These past few weeks have been tumultuous. The effects linger even as protests diminish. The impact has staying power—the message of racial disharmony seems heard; will it lead to change? This is the dynamic hoped for, and some people welcome any kind of change for in their minds this is better than no change at all. At least the conversation has begun, or has it? In the aftermath of turmoil, though there is agreement on the topic of conversation, the tone, direction, and projected outcomes aren’t as clear. Racism is the backdrop of the current national conversation, but subtexts of it delve into police brutality, the nature of protest, civil unrest, what constitutes law and order, anarchy, how much force is tolerated for the sake of order, where can blame be placed for what’s erupted? These subtexts are the smog that obscures what is otherwise apparent. Put another way, these subtexts drain momentum and energy so that fatigue becomes common, and anything that will eliminate fatigue becomes attractive even if it doesn’t amount to much in terms of the original topic.
This is why we are first called to listen—to the marginalized for understanding, and to God for direction. But listening, not response (even well-intentioned), is where we must be in this moment. Too many times when this conversation has begun, we have leapt to action we deemed necessary and helpful. And by “we” I mean the White church that longs to do something but doesn’t know what or how. We are problem-solvers, fix-it by nature, solution seekers even before we know the full extent of the problem we aim to solve. And, truthfully, this only compounds the problem for we typically set about answering questions no-one is asking while ignoring the main question the marginalized and oppressed are asking. Can we please temper our haste to solution, and humbly, prayerfully listen deeply to hear, and by this I mean understand, the issue of racism from the perspective of those who live with its reality on a daily basis? I have been doing this, and I invite you to do the same. Read, listen to their sermons, watch documentaries that outline the history that shapes the identity of Black people in America, speak with Black friends, neighbors, co-workers about their experiences. And as you listen, do so silently. By this I mean, don’t argue for a different perspective, don’t try to justify actions, don’t offer solutions, don’t try to evade responsibility, don’t try to define the narrative—just listen. In listening you absorb the story and invite it to affect you. In between listening to our Black sisters and brothers, listen to God’s answer to the question: what do I need to hear, what do I need to own, what do I need to see from Your perspective? Now is not the time for asking: what do I do? That time will come, but now is a time for listening. It takes time and effort to listen well; it is a worthwhile investment.
Also, as a spiritual discipline, I have begun daily recitation of Psalm 44 (in solidarity with the oppressed), Psalm 51 (as confession of America’s original sin of racism—I agree with the way it has shaped our attitudes and I confess this on behalf of myself and others), Psalm 46 (in anticipation of what God has and will bring about). I read these as prayer—where the text is individualized, I recognize my own need to identify with it, but I also read it through in the plural: I/our, me/we. I am praying for God’s purpose to be realized as the outcome. Which doesn’t mean I have no role in bringing this about—I do, we all have a role to play; we are God’s instruments—it does mean that I release my expectations and outcomes surrendering that energy, space, and hope to something the Lord has made and is making. I am praying to hear clearly and then to move by the impulse of God’s Spirit into the places I am sent. Perhaps this can be your prayer as well. I am deeply hopeful and eager for change to occur. I desire that whatever we find ourselves doing as this unfolds among us (our congregation in particular and the nation generally), that it is a permanent feature in us and effectual in bringing about God’s vision for all of us. More to come in the weeks ahead.
This weekend we’ll celebrate graduates as they embark on the next chapter of their lives. Congratulations to them! This Sunday night is Jazz Vespers which is always a respite and refreshment. And, Dads, don’t forget your video clip about the car. You know, this was conceived as a virtual replacement for the car show we’ve tended to hold on Father’s Day. If you’re just not into that, send us a clip of you with your kids—that counts as well. Send them to . This has been a long season of separation. It may last a while longer yet. Persevere by being present to what you have in this moment, as challenging and perhaps maddening as that can be. How is God using this for good in your life? See you Sunday!