Young George

Some days need a reboot.  Some days need a boot.  Today was the latter.

I have been more intentional about avoiding my phone when I start the day.  My sleep schedule has been anything but consistent, and I have tried to start my days without the cares of the world weighing me down.  These last two months have been challenging.  I miss my people, there is very little sense of routine, and issues that weigh heavily on my heart have been front and center.  If you are an empath, these times have not been easy on you.

When I did choose to access my phone, I immediately wished that I had not.  George Floyd, black man, dead.  Cause of death: a police officer’s knee.  A few moments later I saw a story about Christian Cooper, a black man who was bird watching in a public park when a white woman felt compelled to call the police on him, for asking her to leash her dog.  How long, O Lord?

How do we prepare ourselves for the reality that this could happen any given day?  I would rather be the person who feels impacted by this than to be one who is not, but now what?  How do we keep pressing forward when the sea of injustice looks so overwhelming?  And the end of the day, what is different other than so many people experiencing the effects of vicarious trauma yet again?

Friends of mine are sharing words like, “I’m so tired,” and, “This is so hard,” and, “I hate this.”  Other friends of mine, those whom I wish would say anything, have nothing but silence.  Why is it so difficult to acknowledge that the death of George Floyd is anything other than a tragedy?  What part of your identity is so wrapped up in the status quo of institutions that you just meekly shut your mouths?  But then I realize that the answer to my question is within the question.

For several years I have made the distinction between “American Christianity” and “Christians in America.” I will continue to make that distinction until a better one exists.  The former is that twisted bastardization of religion that places country first, denies its ugly history, and does whatever is necessary to maintain what their American religion has taught them is right.  The former is an effort to undo what has been taught and caught, an imperfect attempt to expand the Truth of Scripture beyond the confines of time and place.  And where you find your identity determines how you respond.

I have struggled, of late, to know what is next for me.  As I mentioned above, many of the issues coming to the surface at these times are those that sit front and center for me.  Issues of respect and dignity, valuing the lives of those on the margins, the flaws of our broken systems, and on and on.  At the same time, I have not had my work to center me and offer me an outlet for the grace and love I want to share.  Trying to determine my role and purpose in the middle of all of this only adds to the confusion of wondering, “What can I even do about this?”

The phrase that keeps coming to mind for me is “below the noise.”  I am convinced that true change will not come from our reactions, but rather from preparation and responding.  Yes, the news events of today will elicit a reaction.  If they don’t, where is your soul?  But more importantly, they should evoke a response.  And that response should be coming from the white brothers and sisters who have been living in the ivory towers of systemic racism that have allowed them to have the lives they have today.  It is foolish and a blind eye to history to believe it has happened any other way.

Today I saw two friends post something that was immediately undercut by someone else.  One posted about the importance of valuing her black son and another posted a photo that read, “Stop killing black people.”  Underneath both of those posts were comments that are the equivalent of “All lives matter.”

No.  Stop it.  Just zip your piehole for once.  Do you know why a black mother would post about valuing her black son?  Because the world keeps proving that her black son will one day be perceived as a threat to someone else.  Maybe while he is jogging.  Or walking the street.  Or bird watching.  Or sitting in his car.  Or driving.  We don’t need to jump in with our fragile white identity that demands that everyone is equal when we clearly don’t live the rest of our lives that way.

There’s no need to go to people of color to ask them to dismantle racism.  The burden of racism has been present for centuries and the toll it has taken is incalculable. White supremacy and the resulting systematic injustices have to be destroyed by those who have built them, maintained them, and benefit from them.  We are the only ones who give it life and purpose, and until we redirect our efforts, these injustices which grieve the heart of God, will continue to operate as the seed of our own brokenness.

So what do we do?  We repent.  We cry out in lament.  We seek forgiveness.  We seek to make things right.  We become the learners.  We become the helpers.  We become those who dismantle.  We ask the Lord to open our eyes so that we read the Scriptures in a new light.  We ask the Lord to break our hearts with those things that break His.  And we do that again and again and again.

If you are a white person who professes the Christian faith, I dare you to pray, “God, please help me to remove all racism from my heart.”  If you have ever been asked to pray that in your church, let me know – you will be the first.  So many of us grew up believing that racism was a thing of the past and only evident in the very overt acts that were easily condemned.  But yet, here we are today…with very overt acts…and so many are silent.  What is it that you have to lose by saying that these things are wrong?  Are you worried that you may go down a slippery slope of examining your own actions?

“Some things never change, but some things do.” 

It wasn’t all that long ago in our history that someone who showed kindness towards black people were disdained with a phrase that started with “n” and ended with “lover.” We’re not so different now.  So many of us are convinced that there are two sides to this world and we place everything into those categories accordingly.  If showing kindness to black people and standing up to racism doesn’t fit into your current category, get a new one.

Today two of my sons went up to the track to run like Ahmaud Arbery.  They went up individually and both returned home.  If I’m being honest, it was starting to get a little more concerned as it was nearly dark out and my youngest son had not yet returned.  We didn’t discuss the events of today yet.  Right or wrong, I just didn’t want that conversation for them today.  It is exhausting to both try to protect them and allow them their innocence and to also remind them that the world sees them differently than I do.  My oldest son went for a drive today like Philando Castile.  My son returned home.

That prayer I dared you to pray?  It’s not without awareness of what God can and will do.  Years ago I prayed, “Help me to love more deeply,” and before the night ended I was running through the streets of the city to try to protect two girls who had run away from their treatment programs.  And little did I know that I would spend a couple of years offering our home as shelter for young people who had no other place to lay their heads.  And I think about them tonight, as they go to sleep, just like Breonna Taylor.

And young George?  Well, today I spent some time on the front porch – just thinking.  Looking at the sky and thinking.  As I did, a young black boy (yes it matters) rode by on his bike.  He was maybe 8 or 9, shirt off in late May heat, just being a kid.  And in my mind I thought, “Young George.”  I don’t want to keep living in a world where the mother of that young boy has to worry that her son will see the same tragic end as George Floyd.  So I invite you to join me in doing what we can to make it better.