08 Dec 2014

What if We’re Supposed to *Be* the Good News We’re So Desperate for When it Comes to Race Relations in America?

I don’t know about you, but there have been so many days lately when the world feels hurt and broken and tired.

And we feel hurt and broken and tired.

And I want to just bury my face in Zoe’s blonde tangles and sniff in all the wonder that went missing last week.

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And it’s easy to wonder how to make things better when there are so many holes and it’s so easy to keep falling into them.

Some things are almost impossible to write about because they run so deep and ache so close to the hearts of so many people you love – especially when you don’t know them in person.

Remember that time I told you I was a white girl from the South African suburbs who grew up under Apartheid? It means the news the last couple weeks here in America has felt so strangely familiar. And I’m wondering how to even begin writing about all the feelings I know so many of us have in the wake of Ferguson and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner without hurting or offending someone. I’m not sure that’s even possible?

But can I tell you from the beginning here how much I love you? You on the other side of the screen reading this with your own deeply personal story that I can’t possibly hope to know or understand or feel in that achey place that can become defensive when it feels misunderstood.

This is me trying to understand your heart.

And this is also me trying to understand the very persistent voice of a very persistent Holy Spirit I feel here in my gut that keeps asking me when I’m going to write about all this.

Here we are in the middle of Advent with our nightly Bible verses, candles, wreaths and the most precious time of family and sacred time of counting down to Christmas and while my Twitter stream is talking about holiday recipes and traditions it’s also weeping. All these people weeping. All these black men and women weeping in blog posts and Facebook updates and 140 characters on Twitter.

And the ache doesn’t stop there because then there are hurt responses from white readers who feel misunderstood and misrepresented.

And for a while I wanted to hide from it all. To be real honest, I just wanted to stop reading any of my social media feeds because it all made my stomach so twitchy I was running to the bathroom after every new status update I read.

And then – then there’s Jesus. And His advice:

Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.
~Matt. 16:24-26 (The Message).

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Jesus was never threatened by the suffering of others. He never felt He needed to justify Himself – He simply went and sat and ate and listened and wept with those who were grieving.

This white girl from South Africa missed the window to be a voice with the weeping during Apartheid.

But she has a blog and voice now in the midst of this terrible aching tear through the fabric of America’s heart this Christmas and I’m compelled to give you my words, friends, with both hands.

So many of us are groaning for understanding because we feel so deeply misunderstood – on every which side of this conversation. And it’s in our nature to want people to see the world our way through our eyes.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from South Africa and the leaders who guided us through our own desperate times, it’s that defending your point of view means missing the opportunity to listen. And it’s hard. I grant you. It’s hard to be willing to lay down your own arguments and be willing to listen without agenda or counter-argument.

I grew up a white girl in the most institutionally racist country in the world at the time.  And when you’re trying to change, when you’re tired of having people point out all the ways you’re doing it wrong, it’s easy to become defensive. To put up arguments and justifications that build walls and keep neighbors out.

But I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself.

And myself desperately wants to be heard and understood.

It’s a kind of radical self-sacrifice – being willing to lay down your own point of view in order to hear someone else’s. But unless we’re willing to listen, how can we hope for reconciliation in our racially divided family?

Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?
–Jesus Christ, The Gospel of Matthew 16: 24-26 (The Message).

I am a white mom with a white husband and three very white kids and in the last decade my parents have adopted three black children who have changed the DNA of our family and how we experience the world.

There was a day my white sister was in line at a gas station convenience store with our adopted black little brother. And the man behind her kept swearing at someone out of sight – calling him the one word we don’t even type – until it struck her that he was talking to our little adopted brother. Until she swung him up onto her hip and the man’s mouth fell open and he didn’t know what to say. So she said it for him, “He’s not begging from me; he’s asking for me because he’s my brother.”

Love is a serious thing.

It makes us blood family with Jesus – and He has commanded us what that looks like:

“Love one another as I have loved you.” Period.

So to my white friends reading this, can I simply say without judgment, without presuming to know your story – can we simply pause from our own conversations and lay down our point of view in order to listen to someone else’s?

