I look around at the world today and I have never been more confused. There is so much fear and so much division. At what point was such a definitive line drawn as to who is "us" and who is "them?" And what about those of us who profess our faith in God? Is this the example that Jesus laid when he spoke with the woman at the well, or touched the quarantined leper? What about when he attended to a demoniac and set him free, confronted a stone-carrying mob, or to the women he honored and regarded in a time of complete female subjection? His love carried him outside of the bounds of what was culturally taboo, what was created out of fear. Jesus never eeked away from those who were different. He consistently inched towards people no matter the condition of their social standing, their brokenness, their sin. But we, in our own brokenness, believe the lie that different is dangerous.
No matter your coordinates on a map, your political or economic status, we all have the same blood coursing through our veins, the same chambers in our hearts, the same Spirit breathed into our bodies by the same God who created us all for unity and love. We weren't made to build walls, we were made to love and hold each other. The color of our skin doesn't bear a stigma of our values, but rather a geographical necessity designed for life. We fear because we don't understand the differences, and oftentimes would rather believe the lie than confront the error.
The only way I know to confront the massive divide is to inch closer to the things and the people that we fear. We were never called to do what is safe, we are called to extend ourselves in love. Let's not just say Jesus loves us, let's be the conduit of that love. Can we get close enough to the angry mob to see that the stones they carry are really for their own defense? Let's be gracious with our words, hungry enough for understanding that we leave space to discover that there are no others, but one big, global community of "us."
Today is a sacred day that we have marked in a definitive way to celebrate and remember a great man. One who inspired the hearts of many, and gave a boldness and dream to those who were overcome with injustice. He incited change in a peaceful way, and was met with death. His life surely deserves attention.
The kind of attention that we tend to lend to this subject matter is completely insufficient. Think back on the celebrations you had in school during this time. You'd read books, color a picture and superficially discuss what racism was and how the life of MLK, Jr, seemingly made it all better. It's a gross misrepresentation of the severity of the race war and does our children a terrible injustice. It gives this illusion that there is nothing more to fight against and can make our level of involvement, nil.
I grew up in a white middle-class family, with very limited ideas and encounters with racism. I never felt prejudice toward African-Americans. I had black cousins, there were numerous black peers in my schools, and very close friends were a bi-racial family. I never had any reason to doubt that black people were equal and good, yet I found myself intimidated by black men that I didn't know. Nobody overtly taught this to me. Yet, the structure of our society, in both arts and culture, portray POC as lesser, more dangerous, and I was suggestive to those undertones. We all are in some way, that's how these subtle innuendos even exist, because they are deep within our core beliefs.
EVERYONE has blind spots, biases of some sort to sift through. The problem though, is that we are taught to disregard and bury them. Don't ever talk about them openly, don't question or confront racist remarks, just pretend that the world is Pangea and move on. Today is a good day to reflect on those very things, but it shouldn't stop there.
In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," he says:
"I HAVE BEEN GRAVELY DISAPPOINTED WITH THE WHITE MODERATE. THE NEGRO'S GREAT STUMBLING BLOCK IN HIS STRIDE TOWARD FREEDOM IS NOT THE KU KLUX KLAN, BUT THE WHITE MODERATE, WHO IS MORE DEVOTED TO "ORDER" THAN JUSTICE."
What is a white moderate anyway? It is one who has a "shallow understanding" of racial injustice and who is therefore a threat to social progress. It is one who propagates racism by pretending that it is individual and therefore relieving themselves of having to intentionally act against it. Our first shallow understanding comes as we're coloring those pages of MLK, Jr standing behind a podium at the Lincoln Memorial, and thinking that everything is better now. Legal strides have been made for sure, but racism is a strong structure that will only fall with active instigators of peace. Coloring a picture and thinking that we're teaching our children the complex nature of such a heavy matter, is ludicrous. Racial inequality, racial injustices, and personal biases are something that need to be hit heavily all year long.
"ACTUALLY, WE WHO ENGAGE IN NONVIOLENT DIRECT ACTION ARE NOT THE CREATORS OF TENSION. WE MERELY BRING TO THE SURFACE THE HIDDEN TENSION THAT IS ALREADY ALIVE. WE BRING IT OUT IN THE OPEN, WHERE IT CAN BE SEEN AND DEALT WITH."
How many of you look to Colin Kaepernick as a peaceful protestor, and how many of you see him as an instigator, a trouble-maker? How many of you crave for him to just do what is expected for the sake of comfort and order? Can you look at your answer with honesty and realize that maybe, this is another way of viewing your world through the eyes of privilege and with "shallow understanding?" When society chastises Colin's activism more than his oppression, there is something profoundly wrong. We need to start with giving ourselves permission to find the ugly inside. We need to run to POC with questions and misunderstandings, and apologies, and do better so that our children stand a fighting chance. We need to hold hands with our African-American neighbors and let them know that although we aren't perfect allies, we are willing to be there with them, to lend our power to their lack, until the day the scales tip and we can no longer worry about whether we are a white moderate or not.
