A couple weeks ago I traveled to the Dominican Republic with IJM to witness their work towards justice in our world. I’ve sat down several times in the past week to write about this experience but every time I sit, I can’t write. It’s hard to write about the work of justice being done through God’s people in other parts of the world when there’s such a big moment for the church to respond right before our eyes.
And yes, I’m talking about Ferguson.
I’m a white, stay-at-home mom. I realize the fact that my husband and I are in a position where this lifestyle is even an option shows the privilege that we live. And that’s okay. I’m beyond grateful for the environment in which I grew up in and for the life I get to have with my husband and children.
I also realize that my blonde, milky-skinned children will never have to learn the lessons that my dark-skinned brothers and sisters have to learn. They will have their own battles, to be sure, but their skin color will not be one of them.
We could probably live full, splendid lives celebrating the fruits of our birth right’s labor and never have to acknowledge those for which this is not the case.
And to be honest, a lot of days I’m not sure what to do with this.
I mean, really, what does some dude in Missouri have to do with Lakeland, FL?
What does some little girl in the streets of Cambodia or the Dominican Republic have to do with my family, my community? You know, beyond the whole shared humanity, created in the image of God stuff?
If I could say that none of these things were related, maybe I could just move on and leave it to other people to figure out.
But I’ve met Jesus.
And we say this changes everything.
So days like this we have to act like this is true. Even when we’re not quite sure exactly what the action is. Maybe the first step is just stepping back and looking toward Jesus, believing his words are true.
When he stood up in his hometown and announced his mission, he was talking to us,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In Psalms it says, “He holds up the cause of the oppressed,” and he “secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” Scripture drips of justice for the oppressed, which we are comfortable saying when it comes to those on the other side of the world, but God also calls us to examine what is right within our reach, which is often more difficult to see.
Just as being wrecked by the little girl in Cambodia being sold for sex teaches compassion for the twenty year old selling herself in my own community, so must a black boy in Ferguson remind me that systemic racism is a part of my own community. The kingdom of God breaks through when each of us recognize these things in their own context, where we can do something about it right where we are, allowing us to be better listeners. Teachers. Advocates that call out injustice wherever it may be and say that is is not okay and work towards change. We must raise children with Jesus ideas- not just personal piety or fire insurance but standing with those with whom he stands, as the God who gave up his God-rights and put on skin.
It’s not that he doesn’t stand for the rest of us, its just that the rest of us already have so many standing in our favor.
What the people of Ferguson are asking for is not a high demand.
They want answers. They want justice. They want leaders to listen without asserting violent power over them.
I'm not saying that the cop involved wasn't threatened. I have no idea what went down. I have close family members and friends who are cops. They put their lives on the line daily and have witnessed horrific evil. They have comforted the most vulnerable victims and have to live with the memories of being first responders to the stuff we only read about in the paper.
Regardless, we mourn the death of a man. We mourn that his life was taken violently, whether by a cop or someone else. I couldn't help but think back to an article I read last winter about Iceland's response to the first death of a citizen by the armed police force since becoming an independent republic in 1944. They grieved.
You approach vigils with tear gas and tanks, you send a message.
This summer I was in a part of town where I don’t usually frequent and walked in a store to hear an announcement that I am being monitored by security cameras. Every time the door opened this message would play. I know what this triggered in me, and it wasn't thankfulness for the warning. But it was only five minutes of my life. I can’t imagine if this was the message engrained in me over and over and over again.
Posture can speak life into dark situations. It can also incite rage.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Yes, there are people stirring up violence on all sides during protests.
But there are so many more working for peace, in and beyond the protests.
This is exactly where the people of God of every color belong. Those in Ferguson belong in the middle of it, linking arms in solidarity, fighting for their community. And those of us outside of Ferguson belong working in our own community for racial reconciliation.
Not letting silence speak for us. Acknowledging that racial inequality exists in our country and broken systems benefit the majority to the detriment of the minority. Ferguson reminds us to look at what's right in front of us with fresh, new eyes and motivation to act in our own neighborhoods.
It’s small, intentional steps, just as with anything else. It’s relational. It's being okay with discomfort and intentionally entering into it with another human being that does not look or act like you. It’s celebrating the small victories of God’s kingdom breaking through generational cycles of oppression, radically shaking up the ways of this world. It's what God has called us into every single day, for those willing to risk saying yes.
So what are some ways we can work towards racial reconciliation in our own communities?