True religion will never allow the first part of the Great Commandment (“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart…”) to become an excuse for not obeying the second part (“…and love your neighbor as yourself”).
If you ever find yourself or your spiritual leader using the Bible as an excuse for apathy or inaction in the face of suffering and injustice, you should be alarmed.
It’s a clear sign that you’ve departed from the way of Jesus to follow the path of those who killed him.
I think there are some N-words we should consider getting rid of.
But nuance isn’t one of them.
Not every issue should force you to choose a faction and only see things from that faction’s perspective.
Not everyone on the “other side” should be boogey-manned, demeaned, and dismissed as someone unworthy of your time and energy.
Not every answer to the hard questions is as simple as a “Yes” or “No”.
Not every problem can be solved simply by applying your camp’s political policies alone.
I’m gonna stop there before this starts to look like a rant.
Whether we like it or not, many issues can’t be painted adequately using only black and white. Sometimes, there are multiple shades of gray (no pun intended), along with other colors, that make up the entirety of the painting. And to ignore this fact is to truncate one’s own understanding on a number of levels.
Think about this personally for a moment. Are you monolithic? Can you be defined with just one characteristic trait? Do you feel as an individual that you can be summed up with little to no thought? I would venture to say that the majority of you reading this would say “No”.
Yet I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we are all guilty on some level of doing this to others, especially those we disagree with. It’s much easier for us to buy into a caricature of “the other” than to put in the work of actually getting to know and understand them.
It takes a whole lot of courage, patience, and humility to use nuance when engaging with people on the other side of the fence. It is not for the faint of heart.
I hope and pray, in light of the firestorm of divisive matters swirling around us, that the art of nuance doesn’t get totally swallowed up.
If you are not feeding your soul on the realities of the presence, promises, and provisions of Christ…
…you will ask the people, situations, and things around you to be the messiah that they can never be.
If you are not attaching your identity to the unshakable love of your Savior…
…you will ask the things in your life to be your Savior, and it will never happen.
Ahmaud Arbery isn’t just another hashtag for me anymore.
Let me tell you why.
I had the opportunity to travel with a beautifully diverse group of fellow young believers to Brunswick, GA last Saturday.
The three and a half hour bus ride up was a combination of nervous introductions, surprising fun facts, hysterical belly laughs, and thought-provoking answers to intensely deep questions about race and reconciliation. It was an amazing learning experience.
We also came up with a tentative gameplan for our time there…time which would include a meeting with the mayor, a senator, the head of the NAACP Georgia chapter, and an undisclosed member of Ahmaud’s family. We decided that three of us would offer some encouraging words centered around reconciliation, mercy, and justice, followed by a group prayer for the family, city officials, and the city itself.
I say tentative because the game changed completely when we found out that the undisclosed family member was going to be Ahmaud’s father.
I was sort of expecting that we would be meeting a seventh cousin thrice removed or something. But Ahmaud’s dad? What in the world can we do or say to encourage him? What if we say something wrong? What if he’s not even in the mood to talk with anyone? I couldn’t blame him for that.
To be fair, these thoughts were mostly in my own head, probably because I was one of the three chosen (or more accurately, volunteered by my wife) to speak on behalf of the group. And I was petrified.
But when we arrived, it quickly became apparent that our words were the least important thing about us being there. What we heard over and over again from those we encountered was that they were just glad we were there. Our presence meant more than our words ever could.
Oddly enough, it felt like they did more of the encouraging than we did.
I was moved by the peaceful yet steely resolve of the mayor and senator, along with the words of wisdom and encouragement from the Georgia NAACP president, who happened to be a pastor. I smiled while holding back tears as I heard some of Ahmaud’s grade school teachers talk about their experiences with him as he grew up. I listened intently as one of Ahmaud’s aunts calmly expressed her justifiable anger at the events surrounding his murder.
And then there was his dad.
There was a quiet strength that just seemed to emanate from him. And it wasn’t faked at all. I could tell that he was still very sorrowful, and yet he bore it with a grace and poise that blew my mind. He nodded in gratitude to the seemingly feeble words of encouragement that we offered, and then proceeded to offer encouraging words of his own.
He spoke so fondly and proudly of his son. “My boy was a good boy”, he said, and you could feel the smile through the Justice for Ahmaud cloth mask he was wearing. He talked about the younger kids in the neighborhood that Ahmaud played with and mentored, and how heartbroken they were when they learned of his tragic death. He talked about some of Ahmaud’s aspirations, and I could tell it hurt him deeply that those were now cut short. But he remained upbeat and optimistic during our brief interaction.
“Not gonna lie, y’all. It gets hard sometimes. Only thing keepin’ me is that Man upstairs”, he said, pointing towards the sky.
After we sang a worship song and had prayer with them, we said our goodbyes to the city officials and family members, and then headed to our next stop.
Satilla Shores. The neighborhood where it happened.
It’s a bit difficult to adequately capture the flood of emotions that we all felt when the bus came to a stop near the intersection of Satilla Drive and Holmes Road. My own stomach was in a knot as my wife and I stepped off the bus.
It was all too real, now.
We spotted a small flowered memorial at the edge of someone’s front yard. It marked the spot where Ahmaud fell down after succumbing to his gunshot wounds. Walking down Holmes Road, I noticed splotches of discoloration on the street that seemed to follow an uneven trail up to the memorial.
One of the others took out his phone and played the video, and we were able to follow in real time exactly the path that Ahmaud ran before he was gunned down in the spot right in front of us. Some of us broke down crying right then and there. Others of us had cried enough beforehand, and stood somberly replaying the events in their heads.
We then gathered together near the memorial and recited the Lord’s Prayer. I think it was so fitting to ask God’s kingdom to come on Earth, in that very spot where a grave injustice had been committed against one of His image bearers.
