Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Sound of Silence

As we continue to look at how we, as persons of faith, should respond to the injustice and unrest we are seeing in our world, there is one more very important truth that we must understand. (There are many truths we must understand, but one of them is also that the more we talk, the more likely we are to put our foot in our mouth or to start twisting the narrative, neither of which is helpful. So I am planning on simply this one more important truth, and then shift gears.)

It's easy to look at issues that we don't quite understand, things that we haven't personally dealt with in our lives - or things that we're told we can't understand, that are so far outside what we could possibly experience that it's futile to even try - and to think that maybe the best thing we can do is nothing. The best thing we can say is nothing. After all, if we don't understand - if we can't understand - then what on earth makes us think that we should speak? 

I am not a racist. I could be. I have known in my life a handful of my relatives who grew up in a different time and place, with a different perspective of the world based on their own experience of it and the cultural realities of their time, and I've heard some things. I could have become someone who adopted those views, who spouted those same words. But I didn't. I don't. I never have. And to be honest with you, I don't really feel the need to spend my entire life trying to prove that I'm not a racist. I don't want to have to define myself by one very specific thing that I'm not. Because I am a lot of beautiful things, too, and it's easy for those to get lost if the only statement I want to make with my life is that I'm not a racist. 

So it's easy to want to disengage, to say that I have nothing to say. It's why so many of us so easily back out. We have, in many cases, wrestled free from our own demons on the issue - from our family histories and early exposures and in some cases, sheltered existences - and we don't have any desire to taunt those haunting memories; we are ready to leave them buried where they lie and try to just...move on. 

But then, there are these words:

How dare you quote my decrees and mouth my promises!
You hate discipline. 
You toss my words behind you. 
When you see a thief, you want to make friends with him.
You keep company with people who commit adultery. 
You let your mouth say anything evil.
Your tongue plans deceit. 
You sit and talk against your own brother.
You slander your own mother's son. 
When you did these things, I remained silent.
That made you think I was like you. - Psalm 50:16-21

You've probably heard it said that our silence is complicit. That is, by saying nothing at all, we are standing with injustice - not against it. Our refusal to speak is akin to our affirmation. It is a condoning of the actions of others, whether we mean it to or not. 

Look at what David says, or rather, what God has said to David. He's said, You're a sinner. You do all of this wicked stuff. You and I both know it. But because I didn't say anything about it, you thought I approved of it. You thought I was like you - for no other reason than that He never said He wasn't. 

And that means that when we speak, we don't just speak for our friends to hear us. We don't just speak for those who are speaking out and need us to join them. When we speak, we don't just speak for the marginalized.

We speak for the perpetrator. We speak for the instigator. We speak for the sinful man who has committed the wrong. Because when we don't speak, maybe he doesn't understand that what he's done is wrong. Maybe, because of our silence, he thinks that most of us are just like him. That given the same set of circumstances, we would do and think and believe the same things he does. When he does these things and we remain silent, he thinks we are just like him. 

Which means we have to speak. Not so that the world knows we are not like him, but so that he does. So that he sees that what he's done isn't the status quo. What he's doing isn't just the way things are. Thousands of persons just like him...are not just like him. Millions of persons who could easily be just like him...are not like him. He is a sinner; we are sinners, too. But we do not condone sin - ours or his. 

So as much as it seems foolish to us, as much as it seems unnecessary, as much as we don't want to tempt our troubles or dig up a past that we've done our best to bury, one of the best things we can say right now is: I'm not like you. I don't approve of what you've done. I don't agree with what you've done. I can't fathom a world in which I would ever do what you've done. I'm not like you. 

To say that, though, we have to speak. We have to take that chance to raise our voices even in an issue that maybe we don't understand, maybe we can't understand - maybe they're right. But we do know sin when we see it. We do know what wrong looks like. We may not understand everything, but we can understand this. 

For that reason alone, we cannot be silent. 

