Some reflections on race … and a modest proposal

Like it or not, race is a defining issue in our time. Black Americans are increasingly incensed by stories of racially tinged violence perpetrated against them, especially at the hands of police. And they are protesting. The violence they’re protesting about is nothing new … in fact, the reason the anger is boiling over is that it’s such a common pattern. What IS new, and why we’re in this moment today (in my opinion) is because this violence is now being captured on video and shared over the Internet.

There can be 1000 instances of white police interaction with black citizens that is fair, ethical, and laudatory … but then if ONE instance of racist violence (or even a hint of it) is captured on video: it will go viral, and it will stir protest.

I don’t know how anybody else feels about that, but it makes perfect sense to me. Especially given the fact that people in the Black community have been saying for years that this goes on all the time. It’s just that white people like me haven’t been confronted by the evidence of it. Now I am seeing it, and it’s painful to watch.

I’m just trying to listen and learn

I’m a white, middle class pastor. In my early career I started two white, middle class, suburban churches. Now I live in Chicago, pastoring in a racially diverse, urban context. One of the things I’ve been trying to do — and I am most assuredly early in my learning process here — is listen to the voice of the Other. In this instance that means listening to the voices of by black brothers and sisters. Listening to black theologians and pastors. Listening to black neighbors and friends. Finding out from them what it is like to live in our context, rather than simply relying on my own assumptions, which have been borne out of my own privileged position as an educated, white male.

I don’t know what will heal the deep wounds of racial injustice that is part of our history, and lives on today like a cancer in some peoples’ hearts and in some of our systems and social structures. But I do know one thing. One thing will help to change this. It is helping me, and I know it will help others:

We’ve got to find ways of practicing deep listening to one another’s stories. We’ve got to find ways of hearing each other, seeing each other’s humanity, hearing each other’s perspective.

Kris Kratzer recently wrote an article about race which contains the following:

People are not the problem, our unwillingness to thoroughly listen to each other’s story and submit ourselves to their implications is much more the culprit. A changed mind about an enemy begins with a heard story. Sadly, we have become more addicted to being ignorant and isolated from people’s true pains, experiences, and histories, then in the discovering of where the seeds of condemnation were first planted that have blossomed into the aggressions, scars, twitches, and brokenness that are manifested.
Violence is often a compensation for the unwillingness to listen and be changed in mind and heart by the human histories and experiences of another. Listening begets understanding, understanding begets learning, learning begets compassion, compassion begets healing, and healing begets peace.
There will be no peace until there is passionate, humble listening. For in the end, we are altogether no different — in, under, and with the One who made us — equal by the Equalizer — Grace.

At the churches I’m working with — Loop Church and Jacob’s Well Church — we are committed to talking about and dealing with the things that matter most. I’m going to keep working with our churches to address this issue. I’m not sure how to do it, but I do think more listening, and the sharing of our stories is important work.

One final thought.

Now that you’ve read what one white guy says about this, find some other perspective from someone of another race. (Maybe another gender too.) See what they say. Hear from them. See what commonalities there are. What differences.

There was a time when I struggled to know how to address this issue, and felt I just needed to be quiet, because “I’m a white person and haven’t had the experience of being discriminated against. What can I say about this?” Now I’m coming to see that we all can have a voice in this discussion, as long as we’re humble and honest. I’m going to speak up about this … but I’m going to do so while being open about my limited perspective. I welcome any insights and feedback from friends from other backgrounds. And I encourage readers to listen to the voices of thoughtful writers and teachers of color on this important issue.

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