Come and Die.

It’s always intriguing to me when I see outrage and anger in response to looting and rioting on the backside of deafening silence to institutionalized racism. I’m not condoning violence or looting, but I’m trying to better understand the anger and frustration.

A man was murdered with no explanation in a city long known for police brutality and violence. AND it’s at least the 5th high-profile death of an unarmed black man in a short time. (Here’s a list for the interested)

How could anyone not be angry? They should be angry; they have every right to be livid. Regarding anger at institutionalized racism, Jack Kirkland once said “I liken it to a flow of hot magma just below the surface. It’s always there, building, pushing up against the earth. It’s just a matter of time. When it finds a weak point, it’s going to blow.”

It’s easy to sit back in my house enjoying my white privilege and post MLK quotes, it’s hard to empathize and mobilize with the marginalized and broken.

I’m not pretending to have all the answers; in fact I’m frustrated by my lack of answers. It’s racial, socio-economic, political, and so many other things all wrapped up in a powder keg that only Jesus can touch and heal.

I’ve read Facebook posts today from people about the choice to come out of poor neighborhoods and bad situations. That’s easy to say if you’ve never had to do it.

The myth of the level playing field has permeated our society; we’re told that everyone has been given the same opportunities by people who had every opportunity.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about guys like Bill Gates and the extraordinary opportunity he had to learn coding at a young age. Gates was born at the right time, in the right family, at the right place. Everyone who succeeds does it with the help and assistance of another, to say anything less is dishonest and misleading at best. The idea of a self-made man or woman is a fantasy propagated by the elite, no one makes themselves great alone. I’m not discounting hard-work and long hours at the grind and I don’t mean to cheapen the 10,000 hours of hard work that no one else sees. Yes, hard work is a factor for success but it’s not the only factor.

Take for example, a kid that grows up in a poor black neighborhood like the one I live in, here in Chattanooga. He attends one of the worst schools in the state while literally living in the shadow of a mountain with some of the best schools in the state. More than likely he’s from a single parent home, with a mother who statistically didn’t finish high school and who works for minimum wage. Who, by all accounts, is on food stamps and receives housing benefits. The food stamps aren’t enough food to feed her family and the other dependents in the home, so rather than eat fresh fruits and vegetables they survive on a high-carb, high-sugar diet. A diet that has proven time and time again to reduce brain function and lower test scores.

To make matters worse gang members who stand about a block away selling powder surround him. There are no rec centers in walking distance, no community centers with mentors, only abandoned factories and empty parking lots. His family doesn’t own a car, his mom rides the bus to work and back, and because he’s the oldest he makes dinner and takes care of the other kids in the home. This leaves him with little to no time to study, and on top of that no energy or desire to do so because of his inadequate diet.

When he does go to school, he’s surrounded by hundreds of other young people similar to him. Young boys with no fathers, no leadership in the home and no one pushing for anything more than mediocrity. Violence and fighting is higher in his school, creating a mentality of fight first, talk later. He’s trapped, broken, looking for leadership and finding it on the streets.

This is his life, the one with the same opportunities as everyone else.

Right?

We all come from middle-class homes with combined incomes in the six-figures and schools that test in the highest percentile, don’t we? We’re all from families with both parents who can take vacations, buy us quality food, and send us to camp, aren’t we? Surely we’re at least all from low crime neighborhoods with limitless potential… right?

Or maybe not.

Maybe the playing field isn’t level. Maybe not everyone is given the same exact opportunity. Maybe it’s not the kids fault that he was born in this place, at this time, and with these resources.

Take all of this, and then throw in institutionalized racism, ( which exists whether you believe it or not). Take for example the simple fact that black men get longer sentences for the same crimes as white men. You could also consider the number of shootings that have involved unarmed black men with little to no justice for the families. It’s maddening and we’ve hardly scratched the surface.

It’s easy to stand back and make assumptions and generalizations about people, lumping all people of color into the same group. I grew up around racism; it was ingrained in me like my own blood. As a teenager I commonly used racial epithets and slurs behind the backs of my black “friends”. It took years for Jesus to unravel my sinful, ugly heart and reveal to me the depths of hate, anger and racism that resided in me. The Spirit humiliated my worldview and challenged my every thought, destroyed my white pride and gave me love and compassion in exchange.

I only tell you that, so you will understand that I have been where you sit. I understand your frustration, your anger and even your racist thoughts.

In light of all of this, I want to extend an invitation to you, to come to Papa’s table. Come and dine at the table of love. It’s a place where color exists, is acknowledged and doted on… whether it’s the bleach white skin of my father or the dark, almost midnight color of a Kenyan mama. It’s a place where diversity is celebrated and welcomed, where the children of God get to see each other as they truly are, where they share in their sufferings and pain, and delight in their success and triumphs. It’s a place for rich and poor, broken and whole… it’s Papa’s table and it’s a wonderful place. He invites the guests, sets the table and cooks the meal, you just get to come and dine.

All the kids are coming, and the saints are already home.

Come and die. Come and dine. It’s the call to the table.

Sit for a while and hear the stories of your neighbor. Listen to perspective worlds from your own; hear about gunshots at night and being followed around department stores. Hear about gang violence and lack of opportunity. Listen as a mother describes choosing between feeding her kids and paying rent. Open your ears to the cry of the oppressed open your heart to the whispers of the Spirit.

It’s Papa’s table. Come and die. Come and dine.

Eat your fill and cry together. Repent and apologize, and cry a little more. Learn to be family with someone you don’t understand, laugh together and hold hands. See beauty in another and opportunity for change.

It’s papa’s table. Come and die. Come and dine.

Get up changed and full to the brim. Let that cup overflow time and time again.

It’s papa’s table. Come and die. Come and dine.