The Way of Love in Racial Justice: Unlearning Speed, Distance, and Innocence
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children, and refuses to be comforted, because they are no more. Jer. 31:15
Beloved St. John’s community,
As I have watched and participated in the events of the past week—listening, sharing, marching, connecting, reading the news, praying—I, like many of you, have been asking: what does God call us to do right now?
To do nothing, to say nothing, is absolutely not acceptable.
And yet the depth of the harm from racism and white supremacy is so very vast, and so enmeshed in all our systems, that it is overwhelming. Where do we even start? Should we just jump to the most obvious thing—MPD reform? Certainly, that would be a great use of the privilege and power of many folks in the St. John’s community. In fact a group for just this purpose is convening Fridays at 1pm; please contact Steve Schewe to get involved. There are lots of other practical actions that really need to happen to support Minneapolis and all its people right now; the next article in this newsletter addresses those. But the kind of conversion of life that God calls us to, that Jesus is already leading, that the Spirit is empowering already at the margins, goes way deeper than those things.
I truly believe with all my heart that we are called to conversion of heart, bodies, minds and lifestyles, which begins with lament. To experience in my own heart and body the full extent of the harm racism and white supremacy has been inflicting. That harm is most visible in what it has done to black and brown bodies. We all have a visceral and horrifying example of that in the video in which we watched Officer Chauvin callously kill George Floyd. But the harm of white supremacy goes deeper than that. White supremacy, or the imbedded assumption that white culture is the “norm” and superior to other cultures and races, has also done great damage to all of us. White culture says that it is not acceptable to fail. To experience emotion. To be vulnerable. This greatly diminishes all of us; it separates us from much of what it means to be human. And so for white people, the most common go-to tools in our toolbox when we confront something that is wrong is to think and to problem-solve; to be intellectual and to fix things. At these gifts we truly do excel, and that is not a bad thing. But we need more tools in our toolbox right now.
We need the tool of lament. Of experiencing the anguish of recognizing and living with the harm that has been done, not just to black and brown bodies, but to all of us. To recognize that if this could happen to George Floyd, it could happen to any of us. We need conversion of the heart, in order to sustain following Jesus into the journey of repentance, healing, reparation, and justice-making.
In Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing, authors Emmauel Katongole and Chris Rice say that to truly engage the work of reconciliation, we need to learn the discipline of lament: to relocate to the places of the world’s pain until we recognize that that pain is and always has been our own. To do this we must “unlearn” three things: speed, distance and innocence. We must unlearn the temptation to rush to quick and superficial fixes that only mask our brokenness. We must unlearn distance–watching suffering from the outside—and instead relocate to the particular pain of a particular place. “When we draw near to those who are most sinned against, our call is first not to “make a difference” but to allow the pain of that encounter to disturb us.” And we must unlearn innocence—learning to recognize our own complicity, as individuals and at St. John’s, in what has happened to George Floyd and so many others.
Where does all this land with you? If you let yourself move past a thinking response to the events of the past week and pay attention to what is happening in your hearts and your bodies, what are you experiencing?
Over the days and weeks to come, I will be inviting us as a community to do this deep work. We will have tools for doing this. I am in conversation with those who already know how to midwife the death and rebirth that needs to happen for us to accept Jesus’ call to follow him to the margins. Stay tuned. But in the meantime, make time for grief. Make time to pay attention to voices from the margins that you don’t usually hear. Make time for the paradoxical joy from God’s Spirit that comes from recognizing the truth—and knowing that God’s love is still the strongest force on earth, stronger than the sin of racism. That love isn’t going to make any quick superficial fixes, but real love in action is what heals.