I think this is what love does.

And to my black friends reading this, can I simply say that I’m listening. And I’m aching and I’m heartsick and I’m shaking here on the other side of the screen and I’m making time to deliberately ask the awkward questions to be sure I’m not just listening but actually hearing my black friends.

For all of us can we love the people we disagree with, the people we’re mad at, the people we ache for, the people we don’t understand? 

Because Jesus loves them.

And because love always makes the first move.

Because God so loved the world, He sent His only Son…

And being willing to listen with hands open and fists unclenched is a radical act of love.

This daring verb that is so much more than a date on the calendar, or an ornament on a tree, or a card or a note or a word.

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Love is the Holy Breath of God wrapped up in human DNA. This Word that gave up heaven and a Kingdom in order to slip into the skin of poverty and humanity. This great love that is quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. 

This love that runs away from measuring sticks and judgements and toward partnership and compassion.

This love that doesn’t keep score of who’s right and who’s only getting what they deserve. This love that finds hope in trash heaps and new beginnings at the bottom of dumpsters and news headlines.

This love that runs toward children and neighbors with arms wide open.

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This love that is older than our brokenness and brighter than our darkest nights.

 This love that remains patient and kind no matter what the pundits say. This love that does not dishonor others.

This radical, upside down love that is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and unbelievably, inexplicably keeps no record of wrongs.

This Love that does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

This beautiful, wildly hopeful love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This love that welcomes its friends and its enemies and invites them all in.

This love that sees everyone as family and every day a start of something beautiful. 

This love that runs through doors even where there aren’t supposed to be any.

Past fear and doubt and anger and worry and headlines and commentary and frustration, this love that wedges the door open. Even if it’s only a crack.

This Jesus love that slips off its own shoes so it can spend time walking around in his and hers and theirs.

This love that listens.

This love that hears.

This love that learns.

This love that is unashamedly interested in others.

This love that gave up heaven and fame for small and misunderstood. This Jesus example that was an incredibly humbling process.

We can do this too. Especially at this time of year as we walk in the footsteps of the greatest love story ever written – we the beloved beneficiaries.

We can crack open our doors and our conversations and our hearts and let our neighbors in — and then, friends, maybe then the weary world rejoices.

 

Comments

{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    So appreciate you sharing your heart. I can imagine it was hard to hit publish so I’m cheering you on and saying “yes!” Love is the answer. Blessings, Kristin

  2. 3

    Yes! I’m with you, Lisa-Jo. So grateful for the wisdom of your experience.

    • 4

      Thanks Christie – I know you’ve lived so much of this conversation with such grace in Chicago. Pete and I learned so much from you and Jon. So grateful for you.

  3. 5

    Thank you for the message of love over all things. Beautiful. Love is the only thing that conquers fear and I love that you are spreading that message with your lovely words. xo

  4. 6

    Love this!!!!!!! Well said

  5. 7

    Yes! This Love! Let’s do and live and be THIS kind of love!

  6. 8

    Love this, Lisa-Jo. I just keep thinking, someone DIED. Someone lost a son. A brother. A best friend. Its just so sad. And Jesus died for us all. The greatest of these is LOVE.

  7. 9

    You are brave. You have written about hard things recently (this, porn, I’m sure others) and I am encouraged by your courage to step out, speak the truth, and be willing to face whatever comes your way. I so appreciate your words today. I have wondered if I should write on this topic (I have black cousins so this is near to me, too). How to write on this. What to write on this. But it seems like you have written exactly what you needed to write on this hard topic of racial reconciliation.

    Thank you.

  8. 10
    Ro elliott says:

    I read this quote today from Cannon Andrew White( Vicar of Bagdad) if you are not familiar with him… I encourage you to find him on YouTube …. The love of Jesus exudes from him…if you know his story this quote is even more powerful…thanks for sharing your heart… His heart…
    .

    “AN ENEMY,” says Canon White, “is someone whose story I have not yet listened to.”

