You will find the story I am about to tell extremely offensive. I hope.
I have beautiful photos of my wedding. Like so many brides, I wanted to live and re-live that day, in that pre-facebook & instagram era. So in the following months, I carried an album with me many places, and if you gave me half a chance, I would whip out that album and hold you as my captive audience.
I regret to say… my pictures do not exactly reveal a diverse makeup of those closest to me. There is an excellent picture however of our family’s dear friend, the very tall African American man with the highly skilled fingers who was our pianist.
A 16 year gap lies between the following incident and the moment I am penning these lines — but my heart rate has still escalated, my stomach is taut and my breath is short. I am forcing myself to keep writing.
As I sat with a family friend, turning the album pages, we came upon the picture of my piano-playing friend…
“Someone, get a rope!” he laughed… and I swear, all of the air was sucked out of the room.
Easter Weekend, 2015. Churches across the globe rested in the afterglow of Good Friday remembrances — or placed finishing touches on preparations for Resurrection Sunday celebrations. Christ-followers the world over proclaimed the greatest act of reconciliation in history…
And in North Charleston, South Carolina, a 50-year old father of four was being shot eight times in the back by a police officer after being pulled over for a … wait for it… broken taillight. I suspect I do not need to tell you the respective races of the individuals in question.
Now — I am a big fan of police officers.
I have had a screaming, maniacal drug addict literally wrestled off my car by police officers, for whom I was thanking God. On the two occasions when my home has been burglarized, the officers who arrived were a comforting presence — and their increased patrols in my neighborhood were a very welcome sight. When our car was stolen, it was the police who recovered it for us and emptied out the drug paraphernalia found inside. And my very own, beloved police officer brother-in-law still deals with the physical damage done to him the day he intervened on behalf of a stranded motorist in dangerous conditions — and very nearly lost his life as a result.
And for all of the times I’ve driven with a broken taillight (of which there is quite a litany – just ask my son, Tillman), I have been pulled over exactly… never.
In the past year, the attention of the American public has been drawn again and again to incidents resembling the one on Easter weekend. Our responses have been as diverse as the makeup of our nation — we have debated facts, hurled insults, rallied defenses, marched, wept, prayed, and shrunk into silence. Those same responses are taking place once again, as I write.
Perhaps there is one more kind of response.
Author, pastor, earth-shaker Bryan Lorrits states: “If you sense exasperation from we African-Americans over yet another news story of a black man slain at the hands of a white man, this is a wonderful opportunity to grab some coffee and seek to understand our hearts. I need my white brothers to know how I felt as I sat in the preaching classes in Bible college and seminary not once hearing examples of great African-American preachers. I need you to know how I felt when I was forced face down on the hard asphalt of Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, all because I was nineteen and driving my pastor’s Lexus, a year after the 1993 Rodney King riots. I need you to ask how I felt when I walked into a Target recently behind a white woman who took one look at me and pulled her purse tightly to her.” (You can see his full article in Christianity Today here)
To my African American brothers and sisters in Christ — and my other brothers and sisters who have felt the sting of prejudice — would you share your stories with me? With us? I know it takes courage, takes vulnerability to open up moments of pain. Is there any chance you could honor me that way?
To my white brothers and sisters in Christ, we who hold an undeniable kind of privilege — would you take the time and effort to hear the stories of those in your world? I know it takes courage, takes vulnerability to take down the defenses that cause us to want to protest “It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me!” rather than to enter into another’s pain. Is there any chance we could honor each other that way?
Step by step, friendship by friendship, may we be those who become instruments of peace as we learn to seek not so much to be understood, as to understand…
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis of Assisi