“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” –James 1:19-20
I have been taking it all in the past few weeks, trying to figure out how to respond to the national conversation involving race and privilege and justice. I have tried not to react, as much as to listen. My heart has been broken, not just because of the video I watched of the tragic death of a black man from police brutality, but because of the riots and the violence and division that followed–including in our own city. Some of me wishes it would all just go away, but I understand that is largely because I am not really threatened by the same injustice that my friends of color have to face, simply because of the melanin level of my skin.
I have never considered myself a “racist,” and have stood for racial justice for most of my life, from my teenage years on–though I suspect not as much as I would have had the proverbial shoe been on the other foot. Lately, I have tried to listen–not so much to respond, but to understand. I have examined my own heart, had honest conversations with African-American brothers, and looked for blind spots in my life, to see what I may be missing in the way I think, and the way I live my life.
I don’t think I need to say this, but for the record, yes, “black lives matter,” even if that statement itself has been been politically co-opted to mean other things. Yes, I know, “all lives matter” (even the pre-born, but that’s a subject for another day). But for now, what’s wrong with making sure we say out loud, to a segment of our nation that has never fully felt like they were on equal ground with the rest of us, that their lives matter to us, and that we care that they have been treated unjustly?
And the bigger question is, what can we–and I say “we” as in a predominantly white-skinned local church–tangibly do to make a real difference in our community and in our world? Not just to give lip-service, or make symbolic gestures, or publicly signal our virtues, but to create real change in our culture to make sure that racial injustice does not happen? It’s easy to point fingers and complain about the way things are, but rather than just curse the darkness, I’d rather us light a few candles. But how do we do that?
Authors Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson wrote a book several years ago entitled “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me).” It describes the mental tricks people play to deceive ourselves, claiming too much credit when things go well, and too little blame when they don’t. We suffer from “fundamental attribution error,” they write, which means when I see bad behavior in you, I attribute it to your flawed character, while when it happens to me, I attribute it to trying circumstances or other justifications. They also suggest that most of us are guilty of “confirmation bias,” and pay attention to the experts who agree with the opinions we already are committed to, ignoring or discounting contrary evidence. (See COVID-19.) So, we surround ourselves with people we already agree with, and never hear the other side.
In other words, it’s not my fault, and from my point of view there’s not really a problem here.
Maybe it’s time for some of that to change. Maybe we need to take some responsibility for the way things are, instead of blaming others, to see the world as “we and us” instead of “they and them.” Maybe we should be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak,” to seek to understand more than to be understood. There is no room for condescension or religious arrogance here, from either side. There is plenty of room for humility, because, as we have been reminded over and over through our recent pandemic crisis, “We are all in this together.”
So, let’s get together. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s pray for one another. Let’s move out of our comfort zones, and take real steps to promote justice and reconciliation. Let’s light a candle, and bring the Light of the world to our world groping in darkness. Let’s live out His gospel, in word and in deed. Let’s be different, and make a difference, in our community.
My prayer for each of us is that God will continue to use this time to bring us to our knees, as a church, a community and a nation, and that through it He will draw us to Himself like never before. I’m grateful for each of you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.