    The canon believes that when we listen to each other, share food and talk deeply, we can create mutual understanding – and this is the first step to meaningful dialogue and reconciliation.

  9. 11

    I love how our present reveals how God is always using our backstories to prepare us for “such a time as this.” It’s a beautiful thing to see this part of your story come full circle and to hear you speak into this present issue with such a unique and informed perspective. Thanks for being brave, Lisa-Jo! In all the clamor and confusion, your words reflect our Father’s heart and bring us back home.

  10. 12

    Oh, friend. I have been sitting and weeping and asking questions and talking and feeling the Holy Spirit tug. But my heart has been caught all in my throat and the words just wouldn’t come out. But these are the words of my heart. I am not a white girl raised in South Africa but a white girl raised in the Deep South and I too have seen enough pain that it is time for us to lay aside our defensiveness and listen, hear, and not passively, but to enter in to hard conversations and risk realizing we are part of the problem. Your words helped me find my footing today. Thank you for your risk.

  11. 13

    When we extend the all of ourselves we then and only then have the capacity to love.

  12. 14

    Lisa, I love the way you wrote this. You write with such compassion. I think its so easy for everyone to get defensive, but you can’t “listen” like you said if you are always trying to prove your own point. Very insightful. :)

  13. 15
    Penelope Makgati says:

    So I’m a black girl, from South Africa and sitting up in bed reading your healing words Lisa. I’m writing this from the same suburb of Pretoria where you grew up. We both know that wouldn’t be possible for a black girl like me twenty years ago. Hence, I’m grateful for the gains of democracy here. But I’m also hurting with my black American brothers and sisters who chant #Blacklivesmatter and #Wecan’tbreathe.

    In the same breath I’m blessed to call you, Lisa, a white sister of the soil of South Africa and a fellow sister in Christ. One who uses her voice to spread the loving message of Christ in a broken world as ours. You remind me to take heart because Jesus has already overcome this world weariness.

    I pray that you continue to be courageous as you speak in love for such a time as this.

  14. 18

    Thank you for following the leading of the Holy Spirit. As moms, we get to shape the hearts of our children to love radically & listen with humility, largely through our example. May my example be honoring to the One who has erased the dividing lines of hostility!

  15. 19

    Oh. This. My heart.

    I’ve been trying to find words for this feeling which makes me so angry: my majority-white Facebook feed that argues this “isn’t a race thing” and that “all lives matter, not just black ones” and all the comments about race baiting and more. And I don’t feel like they’re my people – they make me so frustrated, and I haven’t known how to deal with it.

    I cried when I read this, because I always cry when something deep is touched within me, and Lisa-Jo, that’s exactly what you did. You understood yourself in a way that helps me understand me better. That’s exactly what good writing is.

    Thank you.

  16. 20
    Deborah Edwards says:

    I enjoy your parenting posts, but these recent ones on pornography and racism really took my breath away. I appreciate your deep wisdom and humility and bravery in the face of it all. I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to press in on you that the world may hear your voice on more of the issues that tear at the hearts of God’s people.

  17. 21

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  18. 22

    Oh Lisa,

    Once again, you have bravely gone where few of us white Jesus-loving-women dare to venture publicly, but linger privately. I stand with you. In prayer for healing. For Justice. For JESUS to move us toward His heart as a family.

    Listening,
    Gwen

  19. 23

    Oh, this love! As white woman whose family added 4 teen Zambian boys in the mid-90s, I know this battle well. I was in 6th grade when the boys arrived, and they were struggling with being victims of human trafficking. Instead of only getting to focus on healing and growing as a family, we had to deal with society too. We still do, even as adults. But the love thing? That part makes is so totally worth it each and every time!

  20. 24

    So extremely powerful! Thank you.

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  1. […] the holidays can be difficult. We find our Twitter feeds full of gift giving ideas, but also full of the heart cry of a weary world in need of a Savior. Night before last, I found myself sobbing at my own […]

  2. […] What if We’re Supposed to *Be* the Good News We’re So Desperate for When it Comes to Race Relati… @ Lisa-Jo Baker […]

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