To My Fellow White Christians, Hear My Plea

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I am not an activist.

I do not protest or boycott or wave signs in front of the courthouse. I have absolutely no desire to read political blogs or engage in debates with people who cling to labels and find their identity in promoting ’causes.’ I do not consider myself to be harsh or dogmatic and, as such, have always resisted the divisive nature of politics.

I am a Christian and I have been utterly changed by the gospel. And as I look at myself and other southern, white, gospel-loving people I am saddened by what seems to be a continued lack of concern for our black brothers and sisters.

The gospel is about love– the love of the Father in making a way for us to be reconciled to him. It’s about the love of the Son as he came and lived among us and then died to claim us as his own. The gospel is about unmerited grace, forgiveness of sins, and putting all the wrong things right again. This is not a gospel of fear. This is not a gospel of self-protection. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not call us to constantly replay in our minds all the bad things that could happen to us if we reach out to those who desperately need us. No, the gospel calls us to die to ourselves– to do things that appear foolish to the world. The gospel calls us to reach out to others and actively work for their good.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58: 6-8)

I have given myself a pass for far too long when it comes to ignoring the difficult things of this world. “My life is so hard already,” I say. Raising two small children who are determined to zap the life force right out of me seems like a good excuse. Plus, I need to spend time with my husband and let’s not forget that I have a very demanding job. There just isn’t the time, energy, or interest left over for me to care about anything beyond my little life.

Systemic problems like the mass incarceration of young black men or the still-present disparity in educational opportunities for so many poor students and students of color are issues that have existed for years. These are things that I do not even know how to begin to think about. And so I don’t.

I just don’t think about them.

I do not own these as my problems or admit that I have any role in finding their solutions. All these years I have willingly worn the blinders that my station in life affords me. These “whiteness blinders” have always been there, focusing my attention on things that society tells me are inevitable, and blocking out the really unpleasant things. I will most likely never worry about the possibility that my church might burn in the night or wonder if my husband will be seen as a threat to law enforcement officers if he’s dressed in baggy jeans and a hoodie. It’s very possible that I could go the rest of my life without ever engaging in meaningful conversations about race with my sons.  I don’t think about the hard things in life because I am mostly removed from them. I don’t think about these things because I don’t have to.

But surely I have some responsibility. Surely the gospel compels me to do something. Raising my young boys to rightly understand this world—to fully grasp the gospel and how they should try to live it out in this time and in this place—may very well be the most important thing I ever do. Will I follow the example of previous generations and hope that because I do not actively teach them to be racist, that this in itself will be enough? Will they understand and see all the ways in which our society is tilted in their favor? Will they grasp the role they are to play in using their privilege to elevate the voices of those that are often marginalized? Will they even care?

How in the world am I supposed to teach them these things when I still have trouble recognizing them myself?

In an effort to educate myself on the civil rights era and how it played out in the places I call home, I am reading books, watching documentaries, and talking to people who lived through it. My husband and I are currently watching the documentary series from PBS, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years. Each night as we watch people recount stories of the bus boycotts in Montgomery or view recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. passionately preaching, I feel the blinders coming off. As I watch the drama unfold of what it took to enroll James Meredith at the University of Mississippi in 1962, or see numerous governors decide to close the public schools instead of integrating them, I am shaken. I am even more shaken to realize that it was totally acceptable in our society for the vast majority of white Americans—many who identified as Christians—to hold such racist views. As I watch white southerners in Arkansas and Mississippi gleefully chant “Two-Four-Six-Eight, We Don’t Want to Integrate,” I realize that I am looking into the face of my past. This—this right here—is my heritage on display.

And it’s incredibly ugly.

What do I to do with all of this? What’s my role in the months and years ahead as I teach my students and raise my children? I still have no idea how to solve big systemic problems like racial injustice, but that doesn’t mean I can remain unmoved by their existence. When people you love are hurting, you hurt with them. If I am able to move through life completely unaffected by the suffering of my black brothers, what does that say about my love for them? What does that say about my claim that the gospel has truly changed me?

Nicholas Winton, the man who saved hundreds of children from Nazi persecution during World War II, said, “There is a difference between passive goodness and active goodness, which is, in my opinion, the giving of one’s time and energy in the alleviation of pain and suffering. It entails going out, finding and helping those in suffering and danger and not merely in leading an exemplary life in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.”

To my shame, I have often been content to live my life “in a purely passive way of doing no wrong.” Due to a combination of ignorance and indifference, I have been unmoved by the injustices around me. I have withdrawn from discussions about difficult things because it makes me uncomfortable. I have not found or helped “those in suffering and danger.”

While I cannot take off my whiteness or opt out of the privilege it brings, I can do more to educate myself and my friends and family about the realities of our shared history. I am convinced that there are thousands of people out there like me. Thousands of people who have no idea what to do and so they follow the path of least resistance that is paved with apathy. For every person that is yelling something hateful or waving a confederate flag intending to offend, there are many, many more people that are stuck in the terrible trap of indifference. I am certain that there are many gospel-believing white Christians out there who want to make a difference but feel helpless and have no idea what to do.

