I think it’s time to move this train forward, don’t you?
If you hang out here on a regular basis, you know my feelings about race, racism, the Church, and the Body of Christ. If you hang out on social media, or watch the news, or read the newspaper, you know people are talking. Lots of people are mad, and they’re mad for legitimate reasons, even though not everyone is mad about the same thing. Some people are grieving, and rightly so. Some people are loud, some are quiet, and some are simply overwhelmed.
It often feels as if we’re all fighting a losing battle, and the question I hear the most is, “What can I do?” In other words, people are ready to move the conversation forward. I’ve got some ideas. Some of my ideas are easier than others.
Ultimately, what we’re working toward is something beyond finger-pointing and side-taking. We’re working for a different world view and an elevation of the conversation. If you’re up for it, I believe we can begin to make incremental changes, right in the places where we live, and start to impact things for good. But the first changes take place inside of us. We have to change the way we react to things if we’re going to get anywhere. And, changing our reaction means doing some internal work.
First, some clarification. What I’m writing about here assumes the person reading agrees that systemic racism is a real thing in the United States. The reader agrees some people benefit from these systems while others do not. The reader agrees that, in some cases, it is the reader—regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture—who benefits from the systems that marginalize, or even oppress others. The reader agrees that we are called and commissioned to be catalysts for positive change, right where we live and work each day. And, just to be clear, these things are true for me, too.
So, here we go:
Become a lamenter. Whether a police officer or an unarmed black man, when someone dies, we are called to mourn with those who mourn. Period. In that moment, we are not required to defend, but rather to lament. We are, admittedly, poor lamenters. Our culture is one of stiff upper lips and resourcefulness and, “I can handle this.” We have raised ourselves to be independent; able to take care of me and mine. We have forgotten that we belong to each other, regardless of our station in life. When one person suffers, we all suffer together. When one person grieves, we all grieve together. The loss of a life calls for mourning, and we would do well to make space in our lives for exactly that. We have seen a lot of violent death in the past two years. If we are not careful, we’ll become callous to the loss of life and the empty spaces and the deep, deep sense of sadness that comes when someone dies. Lord, forgive us when we celebrate the violent loss of life, no matter the circumstance. You can mourn the loss of a police officer’s life and the death of a black man, no matter what our culture may have to say about that. When we mourn both, we help move the conversation forward.
Read different. For the rest of the year, only read books written by people of a different race, ethnicity, or culture. Write in the margins. Highlight key passages. Discover places where you connect with the author, and make note of new concepts or ways of seeing things. Write and speak honestly about what you learn about yourself as you read.
Say their names. Does the name, Muhammad Emwazi sound familiar to you? The newscasters dubbed him Jihadi John. He was the man in the terrible videos. The ones from earlier this year that showed the beheadings of Christians in Middle Eastern countries. Those videos scared many of you. It was their goal. Our enemy—and please don’t forget who that really is—meant to strike terror into us, and make us forget that Muhammed Emwazi is a child of God, and that he is deeply and irrevocably loved by God. Love, you see, is the most important thing, but it’s so easy to forget that and to believe comfort or America or position or safety is the most important thing. When we forget about love, we’ll resort to anything to maintain our place in the world, in our country, in our job, in our church, in our neighborhood, in our family. When we resort to name-calling, we rush right past humanity. Thugs. Racists. Idiots. Sluts. These names, and others—like these and much, much worse—reduce a person and strip them of their humanity, their dreams, their potential. These names deny the fact that the person was created in the very image of God.
Speak up. Listen. Honestly. If you are speaking up about other issues, you can speak up about racism. You don’t have to commission a speech writer. You don’t have to argue about it. You don’t. But you can lament the loss of life. You can share what you’ve learned about yourself as a result of reading differently. You can speak the names of the fallen, whether you agree with their lifestyle, their actions, or their view of the world. You can pray for their families as you say grace in your home. You can treat all life equally and speak up in the places where you live and work. You can say something as simple as, “That isn’t funny,” when the wrong joke is told in the office.
Participate. I can’t tell you what this will look like for you. I imagine, however, if you’ve read this far, you already have some idea. If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing there is one particular area of the racism conversation that keeps coming up in your mind. Examine your gifts and your skills. Where do they fit best? What do you have to offer? Where can you have the greatest impact? If you’re a photographer, or an accountant, or a writer, or a chef, how can you offer your gifts to the movement? If you have access to resources, where are they needed the most? If you know people who should know each other, how can you connect them to one another? Remember, however, that you are joining a movement. It’s like starting a new job in an entry level position: you have to learn the culture from those who are already there. This is where the gift of lament will come in handy. It’s also how you’ll begin to find more points of connection with those authors you’ve been reading who are different from you. Finding more points of connection restores humanity and is a catalyst for love. And, as you participate more, you’ll find your voice and you’ll be able to speak up more frequently and with more confidence.
In my book, Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are, I talk about the fact that you don’t have to work up something big or travel to some place far away to make a difference that counts for something. We are the world changers. The change you’re called to make is so much closer and smaller than you think. Incremental, even. When all of us begin to make these very small changes, it starts to add up.
So, here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like for us to know we are in this together. If you’re willing to try one, or all of these suggestions, would you please let me know, in the comments? If you think you’d like to try, but you have questions, first, would you ask your question in the comments, so that everyone can “hear”?
