When the world is upside down (and not in a good way)
I don’t know how to make sense of all the things happening in the world—in our country. I don’t have answers. But I’m determined not to ask other people to change without first changing myself. And so I’ve been thinking, and praying, and mourning, and pondering. You may not feel the same way I do. And that’s okay.
I listened to a podcast of Nadia Bolz-Weber, in which she put to words something that I try to do in my writing (and which I’ll probably fail miserably at repeating without listening to it again—because I listened many weeks ago and my memory is shot). She said that when she preaches or counsels, she uses the “I’ll go first” mentality. In other words, she puts it all out there—her own failings, her own experiences, her own stories—in order to create a safe space into which someone else can say “me, too” and share their experiences.
So. I guess I’ll go first.
Every time we say “it’s not my fault,” we absolve ourselves of responsibility to fix things. To find ways to make things better. We deny people the compassion of trying to understand them. It truly may not be our fault. But the fact remains that we are in this together—or we should be. It’s what Jesus wanted, for His people to band together to show the world who He is through the way we treat people.
Every time we reply to “Black lives matter” with the statement “All lives matter,” we’re missing the point. Yes, of course all lives matter. But I’ve read enough this week to finally understand that that’s not what this is about. It’s not denying anyone importance, but pointing to a problem that exists with the way society as a whole responds to black lives.
If we’re white, we don’t have to care the same way as if we were black. It’s easy to deny the reality of everything from a tiny slight to a radical injustice if we don’t see it in our daily lives, if we don’t know people who face hatred in subtle and overt ways. Because I’ll tell you the truth: In my comfortable place in a mostly-white community, I’m insulated from that reality. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me or that I’m not part of the whole institutional system that created the problem.
And because I’m somewhat sheltered, I read. I read writers of color, of other religions and denominations. I read pieces by men and atheists—and even some people who support ideas and causes I couldn’t be more against. It takes its toll on me. I feel heavy. My heart hurts and I’m sickened by the ugliness of humanity. I’m grieving and discouraged and overwhelmed by my lack of ability to make a difference. I want to hit people over the head with my “obvious” conclusions and facts and make them finally see the truth. I struggle this election cycle—for the first time in my life—with being able to like friends with whom I disagree. I’ve had to do some serious soul-searching when I discovered that my husband supports the most abhorrent candidate (in my opinion) ever to run. It’s made me question whether my husband is the man I thought he was. And face the fact that I can love someone I so hugely disagree with. So believe me, I get it. I know why people are having trouble getting along.
But I also know that I can’t solve this alone. Most likely, I’ll never be able to make the slightest dent in this culture of hate we now live in. I don’t know when to speak up and try to enlighten people—to do what feels like my duty to help people understand—and when to shut up because it’s not going to be received. Or because it’s not the right time or place, or because I don’t have the relationships established that I need to have in order to have the right to speak up.
But there is one thing I’m starting to understand. As long as I’m feeling defensive, there is not going to be any change. As long as I deny a problem, nothing will get better. As long as I refuse to accept some responsibility—even if it’s been completely guileless and unintentional—nothing will change.
So I’ve taken the one step I can—the only one I know how to take. I’m saying “yes, I believe you” to the people who say there is a problem. I’m opening my mind and heart. I’m going to let myself be vulnerable and feel the pain. I’m going to listen and not fight back. I’m going to say so when I don’t relate to someone else’s struggles and I’m going to recognize that maybe their struggles should become mine, too.
I don’t want to see one more tragedy, one more horrific instance of hatred, and sit back, silent. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. He is the One who taught peace, who opened His arms to the marginalized and rejected, who trusted that God was in control, who knew that God’s people had the capacity to take care of the needs of the people. I am believing that we’re not all that different and that we are better—and stronger, and kinder, and more generous—when we find reasons to be connected rather than divided. I am committing to trying to understand. I’m promising God that I will do whatever I can find to do that might help. I’m praying that He will show me the steps to take. I’m praying that He will show you, too, and that we both will listen. And, above all, I am vowing to do my absolute best not to make things worse.
Because God has a way of making the impossible possible, the wrong right, the pain into something bearable. That is the God I follow. And I am not content to turn away.
I’m linking up with Suzie Eller’s #livefreethursday (yes, I know I’m several days late. It’s been one of those weeks!). Her prompt was “when the world is upside down.”