Here is my plea to you, dear friends:

Just begin.

Begin by reading this book, this book, or this book. Begin by watching this documentary. Begin by reading more about how racism is a “system that institutionalizes an unequal distribution of resources and power between white people and people of color.” Begin by finding like-minded Christians who will dialogue with you about your white privilege and give you precious feedback. Begin by inviting the black folks in your life to really be in your life by sitting around your dinner table and praying in your living room. Begin in whatever way seems most natural to you.

But please, just begin.

Except…

I have so many blog posts that are half written, and who knows if this one will actually get finished either. I tend to start writing when the house is quiet and things that have been building up for a while just start coming out. It’s 9:30pm and I should be doing my work so that I can go on to bed at a reasonable time, but instead I just want to get some things off my chest.

My life is beautiful.

It is not what I thought my life would be and, to be sure, there are parts that I wish were different. But I am thankful. I love my job. I am healthy. I am surrounded by people that love me. I have an incredible husband who in every way is more than I will ever deserve. This life is beautiful.

My life is hard.

There are things I wish I could change– moments in time I would like to do over. There are patterns in my life that have developed over the last 20 years that I am slowly unraveling. There are circumstances that I wish I could control and people that I wish understood me better. This life is hard.

My life is not my own.

There are many things I wonder about, many questions that keep me up at night. But here is one thing I know- I am not my own. I’ve been bought with a price, and though I forget again, and again, and again, Jesus reminds me that I am his. My life belongs to another.

My life is a constant contradiction.

I saw something on Twitter or Facebook recently that said something like, “If you are a jerk then you have missed the Gospel.” I honestly don’t remember who said the quote (sorry if it was you!) but I think maybe you were talking about me.*

Because I am a jerk– All. the. time. I might be pretty good at concealing it, but deep down it’s there. Except, here’s the thing… I haven’t missed the Gospel. I just forget it. In that moment when my husband gets home a little later than I thought and I FREAK out on him… I’m forgetting the Gospel. When I give in to anxiety and obsess about things I can’t control, I’m forgetting the Gospel. When I get annoyed at a person (a soul that Jesus loves and died for) because she didn’t do something on my timetable, I’m forgetting the Gospel. In fact, I think we can say that any time we as believers act in a way that is opposed to our nature in Christ, it’s not that we have missed the Gospel (ie, that we don’t understand and embrace it in a salvific way) it’s that we have forgotten it.

Forgetting seems so benign… as though we can’t really help it. On any given day, I forget to bring the diaper bag along on an outing or I forget where I put my keys when we get home. Sometimes I can’t remember if conversations really happened or if I dreamed them. Just like the foreign language you learned in high school or the trig graph you used to be able to draw…. things that used to be clear are now foggy.

And so we need to remind ourselves. We need to be constantly about the business of reminding each other of the Gospel. And I will tell you from personal experience when someone does this for me, it’s like a window being opened in a room that has been shut up all winter. The beautiful sweet air of the Gospel flows freely into my heart and whispers truth to my soul. I’m reminded of the better way, the True Way, of being human. And for a moment I can stop being a jerk. Not because I’m trying harder, or because I understand things better, but because I’ve been utterly captured by the Gospel. And for that one brief moment, I stop being a contradiction and I remember who I really am. A daughter of the King.

 

*[To be fair, I think I know what what he/she is getting at… that being a jerk to other people isn’t consistent with the love of the Gospel, and if we’ve been really changed by the Gospel we will love others like we’ve been loved. But I know that I have been changed by the Gospel… and I’m still a jerk. I don’t always love other people (even my husband!) the way I’ve been loved. I’m selfish and petty and lazy. But, I’m thankful that one day those things will pass away and I’ll see clearly then what is now so foggy.]

Trust.

A Facebook friend (whom I’ve never actually met in person) wrote this on her wall the other day:

I would never write this story or choose this path of suffering.
But I’m falling in love with a truer Gospel and a more loving Father than I’ve known.

 

 Yes, yes, yes. This completely.

I’ve been listening to Keller a lot lately (big surprise). I have about 150 sermons loaded on my iPod and when I’m driving, cleaning the kitchen, or ironing, I’ll often just hit “shuffle” and let a random sermon play. After you’ve listened to a few Keller sermons, you notice that there are some major themes he hits over and over again. Which is good, because I definitely need to hear them over and over. Two themes have been especially helpful for me to soak in and think about deeply– one is suffering and the other is anxiety.

We just can’t get away from suffering. Whether it’s the loss of a job, a friendship, a loved one, our health, or even a dream, we all encounter suffering. And if you aren’t currently in a season of suffering, it won’t be long until you are. I appreciate how clearly Keller shows that believing rightly about how Jesus suffered helps us as we suffer.