And on that note, let me say this, as well: this runs both ways. There are, right now, factions of these social movements that are simply not interested in change. They are hijacking the message and bringing destruction on communities, even on their own communities, and destroying so much of what is being worked for. And what we need is for those working for real change, those opening the dialogues and having the tough conversations and doing the hard work, to not just assume the world can tell the difference between a change-maker and an instigator. We need you to come out, too, and use your voice, look these violent forces in the face and declare, in no uncertain terms, I'm not like you. They come in and stand with you before they break out and take you down with them, and we need you to look around your communities and those who claim to stand with you and say, I'm not standing for that. That's not who I am. That's not who we are. You cannot be silent any more than the rest of us can. 

We must all speak and declare not just who we are, but who we aren't. And never, never let these instigators - on either side of the issue - think, even for one second, that we're just like them. We cannot be silent. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

A Thin Line Between Love and Less

When we talk about how we're supposed to respond to injustice in the world, the question we have to keep coming back to (as it is in all things) is: what is love? 

What does love look like here? What is real, authentic, tangible love? To use an old phrase, what would Jesus do? 

The truth is that there are persons in our world who are afraid to live their lives. They are afraid to do things that most of us take for granted because these most basic things pose a risk for them in some places that most of us will never understand. Yes, this is true of persons of color, but not all persons of color. It's also true of persons of trauma, regardless of skin color - men and women who have grown up in an unstable world, always being told that who they are is not enough or that who they are is detestable or deficient in some way. Men and women who have been beaten just for existing, who have been raped because they are not valued. There are a lot of persons who are afraid to be alive in their world because at any moment, they know intimately that their world can turn on them for no reason at all except for who they are. 

On one hand, we have to acknowledge that. I have to acknowledge that. The fear is real. The threat is real in too many places. The anxiety, the trauma, the terror is all real, and it's a constant companion to these persons who can't get away from it. 

On the other hand, regardless of who you are or what your other experience has been in the world, you are safe with me, and I staunchly refuse to pretend otherwise. I know that you feel unsafe, but you are not unsafe with me. I know that you're constantly on guard against a world that can turn on a dime, but I'm not turning. And it's important to draw a line that recognizes both - that honors and addresses the fear, but that puts it in its proper place. 

So as safe persons, what do we do? As persons without hate in our hearts, how do we live as love? 

Some say that the way to do this is to stand with our brothers and sisters, to raise our voices on their behalf, to speak where they cannot speak. And in fact, that's why we see so many of our current social movements being led by "allies" - persons who don't live every day with the same experience as those they are fighting with and for, but who recognize that it is true for these others nonetheless. But I don't want to be an ally; I want to be a friend. 

And a friend is someone who doesn't do your shouting for you, but helps you to find your voice. When Moses was leading Israel in battle on the mountain, he climbed the mountain and raised his hands. When his arms grew weary, the two men next to him did not just stand there and raise their hands - they held up Moses's hands. They let him continue to lead. They made sure that when Israel looked up at the mountain, they saw Moses's hands raised toward heaven, even if that meant they had to stand there all day holding them up. 

That's what a friend does. What I don't want to see us do is hijack someone else's story just because we think we have a voice and they don't; love gives a voice to the other. Love enables them to speak out. Love lets them be what they need to be to work through the very real struggles of their own existence, whatever their experience. 

I'm reminded of what a friend once said to me, in telling me a story about love. In a dark moment in her life, there were plenty of friends who wrote or called or sent cards with lovely little sayings on them, but one friend - one true friend - showed up with ice cream and sat in the corner of the basement crying with her. That's the kind of friend we need to be, now and always. We need to be the kind of friends who show up with, not take over for

The difference is this: when we try to take over for someone, to give our voice to their story, we end up feeding the fires. All of a sudden, they're angry because we're angry. We give them space to mimic our voice, but it never quite gives them their voice, so there's no resolution, no satisfaction, no catharsis in that. We will all keep screaming forever because we're just egging each other on. 

But when we show up with someone, when we work to give them their voice, when we cry with them, shout with them, stomp our feet with them, something completely different happens. They get it out. They hear their experience in their own voice. They experience the release they're looking for. But then...then, they look next to them and see us, and the whole dynamic changes. The whole relationship changes. 