I’m with you.
Carol Longenecker Hiestand
I’d like to do some focused reading, more deliberately than blogs i run across. If someone here wants to suggest a good starting point, I am open. I am also already being more deliberate (deliberate is the key word here ) about forming relationships with people not just like me, instead of just waiting for them to happen. I have chosen to lament with someone who is lamenting. good to be here Deidra. .
Carol Longenecker Hiestand
oh, and I shared your blog today. I don’t share blogs much….
You are a beloved trailblazer, friend. The road ahead will continue with twists and turns that threaten to undo us. But our spirits are united with His.
And nothing is impossible …
I’m with you.
Deidra, I so appreciate your wisdom and leadership in this area. It’s because of your influence in my life that I have begun reading and watching things from a greater diversity of voices, especially since meeting with Helen Fagan at our High Calling retreat last year. I joined a FB group where I am listening in on a conversation about “being a bridge to racial unity,” mostly to learn and discover resources. The other day, I spoke up when someone posted something that was name-calling. I did it gently (I think) and prayerfully, but I had to say something and not stay quiet. I think God is calling me to do that more, and I’m also praying about leading a group in my home or at our church in the spring or summer on these kind of issues, using a resource guide that IF created. I’m also re-writing my children’s book on diversity–a friend has offered to help me publish it–and I am praying about where that might lead. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, but I like the journey I’m on and pray God keeps stretching me.
Patricia W Hunter
I’m in, Deidra.
Thankful for your heart, Deidra, and particularly for this post. It is SO helpful. Also… I’m in.
This is lovely. I have some ideas but am so early in retirement that I want to be wise and careful with what I commit to.
I am going to start with being a lamenter and saying their names. I live overseas in a place where death is too frequent. I think sometimes I don’t mourn all death as much as I should whether local or foreign, no matter the age or race. Thanks for your ideas on how to start making a difference.
This is something that has also been on my mind. We have several grandchildren–3 who are ‘mixed”. They live in a mostly white world. Most of their friends are white, the one with a boyfriend who is white, they are closer to their white family members etc. Yet, I see them having some different viewpoints and opinions because of their mixed race heritage. Through them and their opinions etc, I am able to see things differently than I might have in earlier times of my life.
It is good to step out of our ” skin”, so to speak, in order to more clearly see and appreciate other perspectives. Thank you for drawing us into a “new light”. I am looking forward to your continued blogs on this matter.
Thanks for posting these suggestions, Deidra. I want to explore the “read more” suggestion–because I think that is what will lead to all the other suggestions. I cannot say that is all I will read, but I will make a concerted effort to learn more and seek more points of view. There is always deeper stories tied to an event, an action or response. When there is a vacuum in the place of the deeper story, we all try to fill it (our brains must do this) with something–and our own experiences and values inform how we fill in the blanks.
When I read a news item or article or post about an event with racial implications, I will not jump to judgement, but look for the “back story,” and see all players in the story as God’s children.
I will also remain hopeful, when hope seems elusive. Here is a photo I took that reminds me that hope can spring in the more difficult circumstances, against all odds. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0dd8f87ad3772fa0c6348cb7de371eec75c07c933d46166f8db0bd0a21984c11.jpg
I discovered you and your writing gifts on “High Calling”,
and I consider myself blessed to have done so.
Furthermore, this article’s subject is one I have been reflecting
on for some time now. I found your suggestions are not only precisely what is needed but inspiring, moving us toward loving relationships that will in fact change the world.
I would like to share with you something I wrote last month addressing this polarization that seems to be not only in race relations but also in every realm of life from politics to religion.
Polarization leaves devastation and rage in its wake as it circumnavigates this globe.
Once And For All
by Larry Brook
We walked the road you never walked
We fought the battles you never fought.
We sang the songs you never sang
We rang the bells you never rang.
You ran in places we would fear to tread
You bled blood we never bled.
You spoke words we never said.
You made a stand we never understood.
But here we are together in the same place
Here we stand bitter, face-to-face.
Will you listen to my story?
Will we share in your glory?
How long can we fight?
Hopefully not one more night.
Let’s come together hand in hand
and spread God’s mercy and love across the land.
Pray the light thats shines on us one and all
will put an end to this disunity once and for all.
This is SO powerful. I especially love the first suggestion….lament. Lament first before defending or debating….LAMENT! I am going to imprint that on my heart!
Thank you for this post. It is gracious yet challenging. I want to speak up more–I’ve been reposting things on FB a lot, but I want to go further than that. I want to continue speaking about race with my children, praying for people by name, gently refusing to participate in seemingly harmless jokes/statements (I definitely need courage in this specifically–I don’t want to love my own comfort more than truth and justice). I also want to take the reading challenge and begin to make more points of connection. Thank you so much for these practical suggestions. I am praying for you and your continuing ministry.
What would you recommend reading? I’m not sure where to start.
@disqus_DN5LYhUtCe:disqus Forgive me for butting in, Deidra wrote a post about “building a book list” a week or so ago. The recommendations in the comments are a bit overwhelming, but definitely worth sifting through! https://deidrariggs.com/2015/08/11/in-which-we-build-a-book-list-together-to-help-move-the-conversation-forward/