Many pastors preach that we should look to Jesus as our example– be good and, even though you aren’t perfect like Jesus, you can still try to be. But, if you look to Jesus as just an example of how to live, it’s going crush you. Either you realize you can’t live up to the example Jesus set and so you are crushed because you’ve failed; or, (more dangerously, I think) you do pretty well and trust in your obedience to save you. But what about when something terrible happens? If we’ve been striving to earn our own righteousness, we will be tempted to get angry at God– What did I do to deserve this? I’ve always obeyed you! You OWE me! Or, if we haven’t been living “rightly” then we will assume we are being punished.

But the cross shows us that Jesus, though perfectly obedient, still suffered. Our obedience doesn’t earn us our salvation, nor does it keep us safe and protected from suffering. Jesus doesn’t use the carrot or the stick method to elicit obedience from his children… he uses love. We obey because we’ve been utterly captured by the Gospel. Period.

So why do we suffer? I don’t know (and neither does Keller!) but I do know that it isn’t tied to how much I’ve sinned lately. Of course, there are sometimes consequences of my sin and foolishness that I might want to count as suffering, but those are really just the natural outworkings of my selfishness and desire to have my own way. When I say “suffering” I’m talking about the things that are devastating– the loss of a job, sickness, the death of a child. The things that just seem to be outside anyone’s control. But, what I’m realizing is that nothing happens outside God’s control. God is in control. If you call yourself a Christian, then you probably agree with that statement in theory, but it’s not how we live our lives. We don’t live as if God is totally in control.

This brings me to anxiety, a topic that I am intimately acquainted with. While suffering is something that happens to us and we have to endure, anxiety is a reaction that we have control over. We’re told (commanded, actually) not to worry. Keller says something about anxiety that I think about all the time– he says that worrying can actually be traced back to pride. We worry because we think we know how things have to go. We have our plan about how our lives should turn out and when things don’t seem to be going that way, we worry.

Ouch. That one cuts me to the heart everyday.

Something interesting has been happening in my life over the last six months or so. I’ve started to really believe in God’s sovereignty in a way that I haven’t before. It’s hard to explain and I’m sure that I can’t fully express how it happened, but something clicked for me. As my husband and I talk about situations that seem hopeless and we are tempted to despair, something wells up inside me and whispers, “This isn’t outside of God’s will. This, too, will work out for your good.” In a very real way, I know that even the really hard things are for my good. God has me. He made me, he saved me, and he sustains me everyday. Surely he cares about this relatively small thing. Of course he cares about this HUGE thing.

So when my stomach is tied in knots and I feel like I’m walking through a fog because I can’t see how things will ever be good again, I need to remember this. I need to remember that God is for me. Whether I’m suffering because of things outside my control, or I’m tempted to worry because I can’t see how things are going to work out, I know that the answer is to trust. Trust the One that endured infinite suffering to win me. Trust the Plan– the perfect, complete, beautiful plan that is for my good. Trust that one day all the pain and sadness will come untrue and we will no longer see dimly, but we’ll see Him face to face.

Trust.

 

 

Friday Roundup 1.20.12

{I had this post all ready to go for Friday, but between busyness and a stomach bug overtaking our house, I am just now posting it. So just ignore all the references to Friday!}

Happy Friday! I hope you are hanging in there this week! I’ve been holding on to the following links for a while, so I hope you enjoy them.

 

Confidence with Time from Ungrind. Sarah writes about the tendency we have to be fueled by our insecurities. So much about this article resonated with me, including her encouragement to set our hearts on things above.

“I sat down on the couch and confessed that I too lived in a false reality driven by insecurities when I was her age. Even in my thirties, I still have to fight those insecurities now. All too often I replay things I said in conversation, over-analyzing and torturing myself. There are some days where I pick and prod at my body, comparing and critiquing to no productive end. Though I wish I could completely put to rest my personal insecurities, I’m glad to say that these torturous thought processes have faded.”

Grace for the Good Girl from A Deeper Story. I cannot wait to read this book! Emily Freeman writes about her journey from a Good Girl who didn’t really have a “deep, dark story” to her understanding that we all need grace.

“I thought I had to be whole, to be right, to hold myself together in order to be loved. I never thought that for you. Your story of loss, heartbreak, scandal and homelessness may have intimidated me, but I knew it was okay for you to have them. But not me. If my story sounded like your story, I would not be okay. And I spent a lot of life making sure my story never sounded like your story.”

Don’t Carpe Diem from Momastery. Glennon is halirious– I don’t drink coffee when I read her blog anymore because I will spit it out all over my keyboard. I really loved this post from her- I’ve struggled with the idea that I should love every, single moment of baby raising. And I just don’t. I love my child more than I ever thought possible, but he’s not going to have a baby book to cherish when he’s all grown up. And it’s my fault. I struggle with feeling like I’m not doing this whole parenting thing right, but then I remind myself that success in parenting isn’t about baby books or making handmade clothing.

“Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy every second, etc, etc, etc. I know that this message is right and good. But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life – while I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.”

So there you go– some things to get you thinking. Have a great, restful weekend, friends!