For Those Who Are New to the Conversation

People are talking. And they are angry. Their anger is justified. Maybe you’re angry, too? It wouldn’t surprise me, that’s for sure.

Maybe the shooting in Charleston was the event that finally made you say, “Hey. I think I’d better add my voice to this conversation because I’m finding I actually have some thoughts and some words and I am sick and tired of this foolishness!” Maybe your conviction has outwitted your fear of being called a racist, or saying the wrong thing, or finding yourself in the middle of a confrontation. Good. Welcome to the conversation. Pull up a chair, but put a cushion underneath you, because we’re going to be here for awhile.

Racism is real in America. It has always been part of the story of this nation. It is not only part of our past. It is part of our present. Right now. Today. Right here. The Church, as of late, has failed miserably in addressing it. After last week’s shooting of nine people in Charleston, SC, informal polls are telling us there are churches in our nation that didn’t even mention the massacre, let alone the concept of racism. And, it seems, the churches that were silent last Sunday appear to be white churches. I don’t understand. I just really don’t. After all the conversations I’ve had over all these years about race and the Church in America, I really do not understand.

So, let me say this. Churches can get all up in arms about who gets to speak and to teach and proclaim truth from the pulpit. They want a certain gender or ethnicity or language or educational level or theological degree or sexual orientation to speak to them in hushed tones that sound good and that don’t rock their personal boat. But, when the Church abdicates its responsibility to speak truth to power and to utter words that turn over tables in our hearts and that call for justice and radical love and an end to excuses about racism in this country, well, I believe that’s why God gave us the Internet. That’s why God gave you a dining room table and a blog and a Facebook page and a Twitter account. You are the called. You are the chosen. You are God’s messenger in a world of Christians who can’t seem to get their act together.

If you’re a preacher and you were responsible for the sermon last week, I sure hope you mentioned Charleston, South Carolina. And, if you didn’t, I want you to know this Sunday won’t be too late. If you’re a person with a dining room table or a blogger or a person on social media, and you haven’t mentioned Charleston, South Carolina, I want you to know tomorrow won’t be too late.

If you can’t figure out why this is an issue or what the fuss is all about, or if you’re upset that black people are upset and not all black people are so quick to forgive, I’d like you to ask yourself what’s at stake for you? Why are you so invested in the status quo? Why do you find it okay for black people in America to be treated this way? I’ve heard the arguments. I am not convinced, yet.

But, if you’re joining in? If you’re stepping up to the plate for the very first time, or for the first time in a long time? If you’re adding your voice to the conversation and making space on your platform for discussions that will raise awareness about racism in America and work toward ending it?  Well, I just want to tell you a few things that might be helpful along the way:

  1. When you speak out against racism in America, someone is not going to agree with you. It might be someone close to you, or it may be someone you barely know. They may say things that sound like, “Bless your heart,” or they might actually tell you something that involves the F-bomb. It is what it is. Encouraging people to face the truth about racism and their complicity in it is like walking into a dark room where people have been living for four hundred years and shining a spotlight directly in their eyes. They want the light out, thank you very much, and they don’t mind telling you so. It doesn’t matter how gently you say it, or how much grace you invoke, someone will feel as if you’ve heaped all the blame for all of everything directly on them, and they won’t like it.
  2. But mostly, people will listen to you. They trust you. That’s why they sit at your table or read your blog and your status updates and your Tweets. They have found you to be credible and a person of integrity and someone to whom they can relate. They know you don’t have all the answers. They just want to know what questions you’re asking, and where you look for your answers.
  3. You will probably offend someone. Consider yourself in good company. All of the prophets offended at least one person. They didn’t necessarily intend to offend or desire to offend, but it happens. Say you’re sorry when you know you were wrong. Make corrections when you find out something you said wasn’t right or true. But don’t stop having the conversation, simply because you don’t want to offend.
  4. People will talk badly about you behind your back, and to your face. But we are not in this for our reputations. We are in this because racism is evil, and we have a vision for something better.
  5. You don’t have to respond to everyone. Period.
  6. Take a break. No one can sustain this conversation all of the time. Balance forays into the race conversation with activities and people that fill you up. Don’t let the things and the people you love fall by the wayside. This is hard work, and there are more and more people joining in to help carry the load. You don’t have to be “on” all the time. Catch your breath. Turn off the noise. Hold on to your children or your pets or your partner. Swim in an ocean. Eat something delicious. Drink some wine. Take a nap or a vacation, or both.

We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing. You can’t not at least think about what might be different if you spoke up in the places God has placed you. Do not keep your head in the sand. I’ve heard people who lived through the Civil Rights Movement without ever speaking up about it say to me, “What was I thinking? Why didn’t I say anything?” I don’t want that to be you, when your grandchildren ask what you remember about this moment in history. I don’t want that to be me, either.

So, welcome to the conversation. It’s going to take awhile, but we can do this. We are in this together, and we’ve got each other’s backs. You can count on this to be a safe place to work through your thoughts and ideas, and you can know I’ll be cheering for you as you raise awareness and work to end racism in America.

Some questions for you: Are you new to the conversation? What is your greatest fear about taking this conversation to your dining room table, your blog, or your social media platforms?

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