Have you ever had a friend so angry about something that the two of you just started punching pillows together? Or shouting curse words into the air at nothing in particular? You're mad. Yeah, you're mad. But at some point, your once-angry friend looks over at you, mid-punch, mid-syllable, and sees the real, vital, life-giving friendship that you're sharing in that moment...and just laughs. You both just bust up laughing together. All the energy, all the fire, all the vim has gone out because your friend has been heard - in his or her own voice - and turned and found a friend right there through it all. 

That's the moment we need to be going for. That's what needs to happen in our world right now. These persons who are angry, who are scared, who are weary - they need to turn their heads and find in us a friend who stands right by them while they work it out in their own voice and know that with us, they aren't unsafe. With us, they aren't unheard. With us, they are truly loved. So much so that we can stand and shout and cry and mourn with them without ever once hijacking their story, but also so much that when they turn, they feel that undeniably deep connection and authentic love that just...releases the tension so much that we can't help but laugh together. We can't help but love together. We can't help but move forward together. 

All the energy, all the fire, all the vim has gone out because we have given those among us a voice and they have turned and found love. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Injustice

'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' 

This is the kind of powerful statement that sends us running out into our streets when injustice occurs anywhere. It could be us next, we say. We're just one breath away from that being our story. If it could happen to him, it could happen to me. If it could happen to them, it could happen to us. 

But is that really true? 

It's hard to know what to say at a time like this because words seem to fix so little. Rather, they seem to always ignite somehow and burn fires you didn't even know were smoldering. We're told that we can't be silent, and then we're told that we can't possibly understand enough to say anything meaningful. We're told that this is everyone's problem, and then we're told that because of who we are, we don't know anything about it. And maybe that's true. And maybe that's not as true as we want to pretend that it is. I don't know. 

I'm just going to stick to justice because this is something I do know with absolute certainty, without a doubt. They say injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And I ask you - is that really true? 

Because I don't know of a world where darkness ever triumphs over the light. I don't know a place where death defeats life. I don't know any story that ends with a lie over the truth. 

While it's true that there is injustice in the world, I don't believe for a minute that injustice is so powerful that justice cannot defeat it. 

Injustice is a perversion - just like darkness. Just like death. Just like a lie. It takes what we know to be good and true and honorable, and it spins it into something so far lesser. We know this. We're watching it on our headlines every day. And we wonder what the answer has to be, what we're supposed to do about it. We think maybe we're supposed to rise up and cry out. Demand answers. Demand change. We're supposed to use our voice and raise a stink and refuse to quiet down until we've been heard. We're supposed to take our anger to the streets and stand there until they can't ignore us any more. 

But I think the answer is much simpler than that. 

When there's a dark place in the corner of the room, you flip on a light and shine it that direction. When there is death, you celebrate life and resurrection. When there is a lie, you speak the truth. If this is the way that we respond to these perversions, then this is how we must respond to injustice, too. 

We must, simply, live justly. Not only in the places where injustice occurs, but in all the quiet places where we are. 

The truth is that the world is not what you see in the headlines. These things happen, yes; but there are a lot more communities even in this country getting it right than are getting it wrong. There are a lot more neighborhoods living in justice than living in injustice. There are a lot more lines being crossed than drawn. There are places in this world that are doing justice well, even places tucked into the very communities that are torn apart by injustice itself. 

And the best witness we give to the world, the best response we have to its injustice, is to show it our justice. It's to put on display these places that are getting it right. It's to refuse to trade in what we've found that is working in so many of our places for the rallying cry of broken places. We have to be willing, and able, to cry out with the same voice that injustice has no place here and that justice is possible. It's possible because we're living it; it is real in so many places in our country - places where communities have come together to stand for each other without having to stand against anything. 

One of the most heartbreaking things about watching the news coverage on events like these is how many communities across the country have made great progress, are making great progress, just to throw it all away in 'solidarity' with a place that's just not there yet. Cities without tension have thrown themselves into the fight and created war amidst peace. They have taken a 'we' and created an 'us' and a 'them' because there is injustice somewhere, and they have given up their justice to fight it. It's heart-wrenching. 

