This post first ran in August of 2015. In doing a bit of research for the book I’m currently working on (pray for me, chant something, cross your fingers), I found this post and thought it would be good to share it again, for those who may have missed it the first time around. While its main focus is racism, I think it also applies to a lot of what people are talking about today, in our current election cycle.
I think it’s time to move this train forward, don’t you?
If you hang out here on a regular basis, you know my feelings about race, racism, the Church, and the Body of Christ. If you hang out on social media, or watch the news, or read the newspaper, you know people are talking. Lots of people are mad, and they’re mad for legitimate reasons, even though not everyone is mad about the same thing. Some people are grieving, and rightly so. Some people are loud, some are quiet, and some are simply overwhelmed.
It often feels as if we’re all fighting a losing battle, and the question I hear the most is, “What can I do?” In other words, people are ready to move the conversation forward. I’ve got some ideas. Some of my ideas are easier than others.
Ultimately, what we’re working toward is something beyond finger-pointing and side-taking. We’re working for a different world view and an elevation of the conversation. If you’re up for it, I believe we can begin to make incremental changes, right in the places where we live, and start to impact things for good. But the first changes take place inside of us. We have to change the way we react to things if we’re going to get anywhere. And, changing our reaction means doing some internal work.
First, some clarification. What I’m writing about here assumes the person reading agrees that systemic racism is a real thing in the United States. The reader agrees some people benefit from these systems while others do not. The reader agrees that, in some cases, it is the reader—regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture—who benefits from the systems that marginalize, or even oppress others. The reader agrees that we are called and commissioned to be catalysts for positive change, right where we live and work each day. And, just to be clear, these things are true for me, too.
So, here we go:
Become a lamenter. Whether a police officer or an unarmed black man, when someone dies, we are called to mourn with those who mourn. Period. In that moment, we are not required to defend, but rather to lament. We are, admittedly, poor lamenters. Our culture is one of stiff upper lips and resourcefulness and, “I can handle this.” We have raised ourselves to be independent; able to take care of me and mine. We have forgotten that we belong to each other, regardless of our station in life. When one person suffers, we all suffer together. When one person grieves, we all grieve together. The loss of a life calls for mourning, and we would do well to make space in our lives for exactly that. We have seen a lot of violent death in the past two years. If we are not careful, we’ll become callous to the loss of life and the empty spaces and the deep, deep sense of sadness that comes when someone dies. Lord, forgive us when we celebrate the violent loss of life, no matter the circumstance. You can mourn the loss of a police officer’s life and the death of a black man, no matter what our culture may have to say about that. When we mourn both, we help move the conversation forward.
Read different. For the rest of the year, only read books written by people of a different race, ethnicity, or culture. Write in the margins. Highlight key passages. Discover places where you connect with the author, and make note of new concepts or ways of seeing things. Write and speak honestly about what you learn about yourself as you read. Consider joining the Forward book club. During the month of March, we’ll be reading Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Say their names. Does the name, Muhammad Emwazi sound familiar to you? The newscasters dubbed him Jihadi John. He was the man in the terrible videos. The ones that showed the beheadings of Christians in Middle Eastern countries. Those videos scared many of you. It was their goal. Our enemy—and please don’t forget who that really is—meant to strike terror into us, and make us forget that Muhammed Emwazi is a child of God, and that he is deeply and irrevocably loved by God. Love, you see, is the most important thing, but it’s so easy to forget that and to believe comfort or America or position or safety is the most important thing. When we forget about love, we’ll resort to anything to maintain our place in the world, in our country, in our job, in our church, in our neighborhood, in our family. When we resort to name-calling, we rush right past humanity. Thugs. Racists. Idiots. Sluts. These names, and others—like these and much, much worse—reduce a person and strip them of their humanity, their dreams, their potential. These names deny the fact that the person was created in the very image of God.
Speak up. Listen. Honestly. If you are speaking up about other issues, you can speak up about racism. You don’t have to commission a speech writer. You don’t have to argue about it. You don’t. But you can lament the loss of life. You can share what you’ve learned about yourself as a result of reading differently. You can speak the names of the fallen, whether you agree with their lifestyle, their actions, or their view of the world. You can pray for their families as you say grace in your home. You can treat all life equally and speak up in the places where you live and work. You can say something as simple as, “That isn’t funny,” when the wrong joke is told in the office.
Participate. I can’t tell you what this will look like for you. I imagine, however, if you’ve read this far, you already have some idea. If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing there is one particular area of the racism conversation that keeps coming up in your mind. Examine your gifts and your skills. Where do they fit best? What do you have to offer? Where can you have the greatest impact? If you’re a photographer, or an accountant, or a writer, or a chef, how can you offer your gifts to the movement? If you have access to resources, where are they needed the most? If you know people who should know each other, how can you connect them to one another? Remember, however, that you are joining a movement. It’s like starting a new job in an entry level position: you have to learn the culture from those who are already there. This is where the gift of lament will come in handy. It’s also how you’ll begin to find more points of connection with those authors you’ve been reading who are different from you. Finding more points of connection restores humanity and is a catalyst for love. And, as you participate more, you’ll find your voice and you’ll be able to speak up more frequently and with more confidence.
In my book, Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are, I talk about the fact that you don’t have to work up something big or travel to some place far away to make a difference that counts for something. We are the world changers. The change you’re called to make is so much closer and smaller than you think. Incremental, even. When all of us begin to make these very small changes, it starts to add up.
Some questions for you: What steps can you take, today, to make small changes in your community? Where would you respectfully offer pushback to the suggestions offered here?