The "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in its entirety
A Harvard created test for hidden bias
Verna Myers - A powerful and practical way to uncover and walk towards our biases
Then they came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him (Jesus) and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village. Spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on him, he asked, "Do you see anything?" He looked up and said, "I see men - they look to me like trees walking." [Mark 8:23,24]
These two verses have always interested me. They feel pregnant with more meaning than I myself could ever gather. I've read theological interpretations, basically all agreeing that the man's sight was initially healed in part (seeing men like blurry trees) so that his own faith would help bring about his complete healing. This could be true, but after reading a book called "Who Switched Off My Brain?" by Dr. Caroline Leaf, I have another interpretation.
This book is revolutionary in proving the Proverb that states "For as he thinks in his heart, so he is." Dr. Leaf discusses the notion of epigenetics, which simply put, is that our perceptions of life shape our biology. I did a little more studying on the concept of the epigenome to find that it is basically cellular material that will tell your genes how to express themselves and their resulting appearance. When we consciously use our free will and utilize our ability to think, we are making the determination of which genes will be expressed, and which genes will not. What we think about shapes and forms the appearance and function of our genes, which in turn, tells our bodies how to maneuver, and what its overall health will be. The manner in which our body acts is all due to the fact that our thoughts are either healthy or unhealthy.
So it's easy to then add that our behavior, along with our genes, follows our thought life. We all know that already, don't we? The way we believe things to be is our filter for everything else. We react out of those filters and produce either healthy or unhealthy reactions. If our minds are negative, we will react being fear-based and insecure. If our minds are renewed, cleansed, and focused upon what God has called us to think upon ( whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praise-worthy) then we will have a more peaceable nature. Whatever we act on originates from what we think and believe. Actions are simply reactions to thoughts and belief systems.
It's no coincidence to me then that the thoughts in our brain look like little trees. They are electrical impulses that grow stronger and have more interconnectedness the more you meditate upon and believe in them. Where something has been a source of focus, the connections are deeper and more difficult to override. While this man was born blind, he couldn't have begun to fathom the beauty of sight. As he was being revealed this new truth, his entire life and it's belief systems were transitioning also. At first, when he physically only saw in part, he was shown a much deeper truth - that men are walking thoughts, acting out of their beliefs, and that those beliefs, regardless of accuracy or truth, have the potential to root us down with great strength. As the blind man chose to believe the new reality that Jesus was gifting him, his sight appeared, and his life was revived.
We are called to renew our thoughts daily, momentarily. We do that by meditating upon the Holy Scriptures, upon His truth, not what we see before us right in this very moment. When we consistently have our thoughts on him, our hearts can hope, and our brains are hard at work creating new and healthy branches that can tie our entire network of thoughts together, re-creating our lives entirely.
She couldn’t stand the recesses of his mind full of the secrets that only they knew. How the full bloom of a lilac bush presented him pause, the lines of his face smoothing from that blank posture of remembrance. Or how his entire body contracted from her just a little when he’d hear Band of Horses on the radio. She was always trying to convince herself that he wouldn’t leave again, but his love wasn’t the kind of thing you settled into easily. So she did her best to wipe his graffitied heart clean of Her.
They’d met years before, when she was finishing high school and he had his arms around another. Beauty captured him. Her uniqueness given to rapture - big, animal eyes, high cheek bones, a long rounded nose, a perfectly delicate gap between her whitened front teeth. Protruding collar bone exposed through her tiny crop top - like the peak of a mountain he’d like to climb. Before they’d even spoken, he’d decided to have her.
Personality was a crude afterthought. If she wasn’t funny or intelligent enough, he’d convince himself that those qualities didn’t matter much anyway. So long as her immature heart had a softness to it that could conform and mold to his creative hands, the beauty would be enough to hold.
He tormented himself with her accessibility. She was single, panting after him like a love-starved puppy, but he was six years her elder, which wasn’t much on a numerical timeline, but on a social scale had a difference that could sink them both.
While she read “Of Mice and Men” for her English Literature homework, he was signing his name to rent checks and trying on a proper career. He knew he’d have to ask permission of her parents if he wanted to steer clear of faulty accusations, he just wasn’t certain she was worth it. The way she practically begged at his feet, watching his every move, studying and memorizing his personality the way she did, convinced him of her idolatry. Flattered by his old-fashioned ways of asking permission to date, she gave him her dad’s phone number. In her hungry teenage heart, she never once thought his act was less of a consideration and more of a self-preservation. Over a few cups of coffee and an antiquated ritual, she was given to him with an exchange of instructions of care and a firm handshake. The dad-test was passed, the rumors would be kept at bay, and his daughter was free to love a man she didn’t know.
He dove into her and didn’t come up for air. Her grace was his poetry. He made kingdoms from her thoughts. Lovely poems formed, but it was by her very blood that they were assigned to paper. He dipped the bucket down and drew what he could from her. Parasitic, he sucked all of the goodness and magic from her. She was less of a lover and more of a muse. A totem of inspiration to keep his art coming. He was the potter and she, his clay. He wet his hands with her willingness, and molded her the way she'd serve him best.
It didn’t take much for the beauty to dull and become muddled like the stickiness of syrup from the counter where they breakfasted. He was perpetually annoyed with her insistence for his vulnerability. She was drawn to his mystery, but with real moments, when transparency and selflessness meant something, he’d retract, find something to busy his hands with, siphoning her essence through a dismal colander - catching what he could use, dumping the rest down the drain.
He wanted love on his terms, kneaded and forged by his hands, and when her cracks no longer served him, he lumped her back into a ball and threw her with the scraps of every other lover.