There have been several writers in recent days, reminding us that someone (or someone’s) who wants to make an impact in our world for Christ, cannot remain silent. (See examples here, and here, and Google for plenty more…) Although I do think sometimes there’s wisdom in words remaining unspoken, as well as moments where words only frustrate a complex and hard to speak of situation/topic…I agree that in the case of this past weeks events, something should be said. Especially by those of us who have a voice set up where a few ears may be inclined to listen (thanks for reading, mom!). On the other hand, there’s also a huge community who simply want to hear your opinion on the specific case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman so they can go off on you in opposition. Those ears may be disappointed here (here’s my original response to the verdict).
I believe racism on every level, and in any form, is wrong. That’s an obvious statement/position, and it’s seems even silly to say it – yet every day there are people (of every shade of melanin) who live out something different. Ideally, when it’s identified in obvious ways, we should live in such communities and relationships that quick accountability and correction happens – to bring relational restoration.
There is racism on an individual level – we cannot control the thoughts/actions of others, but we can correct and keep ourselves and our neighbors accountable (See Jesus for “Who is my neighbor?”). We can speak on the behalf of those being ill-spoken of. Also, there’s no such thing as “allowable levels”. I know more than once I’ve heard someone older than me say something obviously racist…and silently let it pass, figuring they’re of a different generation. For those moments, I confess and apologize. If we tell our children to listen to their elders, then we should continue to keep their elders accountable for words and actions.
Then there are the impacts long-term racism has on our current situation. The inflammatory language that gets used right away by one person/group or another. The de facto segregation that happens in geo-politico-socio-economical areas. (That’s probably the wrong term. You should read smarter blogs.) The fact that when I began riding our city bus, I realized segregation was happening without anyone saying a word.
If you ask most people impacted by these types of racism on a regular basis, they’ll most likely tell you they believe racism is wrong.
But in the midst of all of this – there is a version of humanity we accidentally promote. Self-centered lifestyles, power struggles, and systems that promote me-first mentalities and watch-your-back behaviors – creating living environments where our young and the voiceless aged become transformed into something no person should ever be. Add to that, those same young people growing up to become parents, never having been freed from this way of existing….and then grandparents…and you’ve got yourself more than a little problem. You’ve got the full-blown impact of systemic living for self over many generations.
Enter – cultural elements that are sometimes related to race, but other times simply connected to the lifestyle mentioned in the previous paragraph. We may see someone, and make assumptions about their motives or personality simply because of their appearance. Someone may get a horrible public defender, simply because of their inability to pay for representation. Laws once regarded as just, eventually becomes ways of manipulation justice to fit the need or desire of those with a voice or power.
It’s a problem so large it can seem impossible to confront. It can seem like “wishful-thinking” to imagine (or dream, as Dr.King put it) a world free of such injustice. But our duty begins with being people who hope. I’m not talking about hope in the same way that my 4 year old “hopes” Santa will come, either…
“Hope is always a tense expectation and rouses the attentiveness of all our senses, so that we can grasp the chances for the things we hope for, wherever and whenever they present themselves. That distinguishes hope from mere expectation or a patient waiting.” – Jurgen Moltmann, “Ethics of Hope”
It’s something I’m continuing to learn as I ride the bus, as I visit those in jail, and minister to teenagers…there are large populations of the voiceless that until recently, I wasn’t living connected to. Let alone, seeking to build relationships with. I’m still just beginning to learn how this might happen, and hope someday I can make an impact because of the shoulders I’m brushing against today. To understand how to help those living through injustices, we must open our lives to those who might be. To know them as “thou” (think Martin Buber), and have compassion on their vulnerability . Whether that calls us beyond our race, our culture, our comfort zone, or our country – we must go, and go as soon as possible…in Love. Make no changes, and tomorrow will be the same. Remain silent, and we will hear nothing different.
After all, Jesus didn’t tell a story about a master who returns and says, “Well waited…”