“What did you just say?”
My friend looked at me from the passenger seat, leaning forward for emphasis, as he asked the question again: “WHAT did you just say?”
We were riding together and I was driving in my then-typical road-rage-at-all-times manner. When a driver in front of me failed to go as fast as I would have liked, the anger bubbled up, but what came out was deeper and more foolish than mere road rage.
I didn’t consider myself a racist. I had black friends, after all (Lord, forgive me). I would have told you I saw everyone equally, but the ignorant word which escaped my mouth revealed the truth in my heart. My friend called me on it, let me have it, and though I didn’t like it at the time, I’ve never forgotten that moment.
And it was close to 30 years ago.
My heart has gone through a lot of change since then, and I’d be tempted to say, if you asked me, that I wasn’t racist.
But I know better, thanks in part to that event all those years ago. We can convince ourselves of a lot but, as Jesus said, out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
A few years ago, I was at the state fair with my family. My oldest saw a group of policemen standing together and said, “Dad, there’s the po-po.” She’s always worried about getting in trouble. I told her, “Honey, unless you’re doing something wrong, you have nothing to fear from them.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I stopped walking and thought “How many of my African-American friends can’t say that to their kids?”
The news this past week, the horrible video of an officer of the law with his knee on the neck of a man begging for breath, now stands stark in my mind. I’ve seen my friends give voice to their fears of harm, or worse, for their husbands, wives, sons and daughters…all because of how the color of their skin may be perceived in ANY situation.
And while we can all (I hope) condemn the terrible acts which led to Ahmad Aubrey and George Floyd’s murders, where are our hearts? What lies within them? Not what we say or how we act when we know we’re being watched. No, deep down, on the inside, where are our hearts? What is our initial response to protest? To anger? To pain? To hurt? Turn on the news right now and ask yourself those questions.
I don’t know how to write this, to be honest. I don’t know how to not come off condescending, patronizing or self-aggrandizing, like “look at me and my non-racist condemnation of white privilege.” I don’t know how to do it. I hesitate to even share the posts of others on social media, not for fear but because I don’t want to be fake. I’m not saying those who do ARE, but it’s just too easy. It’s too easy to act like you’re not “one of them” as opposed to looking at your own heart.
God, there is so much I want to say, and I just don’t know how. All I can say, to all my friends of color, is “I’m so sorry.”
I’m sorry for my own ignorance (a word that stems from ignoring, right? Acting like there isn’t a problem).
I’m sorry for the ways I’ve contributed to your hurt, directly or indirectly.
I’m sorry for the ways I’ve assumed everything is ok, when it’s not.
I’m sorry for not taking a stand with you, beside you.
I’m sorry for not listening close enough to your words, to your hurt.
God, I long for the Kingdom to come…I long for the pain to stop, for the hatred to stop, the hurt, the heartache, the tears, the WRONG. I LONG for these things…but, please listen closely, longing for these things and working for change are NOT the same thing. I don’t want to sit back and use the “well, when Jesus comes it will all be made right” line. No, because Jesus IS here…in His church, in His people, in the acts done to the least of these…He is here, now, and we are to be pushing back at darkness, wherever it may be found. PUSHING BACK. Actively moving.
I ask again, where is YOUR heart in this? Where is MINE?
I’m thankful for my friend, all those years ago, who pushed back at the dark in my heart. I didn’t change overnight, and I still have a LONG way to go, but that moment was a watershed for me, even if I didn’t realize it then. Today I texted with him. I thanked him for being willing to push back at my ignorance. He told me he is so discouraged by what he sees in our country today, but that he wants to keep calling out racism wherever he sees it. He made a comment that I thought was profound:
“I’d like to feel as if George Floyd is a name we can attached to real change. People are stuck at home with no distractions to sweep this under the rug with. People might actually pay attention this time. I hope.”
So do I.
Four years ago, I remember the unrest on the heels of Ferguson, Baltimore, Charlotte. I remember seeing the faces of friends who were angry, frustrated, hopeless…friends begging for change, looking for hope, begging for their voices to be heard, seeking even one word of comfort. This week, with the news out of Minneapolis, California, Atlanta, Raleigh, Nashville…it was all just too familiar. And what pains me is it truly seems as if nothing has changed. History repeats when we don’t learn and grow, and it seems as if we have not.
And yet, in spite of this, there is an ember of hope burning in me.
This morning, as our church prayed together, we used the words of a familiar liturgy. Today, however, they had a different effect on my heart. They spoke directly to my own complicity, my own things either done, or sadly, left undone. And yet, they are a reminder of the unbreakable and magnificent grace of God in Jesus, the One who promises to make all things new.
Merciful God, You pardon all who truly repent and turn to You
We humbly confess our sins and ask your mercy.
We have not loved you with a pure heart,
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves
We have not done justice, loved kindness,
Or walked humbly with you, our God.
Have mercy on us, O god, in your loving-kindness.
In your great compassion, cleanse us from our sin.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
May this prayer, may the power and love and grace of Jesus, be fuel for the fires of change in my own heart, in yours…in our country and in our world.