Friday, August 22, 2014

When we are moved to action

"It is in community that we come to see God in the other. It is in community that we see our own emptiness filled up. It is community that calls me beyond the pinched horizons of my own life, my own country, my own race, and gives me the gifts I do not have within me." - Joan Chittister

Quite easily, I could turn reading articles and following twitter-feeds about #Ferguson into a full-time job. The noise surrounding the whole thing has become, well, noisy. Not to mention overwhelming and capable of freezing-me-forever in a stasis of waiting until I know all the facts. Until the verdict and sentence, until the next shooting, or until the protests stop, until the noise dies down. At some point, however, both our faith in a God who cares, and our love for our fellow human beings must lead us to action. Because like it or not, those of us who profess and follow Jesus are the Church. Regardless of where we plant ourselves on Sunday mornings (or evenings, or Saturday nights), or where we fall on the spectrum of debate surrounding this particular shooting in this particular neighborhood.

If there is one truth that cannot be ignored in this whole thing, it is this: significant issues and pain surrounding race still exist in our country. People hurt on both sides of the equation, and we must find ourselves willing to raise our voices for and with a hurting world.

On the Thursday following the shooting and after protesting had grown tumultuous, Capt. Ron Johnson made a comment after being tasked with calming the crowds. He said: I am not afraid to walk with them.

And I wonder what would happen if the Church took the same stance. Not necessarily to literally walk with the protestors, not necessarily to fly to Ferguson, to riot, or march (though maybe that). But to seek out the young black males who look a whole lot like Michael Brown, and walk unafraid alongside them. Because we are the Church, and I am afraid that if we do not act, we will lose our credibility in a world that desperately needs real answers. Not more services, not bigger screens and louder songs, not new sanctuaries or more programs. But Jesus: the good news of the Gospel that gets lived out by actually walking alongside the fatherless. Alongside the widows, the orphans, the oppressed.

Strangely enough, something happens to us in this walking. We are changed by knowing people, by hearing their stories, by passing them the salt and pepper across the table. By watching movies together, and riding in cars with music blaring and windows down. By taking public transportation side-by-side, and picking out our favorite flavors of chips and fruit in the grocery store. By going to baseball games, and walking the dog. By changing tires, and by washing dishes. The seemingly mundane physical acts of an actual relationship work something mysterious in our hearts.

I know it from experience. From high school years driving downtown only reluctantly, doors securely locked. Fears overcome only in the knowing of actual people with actual names. Because not too long ago, we found ourselves sitting exactly where some of you maybe sit today. Newly married, with a cute house and adorable puppy. We had fun and ate cheap Mexican food once a week. We were highly (possibly overly) involved in a wonderful church as leaders and nursery-workers, making decent money, working fulfilling jobs and living the dream. And yet. We couldn’t quite shake the nagging suspicion that perhaps God had something more, something bigger (or smaller) for us, for all His followers. Then we ended up at Camp Grace (mostly because of happenstance, and an uncanny ability for flexibility), and volunteering at the Dream Center, where we decided to mentor a few very special young men. Our lives slowly became more entwined with theirs: with their schools and their families, and the homes the city razed in favor of an empty field next to the Georgia Dome. We watched them move and move again. And then we moved in too.

After all that, we have finally figured it out. Except for the fact that figuring it out has mostly meant realizing we cannot figure it out at all. We’ve discovered, however simply, that following and believing Jesus will always lead eventually into something more, provided our willingness to say yes at each step along the way.

We’ve also learned a thing or two about the upside-down Kingdom of God. In which the first will be last, and rich equals poor and you must lose your life to find it. And yes it leans hard, and sometimes scary. But at the end of all the unraveling and searching, we find ourselves mostly at a place of great peace and joy. Because we love where we live, we love our neighbors, and we love all the kiddos who show up on our front porch. Because if we hadn't followed Jesus in this particular way, and chosen to walk alongside some pretty amazing boys, we would not know. We wouldn't understand, and maybe we wouldn't even care. And caring, it turns out, is both a gift and a burden birthed from entwining your life with people who are not just like you.

What if, I can’t help but wonder, every single family at even just one church in Atlanta came along-side every single Michael Brown in our neighborhood? Beyond that, what if the Church as a whole agreed to walk with the young men and women who live in towns like Ferguson. And Atlanta and Chicago and Dallas and Los Angeles. Not to "save" them, or even to stop them from ending up the next Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown; but just maybe to save ourselves from falling into the prejudices that linger uneasily in our own hearts.

We don’t want you to leave thinking that I am saying all of these things simply because we need more mentors. We don’t need more mentors; we need more people who believe Jesus. More people who believe His words, His heart for justice, and His unique love for the poor and marginalized. We need more people who want more of Him, and who want to find themselves wherever He is. Who are not afraid to walk with them, to listen and to speak up, and to build relationships built on a mutual respect for the Christ who calls both the Samaritan and the thief his neighbor.

So, it comes down then to this: we want you to be a part of mentoring because we BELIEVE what Christ says. In the wake of relentless news stories and plenty of insistent voices surrounding inequities and pain, we think it’s time for Christ-followers to take seriously His commands to love the poor, to care for the fatherless, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And we think it grieves the heart of God to see any of His beloved children gunned down regardless of circumstance. We believe the wounded world is waiting for a people who say they follow Jesus to look differently. To risk walking through tear gas, and to grapple with hard questions of justice, particularly from the viewpoint of the oppressed. To stop denying there is a divide, and to get to work building a footpath across it. We believe Jesus cares deeply about economic inequality and racial injustice, and we want to be a part of what God’s heart is about. Period.

We call ourselves a movement of Christ-followers who believe that God is present in the darkest corners of our city because we have met Him there. And we would love for you to meet Him there too.

*Note: The last thing I want anyone to think is that mentoring, for us, means anything remotely close to a bunch of white folks helping a bunch of black kids see the error of their ways so they will be more like us. Instead, we hold it to be an inadequate word for describing a beautiful, mutually transforming relationship that has the ability to change things. Because authentic relationships transform the way we see the world far more readily than reading an article or retweeting a headline. And so even if you don't want to or cannot mentor necessarily, you must find ways to diversify your life. The Kingdom of Heaven will certainly not look a whole lot like you, so why should your walk with Jesus here on Earth? Create a reconciliation circle. Choose a school for your kids where they sit under teachers of color, and learn alongside people whose skin-tones span the rainbow. Attend a church where you worship with people who don't mirror you so much as they stretch and challenge and reflect Jesus to you in ways you have never considered before. Whatever it is, do something. The time presses for us to move towards the kind of unity as a family of believers that reflects here on earth a coming Kingdom in which every tear will be wiped away. 

If you want to be committed to racial justice, you must do more than read a book at home alone. You must do more than add people of color to your social media lists. You must do more than attend an MLK service or a Ferguson vigil. These are good things. You will benefit from them. But buying our books and reading our blogs and sharing our posts were never intended to BE your journey. These things are to aid you in a much larger commitment to justice and reconciliation in the world. –Austin Channing Brown

6 comments:

  1. I love the *Note the most. Thank you again, friend.

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    1. I kinda love that part most too. I think. I dont know ha :-) Anyways, I love YOU most, that's for sure - just got another box of books -- you're the best!

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  2. This is one of my favorite things you've shared with us. (imagine there's a heart emoticon right here.)

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  3. What a great post, Becca. Thank you for sharing so eloquently.

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    1. Thanks Rachel, hope you and your cute little family are doing well!

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