I’ve written before about how I didn’t think about race for a lot of my life—a luxury I didn’t understand at the time. Having two children with visually obvious black heritage has taught me something different.
I was very aware of the racial differences between myself and my daughters at first, but over time, my day-to-day acknowledgment and awareness have abated because I am just so busy taking care of their daily needs. I don’t have a lot of conversations related to my children’s heritage anymore, and I have learned to walk away from unsolicited comments or insensitive conversations with my hypothetical fingers in my ears.
Recent events remind me that I need to pay attention. For my children’s safety.
I have never hated because of race. But some people do.
I have never moved into a neighborhood and wondered, “is someone peering out the window with hatred in their heart because of what we look like?” But it happens every day to people who look just like my daughters.
I look at mixed-race families and smile—to me, they look like the family of God. But to some people, my family is an abomination.
My innocence to these facts might feel more comfortable, but it’s also ignorant to the reality of what some of our country actually looks like, thinks like, acts like. This is a country where people who look like me literally wave flags of prejudice—and care more about our right to do so than the sense of oppression it makes our brothers and sisters feel. I don’t understand the hatred. I don’t have to live in fear of it, either (and I don’t plan to). But I have to be aware of it.
Oh, how I want more for our children.
When pondering what happened in Charleston, all I could think of was the interconnectedness Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talks about in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (which is fantastic reading):
“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
…There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated.’ By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
…Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’ Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Was not Martin Luther an extremist: ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.’ And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.’ And Abraham Lincoln: ‘This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.’ And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .’
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.
Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
Lord, raise us up to be creative extremists in our churches, families, and communities. Help us transform this stupid, messed up, full-of-potential world into a place that reflects Your love for all of us.