And Now Baltimore: The Things We Must Not Say

Typically in self-preserving fashion, I stay clear of topics that are controversial. But today, God help me, I’m jumping in.

Social media can be fun. It can be hurtful. It can also expose our thoughts and beliefs for what they are, right there in black and white, glowing proof of our inside thoughts for the world to weigh in on. I’m weighing in on this matter with my own words today and I’m asking that those of you from the dominant culture such as myself, to take. a. step. back. and think about what we say.

And if you sense that I might have a little bit of an…attitude, well yes, that’s possible. I don’t want anger to communicate this message, because I believe that what I have to say is important. But above all-

Think about this with me. Please.
Onward.

Here are four things we must stop saying.

1. “Things are so much better than they used to be.” Or, “We have come a long way.”

To illustrate the absurdity of this statement I’m going to use the analogy of a woman in an abusive marriage who has sought professional counseling. One day she comes to the therapist with some good news.

“My husband only beat me once this week. It used to be every night!”

The therapist, instead of being appalled that she is being abused at all, reacts with joy at this news and agrees with her that “Things are so much better than they used to be!” And then decides they can move on to a less pressing issue.

Most of us would tell this woman to get a new counselor.

Friends, if there is any oppression going on in our country of any kind, it is wrong. Even if it is just one person. And repeatedly for the past year because of the wonders of media technology, we have seen firsthand one person here, another person there fall under circumstances that at the very least are extreme, harsh, and lethal.

And more than being wrong, God will not stand for it. We can pray and fast all we want for revival to come to our country, but what about Isaiah 58? Only a couple of verses are highlighted here but the whole chapter should be read:

Verse three:

‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’

And then, verse six.

“Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?

Oppression takes many forms. Unless you have experienced it firsthand, it is highly likely that you will not recognize it. I cannot believe that so many of us are experts on something that we ourselves have never experienced.

2.  “Those thugs.”

Since when did this word become an everyday thing in our vocabulary? And not in a caricature sort of way, an exaggeration of a Hollywood murderous type. No, it’s become an actual name for someone that we have decided is a no good criminal, a worthless human being.

What were some of the names you were called before you knew Jesus?

What does God call that person that you see on your TV screen, the one filled with hate and hopelessness? How does God see that person He created?

There are only two voices that matter here. One is the voice of conviction (Holy Spirit), the other the voice of accusation. All accusation comes from a singular source: the enemy. And when we call people names based on their actions, based on the brokenness of sin in which we have all partaken, we are standing in agreement with the one who hates them the most.

We must break our agreement with the evil one.

Cursing and blessing cannot come out of the same mouth.

We can pray for conviction to break in. And, you know? God’s kindness leads us to repentance. Not just to us who have made it safely into the church, but also to those who are wounded and hateful.  What redemptive purpose does it serve to call them names?

3. “They are destroying their own city.”

This may or may not be true, but I have another point that goes beyond another blind assumption. Can we entertain the thought that people who behave in destructive ways may not believe that they own anything? That their own thoughts, opinions, gifts and abilities are non-existent and worthless? That their future is a complete unknown, except for the guarantee of punishment, incarceration, or death?

Once again, it may be hard to believe because we have not experienced this kind of hopelessness ourselves.

This is another way to show our ignorance and lack of compassion for people who have not had the advantages we have had.

4. “Just obey the authorities.”

Even people like Franklin Graham seem to believe that this is the easy, simple fix to the problem. Read a response from one part of the Christian community here.  It sounds good on the surface, but the reality is that it subtlety blames the victim.

It also sends the message that if people only behaved in the correct way, there would be no problem. Addressing this is Jen Hatmaker in her powerful piece for the Washington post, who references MLK:

MLK famously dubbed this a “negative peace,” as it is no indicator of actual societal peace, only an absence of confrontation; everyone just settle down and don’t make us uncomfortable. We whitewash 400 years of systematic oppression and then scold the black community for bearing its scars.

Let’s go back to the analogy of the abused woman. The life she lives goes by different unwritten rules, ones that she discovers by trial and error. Her life revolves around being good enough so that she does not dare to invoke the anger of her husband.

One day she decides to reorganize the house. She changes the furniture around, cleans up the corners and happily refreshes the view around her home.

When her husband comes home, he trips over a chair because he was not expecting it to be there. This leads to an immediate explosive confrontation where she is accused of being disrespectful and hurtful.

His anger is not about the chair but is from something that he carries deeply within himself. She has unwittingly tapped into it.

We don’t get that there are unwritten rules, because we wrote them a long time ago. We don’t have to live by them, we just get to enforce them.

It is also possible to act like a guilty person even though you are not, because you know you’re already considered guilty. And when that person meets up with an enforcer of either a written or an unwritten rule, the fireworks have already been lit on the potential for an explosion.

The folks in the Black community are just as appalled by the violence as anyone else. But I think that our reaction to it dumps even more shame on them, as if they don’t know how to raise their children. As if they don’t care about following the law. As if we are the ones who know how to be decent people.

Friends, listen. It is time for some humility. It is time to be the change that we demand others make first.

We are reaping what has been sown. If oversimplifying things is what we want to do, let’s start there.

I have more to say, but my eyes are tired and my days are very full but my heart is heavy and my soul is disturbed. Thank you for reading this, even if you disagree. If this causes even one person to rethink their words, I will be so grateful for that.

Because our words are powerful.

Yes, #blacklivesmatter

Yes, #policelivesmatter

But what I’m saying is that our words matter.

They bring condemnation, or life. We get to decide which.

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8 comments

  1. Yes! I agree exact with you, and especially good point abt the words that come out of our mouths, calling them thugs, etc. That is a reflection of our hearts, our perceptions and beliefs. I also was upset with frankly graham’s response abt them just needing to respect officers and obey, then there won’t be any problems. How simplistic and arrogant. He seems to be in denial abt the issues. Indeed, the race issues are still simmering and not improving. It’s going to take a genuine revival in the Church to bring about change i our hearts first so we can be a light to bring genuine change in our culture. Right now, we are too much like the world. Blessings.

  2. Like. A lot. Words matter – all. the. time. Good stuff, friend. #alllivesmatter
    We are the ones called to make the change; to choose to change.
    Coffee soon {with a dash of apple cake}.

    1. Thank you Jennifer. Interesting how some things we say communicate something we don’t really intend. I’m still learning and am asking God’s help in how i both think about these things and communicate with others.

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