularly as a southern, white girl because I'm no stranger to our history, but at the same time, I'm proud of my heritage, too -- a daughter to the home of bluegrass, hard work, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps until you make it work. I like that about my roots. Added to that, while each of us of every color have inborn biases, I try to be as nice as I can to everyone, no matter their race, and sometimes it feels like getting lumped into one giant, white clump is unfair because, after all, I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING! 
Also, can we just lay it out on the table that we've experienced racism, too. I know it. You know it. It feels good to say it, right?! Holding it in forever has felt like being the kid who has to pee really bad, but is too intimidated to ask the teacher to go to the bathroom until, finally, it leaks out at the MOST inopportune moment (I'm not going to say how I know what that feels like, but let's just say...that was one time I was really grateful we moved). However, like that unfortunate lack of bladder control, if we don't just go ahead and address it, it's going to leak out at the worst possible moment, like when our friends are already hurting. 
One of the things I tried to convey to Pastor Kyle today is this: I believe, our inability to express that we, too, have been harmed by racism is feeding an undercurrent of bitterness. It feels, sometimes, like our hurts and experiences don't matter, and while we understand the deep hurt felt by our friends, understanding their hurt doesn't negate ours...it doesn't make it go away...in the same way that knowing other people are starving to death can never satiate the roar of a stomach that hasn't eaten for two days. 
But here's the key: we wouldn't turn around to the starving person and complain about our grumbling tummies. It would be an insult. It would hurt. I'm really hoping this metaphor drives it home to you like it does me because, frankly, while I'm glad it's been discussed, I don't want to discuss it further here. 
Instead of nursing our own wounds, I think it's high time we put more time and attention into healing others. That means having some hard, transparent, awkward conversations with the intent to learn about those who are different than us...and I DO NOT mean on facebook. Forget social media. Treat someone to coffee. Take a walk. Have lunch. I don't care what you do, but listen to learn and understand, not to respond. Ask questions. 
That's how we learn, and that's how we heal.

 Finally, to the men and women who call yourselves the Alt-Right/Neo Nazis/whatever you're calling yourselves these days...

I know most people are calling you monsters. I know they say they hate you. However, this is probably where I will depart from others and, were this little diatribe in person, I'd probably get a rotten tomato to the face. 
I don't hate you. I feel for you very deeply. Broken people seek to break people, and healed people seek to heal people, and you are so obviously hurt, broken, and fearful. I don't know if it's a fear of losing your voices or your power. I don't know if it's a fear of what you don't understand, but somewhere in you there is so much hurt and fear, and somehow, it has manifested itself in rage and hardened hearts. I am praying for you, too. For you, it seems the root of bitterness has already strangled any roots you had to Christ, or even human kindness. Nevertheless, I am more than certain that no one is beyond the reach of my Savior. No one is beyond the reach of love. No one is beyond the reach of hope. 
And therefore, I love you. I hope for you. I pray for you, not with half-hearted words, but with the DEEP conviction that like the one sheep who strays from the ninety-nine, your heart, too, is worthy of pursuit. 

Inevitably, that last section will anger some people. I know that, and I accept it. I firmly believe deeply that it may be anger and indignation that change social policies, but it is only through love and patience that we will change hearts...and the latter can do far more to heal our nation than the former ever could.

Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,
with all humility and gentleness,
with patience,
accepting one another in love,
diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit
with the peace that binds us.
Ephesians 4:1-3

No comments:

Post a Comment