Saturday, July 9, 2016

God is Not Neutral, There is a Balm in Gilead, and We Need it Now

But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first. -Matthew 19:30

But how terrible for you who are rich, because you have already received your comfort. How terrible for you who have plenty now, because you will be hungry. How terrible for you who laugh now, because you will mourn and weep. How terrible for you when all speak well of you. Their ancestors did the same things to the false prophets. -Luke 6:24-26

All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up. -Luke 18:14

I'm sickened by the killings of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castle. I'm sickened by the killings of the five Dallas police officers. I know all of you are as well. Sickened by it, sick of it, tired of it, worn out by it.

And I'm not even the one in the real danger of any of this. Yes, whenever I grow my full beard out I sometimes get mistaken by prejudiced or ignorant yokels for an ISIS operative, but every time people have treated me in a racist manner, it has made me feel humiliated, not endangered. I certainly never felt like my life was in immediate danger, at the very least.

Imagine seeing this happen, over, and over, to people who look like you. Who could be you. Who, on a communal, I-am-because-you-are level, are you.

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sinsick soul

Amadou Diallo.

Oscar Grant.

Trayvon Martin.

Mike Brown.

Eric Garner.

Tamir Rice.

Sandra Bland.

Freddie Gray.

Eric Harris.

Walter Scott.

Rekia Boyd.

Akai Gurley.

Laquan McDonald.

Renisha McBride.

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

How long is the list going to get? How long before God reminds us once more that in the divine kingdom, not ours, that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, that the exalted will be brought down and the humbled shall be exalted?

Patrick Zamarripa.

Brent Thompson.

Lorne Ahrens.

Michael Krol.

Michael Smith.

How long, O God, indeed.

There is a balm in Gilead

It will, I fear, take us much, much longer, because as I write these words, the news is coming out of Dallas of now five police officers shot and killed--and several more seriously wounded--by a sniper at what had up to that point been a peaceful protest.

I tweeted out in response: God is not neutral. God sees the violence against black lives. God sees the violence against police. God is with the victims.

God is with the victims--the dead and dying, those clinging to life in operating rooms, those terrorized and traumatized by what they have just experienced.

God is not neutral in these moments. God chose to send a message with Jesus Christ, a message of nonviolence in the face of violence, of love in the face of hatred, and of resistance in the face of diabolical evil.

God sees the wrong done by us to one another because of how we look--in Baton Rouge, in Minnesota, and in Dallas.

God sees it, and is set against it.

God has always been set against it.

There is a balm in Gilead

We cannot be neutral, either. We cannot be passive. Love is an active verb. Like the balm in Gilead, love is something we must not simply exhibit, but seek out. We must seek it others, demand it in others, especially when they refuse to show it.

My godchildren are black. They're early on in elementary school and haven't really learned what pure hate looks like yet, but they will, because they'll be taught how this country, for hundreds of years, treated people who looked like them.

Their parents do an amazing, awe-inspiring job of show them love and teaching them how to love, just like my parents did for me.

But my parents' love didn't inoculate me from the hate. I experienced my first racial slur when I was ten years old.

Again--I'm not black. I identify as white. I just don't look white enough sometimes.

That is why God is not neutral. Because we are not, and despite our #AllLivesMatter claims, we never have been.

There is a balm in Gilead.

In response to the protests over the killings of Sterling and Castile, I've seen people say "I would've mowed those protesters over," as though their armchair machismo somehow validated their resentment towards a people seeking justice.

How much need we still have for the message of Christ, that the last will indeed one day be first and the humbled will be exalted. Having to protest and demand and plead just to be treated like the human being you are, that's an experience I will never have because I never needed it to be treated like a man and not a beast.

How humbling it must be, then, to realize that your desire to inflict harm on other people comes from a subhuman place of yourself, that there is part of you, in seeing others as beast, that is in fact truly beast-like in nature.

I just don't know how to tell such people that, at least in any way that they would be listen, feel moved, and beg God for the grace and forgiveness that I know is out there, because I have felt it too.

There is a balm in Gilead.

I don't know how much sense this post makes anymore. I've revisited it so many times, and tried to cram so much into it, that I've violated one of my own cardinal rules of writing: try to say one thing at a time, and say it well.

But my heart is too broken for that sort of discipline and restraint. It needs healing, fixing, caring.

It needs that balm for the sinsick soul. For I am indeed sick with, and of, sin--my own, yours, this country's, this world's.

There has been a diagnosis. And there is indeed a cure.

It is time for the healing to begin.

There is a balm in Gilead.

Vancouver, Washington
July 9, 2016