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.