I can’t say with integrity that I’m an activist or a major community leader. I’m simply a small congregation pastor, a teacher of the scriptures. I’ve wrestled with how to write about the protest movements that are shaking our nation. Everything I’ve drafted rings hollow or tone-deaf or hubristic. I don’t claim to have earned the right to make big public statements on racial issues. Nor do I expect the trust of those who have long been working in this arena.
Even so I add my voice to the swelling chorus that says “Black Lives Matter.” The chorus of voices does not say this because they think Black lives matter more than others. Rather the chorus cries out because by our society’s actions, it’s clear that we as a culture treat Black lives as mattering less. This devaluing of life is a devaluing of the image of God that every human being carries. It is sinful and wrong.
I affirm my intention to keep taking steps, however clumsy they may be, toward the kind of peacemaking that is a hallmark of the Kingdom of Christ. To that end, I can say that I have benefitted greatly from friendships with some very patient and encouraging African American brothers and sisters in Christ. They have been my teachers as they share their stories, their heartaches, and their dreams. None of them have ever taken the mantle of spokesperson for all African Americans. Yet the running thread through their stories is that their experience of life in America is vastly different from mine. They have challenged me to deeper introspection and self examination, specifically on matters of race. I commend to you the practice of sitting as a student at the feet of your friends who are from minority racial backgrounds. It can be profoundly uncomfortable, but it is also healthy and enriching.
They have also challenged me to expand my reading list to include contemporary works by racially diverse authors. Here is a sampling of my curriculum over the past few years. I commend any of these works to you. They will take you on an emotional ride, but if you approach them with humility and openness, you will glean insight.
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. This exhaustively researched (and meticulously footnoted) book traces the history of racist ideas in America. Kendi proposes that racist ideas are not primarily rooted in hatred. Rather, they serve as rhetorical tools to advance the interests of the wielders of those ideas. Through history, racist ideas morph and change in order to keep serving the interests of those who deploy them.
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown. Brown shares stories from her own experience, revealing how the Evangelical church and other institutions use rhetoric of diversity, yet undermine that rhetoric through demeaning actions and attitudes. Brown charts her own path to self-worth and dignity.
Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy. Alia writes about her faith journey as an Asian-American and a person who struggles with Mental Health Issues. She makes a powerful case for the dignity of those on the margins. While this work does not deal with African-American issues of race, it touches on the broader issues of inclusion and diversity.
Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston. The great early 20th Century African American Ethnographer interviewed the last surviving victim of the last slave ship that came to America. This interview languished unpublished until 2018. A stark and heartbreaking picture of both the slave trade and the Jim Crow era.
Counting Descent by Clint Smith. A collection of contemporary poetry. The marvelous thing about poetry is the way it takes the particularities of a lived experience and connects it to the universal experience of being human. Smith renders his experience as a New Orleans African American in poetry that is lyrical and evocative.
Blessed are the Peacemakers by S. Jonathan Bass. A history of the writing of Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and the stories of the named recipients of that open letter. A nuanced and interesting historical read.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A letter from an African American author to his son, explaining the experience of being black in America.
Finally, I’m just sad. Sad at the loss of life; sad at the state of our society; sad about things in my own heart. I look to Christ in hope. By His Spirit, Christ has been working through leaders and peacemakers. I commend to you these Christ centered peacemakers who have reflected the hopefulness of Christ (not an exhaustive list): Sherman and Sadell Bradley, Nick Jackson, Oneya Okuwobi, Marlena Graves.
May the Lord move in us all. RS
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