Injustice needs our voices, yes, crying out against it. But even more than that, it needs our example, living justly in spite of it. It needs our witness, proclaiming that justice is still real, that community still works, that love still wins. 

When darkness falls, we turn on a light. When lies spread, we speak the truth. When death comes, we fold up our grave clothes and walk out of the tomb. The absolute best thing we can do in the face of injustice...is to live justly. Right where we're at. Show this world the peace it needs, the truth it needs, the hope it needs by proclaiming that justice is not only possible; it's present. In more places than we often realizes, in ways we may not even notice. 

There are communities in this world that will fight for each other without having to be against something to do it. We need more of those communities, and we need the ones we have to show us how it's done. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Politics of Being Human

I promised yesterday that I'd have something to say about the topic of abortion today, and you might have been confused because I let all of yesterday's post roll on. But I know that I lost some persons as soon as I mentioned it. I know that some eyes rolled, some mice clicked, and some screens shut down. Why did I have to go and make it political? 

To that, I ask, when did life become politics?

I don't care how much you legislate it, litigate it, campaign on it, vote on it, or whatever else you want to do with it, life isn't political. It's not a conservative or a liberal issue. It's not right or left. It's every breath for all of us, regardless of what you believe about it.

That's the issue. We've made life such a thing that it is whatever you believe about it, and then when we found out that we believe different things about it, we made it a political rallying cry. We figured that if there was this much difference in how we think about it, then it must just be politics. And somehow, we've come to the place where we can argue the finest details of life and death the same way we debate taxes, often coming to a point where we say, well, it just is what it is.

Which is, interestingly, what it always was to begin with. Just now, it's wrapped up in so many political ropes that we can't seem to get out of them.

It's the same kind of people politics we always run into, the fundamental issue that divides us politically on these ideas - do we start with the many or do we start with the one? Do we define life by the masses or do we define life by the instance? The truth is that we determine what we believe about life from where we start.

If life starts with the many, if our definitions are set by what is most common, by what we consider "normal," then it is easy for us to start judging life by where it fits on the continuum. A life that doesn't measure up to the mean standard of what life is is just not a life worth considering. This is how we get arguments for the abortion of babies with defects - they don't fit our standard of normal living, so their life is considered lesser. Alternately, we can say that if a life disrupts the standard of normal living in some meaningful way, then it is not a life; it is a nuisance. And this is how we justify the abortion of an unwanted child - the mother would have to live a life she doesn't want just because she "happened" to get pregnant. It would throw off her entire economy and send ripples through her community as her life changes. Therefore, we can call it an inconvenience and terminate it. Because we start with the many, and the one is disposable.

If life starts with the one, if our definitions are set by an uncompromising value on every instance of life, we're prone to make a choice to the opposite extreme. We no longer care about the economy of those involved, and we don't even think about the ripple waves through the community. We are willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to give every single life a fighting chance at its best, and in adopting this as our position, we are willing to force others to make the same sacrifices. This is the argument we hear from the pro-abortion crowd against a pro-life position: do you realize the cost to everyone else to try to secure this one (often "lesser" life) - the medical expenses, the social expenses, the educational expenses, all of the special stuff this life is going to require? Because we start with the one, we require the sacrifices of the many.

That's what politics does to the issue. It gives us a starting point and some kind of measuring system whereby we make our decisions based on what we value most.

But what if we just valued...life? What if we refuse to let life be politics?

What if life doesn't start with the many or with the one, but starts with the miracle, with the improbable reality that despite all odds and obstacles, something sparked anyway and began to grow toward the fullness of its own promise?

That's what happens, you know. At the moment when the sperm meets the egg and fertilization occurs, there's this brilliant, instantaneous spark of life and a little note of music that comes out of the whole thing. There's this little celebration of the start of a new life. What if we just joined that celebration instead of jumping right in to judge it?

Because hear me: life isn't political. And even if it were, politics is simply often wrong.

