We prayed today for Charlottesville. It was — because I’m still such a total newbie at these things — the first time I walked into that time of prayer with a bit of fear.
Ethnic and racial divides hurt Christian community
We’re predominantly white, and the last time I came to one of our prayer services (for whatever racially-related atrocity had just rocked our nation at that point) the room was full of tears, but no one knew what to say.
Then, as one of the few people of color in the room finally began to speak, I experienced firsthand, for the first time, what it feels to recognize when all of the good intentions of people who aren’t marginalized can’t keep a system or structure from marginalizing and hurting others.
None of us wanted to make her feel like she had to express, in prayer, the pain, grief, fear, and morning of every person of color in America. But that’s what was happening. We were all putting a ton of pressure on one of the only people in the room who was already so emotionally close to this awful situation.
Oh, it that a sledgehammer in my hand? Heh. I didn’t notice.
I almost didn’t go to our prayer service, because I didn’t want to be a part of that again. Unintentional harm is still harm, and I’m so fed up with staring at the path of destruction that I totally didn’t mean to be a part of creating … and oops, are you, like, bleeding again?
For that prayer, though, at least, I think we made it through that unspoken chasm of systemic crap a little bit better than last time. We prayed. We confessed our silence. We confessed our inaction. One person of color prayed. It was a beautiful prayer. I was grateful, obviously, but it feels so weird to be part of a system that keeps doing this sort of thing to people.
I still don’t know how I feel about these spaces. They’re important — right? — we need to say that ethnic and racial injustices matter. We need to mourn, to confess, and to come before God.
But I am so glad that these predominantly white spaces are not the only places for people in pain to meet with God. I’m so grateful for safer, more authentic, places where people who are deeply mourning can grieve and be comforted in community.
A thought from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Maybe it sounds like I’m overreacting when I talk about an invisible sledgehammer. There are plenty of specific examples I could give, when it comes to my church community, my job, my past jobs, or specific relationships.
The more I seek to understand our nation’s history of injustice — and to see the ways I participate in, intentionally or not — unjust systems of power, the more I begin to see the impact of my blind spots, and the damage I do when I don’t seek to be aware of them and act accordingly.
These words from Martin Luther King, Jr., written from jail, would have struck me as unnecessarily harsh not too long ago. But the farther I venture along a path of seeking truth and self-awareness, the truer and truer they begin to ring.
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice
… who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”
… who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
Being in community means dealing with loss
In almost every second of that prayer service, I missed the college student from church who died last year. I miss her, and I hate that our world is continuing down our path of injustice after injustice, rampant pursuit of money over all else, and viral social media-filed polarization and hate … and she’s not here to speak against it.
We need all the light we can get in the midst of this pitch darkness. And what cruel sort of joke is it to snuff out the brightest light in our time of most need?
Since wrestling/yelling/angst-ing at God through my, for lack of a better phrase, crisis of faith two years ago, I’ve found so much comfort and hope in this quote from C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed — where shattering is, somehow, actually a mark of the authenticity and weight of God’s presence with us.
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leads all previous idea of the Messiah in ruins.”
God became a man. God allowed Godself to be murdered by men, in the most painful and dehumanizing way. It was only through God’s own death that freedom from death became possible for us.
Through shattering. Shattering of everything we think we know: about God, about how the world works, and of how far God will go to make sure we see the door to healing and peace.
I see so much beauty in the shattering. It’s brought so much clarity and peace to my wrestling. But right now, I need time to grieve without leaping to the point of hope.
I miss her. I miss how she was one of the few voices in my life who cared enough to call me out on my B.S. when I needed it, even before I have the wisdom or experience to see it for what it is. I miss knowing someone who was so deeply, unconditionally focused on God and Christ in action, and having the assurance that at least one person in my life wouldn’t sugarcoat the truth, to spare my feelings, or put up with my willful naïveté.
Communion with God and with each other
The minister leading our prayer for Charlottesville was also there the morning after she died. He was there with my church community, as we all processed the news together.
And I was — of all things — serving Communion that morning. I looked him in the eye and said, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”
Just a few months later, in that beautifully broken and flawed prayer space, we took Communion again. And he was the one serving it this time. He looked me in the eye and said, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”
So now, we sit here and we pray together. We cry together, and we remember that one ethnic minority rebel troublemaker that bled and died on a cross — so we could live — in the greatest iconoclastic shattering that has ever occurred.
God dies, in the most painful way, so that a bunch of selfish, murderous, self-absorbed ingrates could have the chance to spend eternity wrapped in love and peace. I mean, I’m thankful, obviously, but it just seems so completely absurd to me some days.
But God has worked more healing, and pushed me in the direction of more wholeness, since then than maybe any other period of my life. And what did I even begin to do to deserve that? Me. The one over here whining in the corner, feeling all sad and mopey because I hurt people, and I didn’t mean to; because community hurts sometimes, and life is rarely fair.
Who died and gave me the right to sit here — on today of all days — and look back over months of healing and peace in my life? Why do I get to live, and be healed, when people lightyears better than me are taken far, far before their time?
And, if I want to choose to adjust my response to life in light of that, what can I do to better be able to see where exactly my invisible sledgehammer is? I don’t have anyone to hold my hand through this. I’m not even sure if anyone will feel comfortable enough to call me out when I need it.
No, now it’s up to me to figure out specific actions — in light of my giant, invisible sledgehammer — and do my best to minimize its impact.