I want to start by saying that I am grieved. I have been grieved for sometime now. It’s the down in your bones, knowing that the grief could consume you if it wanted to because it’s so real; but also the knowing that I could live outside of the knowing this grief if I want to, and to a large extent I do live inoculated from the grief this earth and the grief my bones know is true…it’s the grief over the way as human persons we oppress, kill, steal and destroy each other. Particularly, it’s the way that this happens systematically along lines of geography and race. And today…this is the grief I’m actually letting myself feel. So while I don’t need you to agree with what I’m going to write, I’m just asking for you to listen past whatever defense you may be feeling. I’m grateful for your presence in the conversation.
So you’ve read the news. You’ve heard the story. You may have even read commentaries upon commentaries. And like me, dependent upon what you believe about the nature of race and racism, you’ve read stories- either those justifying Zimmerman’s actions or decrying the system of justice that let him go free.
Some of the voices I’ve read (which belie what I believe about the matter):*
So here’s what I want to say- it’s the one thing I want to offer to myself and to my community… why, why is it SO hard and so painful for white folks like me (including me) to admit the existence of racism…for even a moment to go there with people of color when they share their stories, when they call us all and a racist system to account?
I ask this after reading both J.Cameron Carter and Anthea Butler this week…well, not them specifically, but after reading the comments afterwards. I don’t have anything more profound to offer to their profound insights (thank you to both of them for their articles), but I have grief. J.Cam moved me to tears while I kept on vacillating between wanting to swear because it was so real, and to say amen because it was so true. His article, Anthea’s, Questlove’s, Ebony’s and so many others make s me want to be better, to love more, to become less racist than I am. They are the kind of inspiration/pain that challenges me to be serious when I ask the question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit the kingdom…” and to try for once to not do as the rich young ruler did and leave sad because I don’t like what I hear, but to actually leave home and family to follow the way Jesus calls me to.**
Yet, it was the comments section of these articles made me want to cry. I found myself asking- “Why, why are we (white people) so afraid to admit that we are and might be horribly racist? Could it not be that that we might still be good, well-intentioned people who sin? Could it not even be that it is not our overt actions but the entire system (read: original sin) that we participate in from which we need saving?”
This cannot be such a foreign concept to so many of my white, Christian community members. We grew up being told that we all had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Could it not be that the call to “turn” from what we have known (which repentance, we are told is, indeed, a turning)…could not the call of the stories not only of our histories, but of our current world that we live in…could this not be the call to turn and to repent and to again and again find ourselves transformed…as a people who release the need to control and the need to believe in our own righteousness or merit, or deserving of what we have, but rather, instead to fall again and again at the feet of the cross of the experience and lived realities*** of the people who, like us, are made in the image of the divine…and to find ourselves re-birthed through hearing their stories and then changing our orientation and lives?
We act as if admitting our sin, admitting racism would kill us…would destroy us. Yet, is this not (again) the beauty and gift of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Our sin does not destroy … our sin invites us to live in radical grace and renewed life. Hear me, I do not believe that this is a simple fix…it is a call to true discipleship…which is precisely what we preach in our churches. Are we willing, I want to ask– are we, am I willing to live out the narrative of this gospel…for as Luther (heaven help me! I’m quoting Luther now. :)) reminds us…we are always sinner and saint. We are sinners in desperate need of redemption. And that’s ok (and the point, in fact)!
Because we are a people of the resurrection. We are a people who believe that life only comes through death. So could we not, press in? Can we not just listen and hear and cry together with our brothers and sisters and believe that the opportunity to face our sin is to realize the dream of the kindom**** of God that Jesus spoke of: a kindom where we do not defend our actions as though we were justified on our own, but a kindom where we are called to holy repentance for our inability to ascend to the heights of perfection? A kindom where we need each other…and maybe it’s precisely the stories of those other than we are that offer us grace to find life anew.
I preached about this a couple of weeks ago at my church…about how we become the type of community that lives out the greatest command: to love God, and to love neighbor as we love ourselves. I want to tell the white folks out there that I, with you, am on the journey, and that there is no greater gift than discovering that there is freedom as I acknowledge my sin, and turn towards my brothers and sisters and turn against the systems, the “principalities” we might say- of oppression, and white supremacy…that I find the redemptive power of the good news of grace.
I’m crying again and it’s because more than anything…I want this…I want freedom and life and the good news of this God of love to both destroy everything that keeps us from living in recognition that every living person and thing is divine…so that we might find life, and life truly abundantly.
* A special thanks to my friends Kiesha Lamb, Silas Morgan, and Chaun Webster for commentary they have shared in the past weeks and historically around matters of race, embodiment, and justice.
**For those who don’t know the reference this alludes to the story in the Gospels in the Bible of Jesus and the rich young ruler (cf. Matthew 19:16-22).
***I follow with Sobrino and Ellacuría in their describing the presence and participation in the Christian message requires that we align with the crucified peoples of this world. See me to find our more about Sobrino’s works (or google him).
****This is not a spelling error. I believe that in the Lord’s prayer (and the Bible in General) it spoke in images that the people would understand. I follow McFague and others in believing there are problems with the kingdom language and believe we can re-imagine this as a kindom where we are all part of the love of God.