The word that best describes how I feel after watching the video of #GeorgeFloyd is “exasperated.” It angers me. I’m sad that this is people’s experience. I feel exhausted by the seemingly unbreaking repetition and continual occurrence of these types of events. I’m disturbed by our societal callousness and at times dismissive or deflective reflexes. And I’m frustrated that justice so often times feels like an uphill battle rather than the grooves of our humanity. I’m grieved that this is the world we live in.
Of course, as I feel this way, I’m also confronted with the reality that my sense of feeling exasperated — as if this is all just some annoyance I might otherwise choose to ignore if I wanted — is contrasted with the experience of many others for whom this is not something they can avoid even if they desire. In other words, I possess the choice to look at this reality square in the eyes and face the discomfort, if I want to. It pains me to do so. And I feel exhausted by it. But it’s a choice I make. Likewise, I possess a certain position that would equally allow me to look away, ignore it, “escape” it, if I so wanted, because it does not directly affect me. For others, this “discussion,” however, isn’t a choice. The issue is thrust upon them whether they like it or not. They can’t just look away and ignore it; they can’t just choose to walk away. It’s their lived-reality.
I don’t know what it’s like to live black in America. And so as I think about this/these events, even as I’m self-aware of my own sense of exasperation, it causes me to think of my black and brown friends and the POC I know, and how their experience is different than mine in these moments–what I can only imagine is the unsettling feeling that they can’t just choose to walk away from this reality like I could if I wanted. This isn’t just the occasional occurrence in our news cycle, here today and gone tomorrow, “on pause” — out of sight and out of mind — until the “next one” pops up.
We live in a divided age where everything is polarized; everything is politicized and partisan. We’re becoming increasingly tribalized; and these tribal identities condition us with reflexes to place everything we hear into our preconceived categories of partisan talking points and positioning. We sort of pick our “side,” and then listen to others with an ear to pick up on what “side” they’re on, so that we can figure out if they are with us or against us. It dulls us from hearing nuance. It undercuts our ability to engage in balanced approaches to issues. It pushes us towards the extremes. And it fuels us talking past each other. All in all, it proves counterproductive to our ability to have edifying, respectful dialogue where we could actually learn from each other–which is exactly what we need to do.
So for instance, in cases like this, if someone says something that remotely sounds critical of certain police officers’ actions, given our current social and political climate, many people will immediately peg them as anti-cop and assume all the worst ideas sometimes associated with “that side.” Or likewise, if one says something about supporting police officers, some immediately lump them together with the worst positions of the “other side.” We need better balance and nuance. We can care about these instances of police brutality, and still support the police; and we can support the police without having to deny that we have a problem with police brutality. Avoid the false dichotomy that says both concerns can’t be true or exist within the same individual. And speaking directly to Christians, I believe we of all people should model this sort of balance and nuance to our surrounding culture–as people committed to the truth, and not beholden to any partisanship positioning or posturing.
Undoubtedly we will not always agree with one another. Some of us may still feel skeptical towards others’ positions. We have different experiences. But if we, the church, truly are a people who profess to care about others, the first step in caring is listening. Regardless of whether you totally agree with someone or not, you cannot care for someone while simultaneously ignoring and remaining callous to their concerns. And as people who desire to be “quick to hear” (James 1:19), we must especially be willing to hear those who have different experiences and backgrounds than our own. So, church, in the days to follow, let’s commit ourselves to having the (hard) conversations. As those who profess to love others, it’s quite likely literally the least we can do.
But inasmuch as we have the opportunity, let’s not leave it there. “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). What can we do to promote change in our society, starting first and foremost of course within our own hearts?
This is a lengthy post, I know. A lot of rambling thoughts. Because this can be a rather inflammatory subject, I want you to know I intend to keep the comment section closed to comments of disagreement, debate, and back-and-forth dialogue, not because I’m opposed to having those conversations, but because I don’t believe comment sections are always the most helpful medium for such conversations. So I reserve the right to delete any comments; please don’t take any offense if I delete yours, it doesn’t mean anything personal or that I necessarily disagree with you. That said, as I have time, I’m more than willing to chat with you privately if you wish.