Politics cannot predict or prescribe the best of human nature. Argue it all day. Put it on the floor. Write it in a bill. You cannot legislate or litigate or vote on love, sacrifice, grace, friendship. It's who we are as human beings, and you can't put it on one side of the aisle or another. All of the debate and discussion in the world cannot settle who this particular life will grow up to be, and the truth is that life often surprises us in ways we could never imagine.

Just as it surprises us in the beginning when, against all odds, it begins anyway.

So yes, I made a post about abortion, about the sanctity of life, but it wasn't political. No matter what you think of it. Because for me, life doesn't start with the one or with the many. It doesn't live on the left or the right. It's not calculated in its potentials or measured by an impact it hasn't even had yet.

Life starts with the miracle, with the improbable reality that despite all odds and obstacles, something sparked anyway and began to grow toward the fullness of the promise nestled within it. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Sanctity of Life

All of this talk about how fragile life is in a place that is seemingly teeming with it, this recognition of how improbable it is that even a single promise of life becomes fulfilled, leads us to a very natural point of discussion: the sanctity of life itself. 

When you think about all that it takes to get one simple seed to grow, that one little life becomes so precious that you can't help but do everything in your power to honor, to value, and to bless the life that comes out of it. 

Yes, this is a post about abortion. (And I'll have something to say about that tomorrow.) 

Our culture pitches abortion as a "responsible" decision. It tells us that it's good for us to end a life that is unwanted before it even begins. The problem, of course, is that by the time we're making that decision, we're already talking about a life. We're already talking about a fetus in whom the completely improbable has already happened. 

Billions (even more) sperm make that swim every year. Countless carriers of the male DNA go after the prize of the egg. Billions of eggs are released every year, floating around in a state of availability and then, often, washed out with the waste, having never taken on life. Couples, married or not, engage in intercourse all over the planet every second of every day. And overwhelmingly, all of these encounters, all of these attempts, all of these possibilities do not result in a pregnancy. Ask any couple who is intentionally trying for a child, and they'll tell you just how rare and elusive conception itself is. 

Life doesn't just happen because all of the ingredients are there; it truly takes a miracle.

It takes everything coming together just right. It takes all the right angles and strengths and speeds and healths and just the right encounters at just the right moments. And of all of the billions and trillions and quintillions of acts in the world that could result in a child, very, very few of them (mathematically) do. It's not an accident when it happens. Even though we have created a cultural verbage that calls it just that - an accident. Something with a very small statistical chance of occurrence occurs, something with all the hope and promise of life itself, and we have taught ourselves to say....oops.

And if that's not enough, if we aren't willing to accept right out that it's an accident, then we start making judgments on the quality of that hope, that promise. We start to look at the genetics of it. Is it perfect? Is it everything we dreamed of?

We run all kinds of tests and simulations and data to determine whether the miracle we're carrying is blessed or not. Read that again - we want to know if this veritable miracle is blessed

If we find something that doesn't look blessed - a genetic defect, an imperfect formation, a health problem, or the like - then we say that it is mercy to abort the miracle. We say it's better to just end it now than to let the promise of life be at all lesser than our vision of it. Never mind the fact that this life is the one that's happening against all odds already. This union of sperm and egg has already made it further than innumerable others. This child has already fought for the chance to fulfill its hope. Yet, we have created a story that says this child can't possibly have hope at all. Just because it doesn't look like our preconceived notion of it. 

Life, though it surrounds us, is improbable. So much has to happen very specifically correct to take us from a hope and a promise to life abundant, life fulfilled. In every breath, so much potential for the next breath is wasted. It's just wasted. It doesn't come to anything. And then we finally get something that does, we finally get life that is starting to form, and we've created a cultural narrative where we do everything we can to kill it before it even lives. Like life just happens by chance, and that chance will come along some other time if we want it. 

That chance might, but this miracle won't. This life is never happening again, not like this. Not with everything that this life is going to bring into the world. We get one shot, just one shot, at this improbable hope. 

And it's already made it this far. 

How on earth do we live with ourselves when we say that's not enough?