To go to Ahmaud’s home city, to shake hands with his father, to walk on the street where he jogged his last mile…all of this served to make Ahmaud Arbery more real for me. And I hope it does the same for those who read this.
I also hope that it prompts you to sincerely pray for his family, for the city of Brunswick, and for all of those who are on the frontlines seeking justice on his behalf.
May all of the victims whose names have fueled our continuing fight for justice be more human than hashtag. And may their humanity not be lost in light of the cause.
Father…Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Jesus could have called down the psalms of rage upon his enemies and shouted a final word of defiance before he breathed his last. Instead he called for forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” he says in Luke 23.
It was not a false reconciliation: Jesus experienced the reality of state-sponsored terror. That is why the black Christian has always felt a particular kinship with this crucified king from an oppressed ethnic group.
The cross helps us make sense of the lynching tree.
Today, many Christians are trapped in a culture war mindset believing whoever possesses political power can, and will, impose their values and beliefs on society.
As Christians, we cannot, and should not, demand that everyone share our beliefs. But we can, and should, demand that everyone share our freedom.
Because where this freedom exists, we know that Christ will be lifted up and draw people to himself.
I’ve personally experienced what can happen when the gospel of Jesus Christ gets reduced to a series of theological ideas coupled with all the skills necessary to access those ideas.
Bad things happen when maturity is more defined by knowing than it is by being.
Danger is afloat when you come to love the ideas more than the God whom they represent and the people they are meant to free.
For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true.
That’s what hate does. You can’t see right. The symbol of objectivity is lost. Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater .
So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the hated.
True Christianity stands in unwavering opposition to all forms of utilitarianism.
Our faith affirms the God-given value of every person regardless of their usefulness.
Yes, God has organized his world to be useful, but he has also imbued it with the impractical quality of beauty to remind us that value is not defined by usefulness.
“I’m lookin’ for the map to hope…you seen it?”– NF (Hip Hop Artist)
I’ve been listening to NF a lot lately.
If you’re not familiar with his music, it’s known for having a moody, dark, yet refreshingly authentic vibe. NF deep dives into the roots of his emotional trauma, and does it in a way that is so creative and relatable that, in his own words, Even if you hate it I make you feel like you’re in it though.
Processing emotional trauma.
I can relate.
I’ve had to wrestle lately with the emotional trauma of being a young black man in America.
I don’t say that in anger, and I assure you that this isn’t going to be some vitriolic rant. But I won’t lie to you and say that I haven’t been sorely tempted to go in that direction…or worse.
Then again, part of that has been my own fault. I’ve been on social media too much. I’ve probably wasted too much time trying to convince some people that the trauma is real, that it’s not imagined, that it’s not something I’ve been spoon-fed by the media.
Only to be met with statistics that “prove” I’m not thinking rationally, or that I’m just being gullible.
See? Even now I’m getting distracted. Sorry about that.
Like I said, I’m in a wrestling match with my emotions right now, as is the vast majority of the black community. And it’s so tiring.
And as you can see, we’re responding in different ways. Some of which are admittedly wrong and counterproductive, yes. But truthfully, many of us are just struggling to find or hold onto some sense of hope.
It’s like hope is this far-off destination that we’re desperate to get to, but we feel like we’re lost. And in dire need of a map.
Because we’ve been down this road before. Over and over again.
And before you say it, I know that as a follower of Jesus, I technically have this map already. I appreciate the reminder.
But you can feel lost sometimes even if you have a map.
I guess what I’m really trying to get at is this. Some of us feel like we don’t have a map to hope at all. Others of us do have the right map, but it’s a little blurry right now looking at it through our tears. We’re in different places in the process right now.
Please, bear with us. Cry with us. Allow us space to be honest about our feelings, even if you disagree. A listening ear goes a long way in times like this.
To be honest, even writing this post has been therapeutic for me. And I’m grateful to God that He’s been patient as I clumsily navigate this process.
To quote from my map:
“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him.”Lamentations 3:21-24 (KJV)
Sorrow mixed with hope…yeah, that’s pretty much my mood right now.
Welcome to my brain for the next several paragraphs.
My mind is reeling and my heart aches, because yet another young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was unjustly cut down. Yet another senseless death, yet another mother violently deprived of her son.
Simply because he “fit a description.”
But after 2 months of no action being taken, the two men responsible for it have finally been arrested and charged. That’s reason enough to be hopeful, right?
Yeah, but you’ve seen this movie before. The “justice system” will probably find some justification for his slaughter. He had prior convictions, he was trespassing, he was seen as a threat, he shouldn’t have reacted the way he did.
It is what is, Wayne. It’s just the America that you live in. It’s hard to swallow that this is still reality, and that you yourself “fit a description”. But don’t grow bitter…scripture warns you about that.
And besides, you’re not alone in how you feel. And it’s not just other black people who are calling for justice, either. You’re seeing plenty of white brothers and sisters…many who you know personally…speaking out loudly and showing genuine sympathy and love.
Yeah, that’s actually pretty comforting.
But scroll a few posts down, and you see the exact opposite. Victim blaming, denying that racism still exists, bringing up the issue of black-on-black crime, pointing out that blacks and other minorities can be racist too (a true but situationally irrelevant statement). And, to top it off, there are whole social media groups now dedicated to seeking justice for the perpetrators.
That is definitely hard to stomach and look at, Wayne. Try getting off social media for a little while, okay?
But now I’m stuck with my thoughts. And they’re still mixed.
Because for all of the small glimmers of hope I feel, there’s still the reality that I have to live in. And that brings a ton of sorrow.
I wish I could just have all hope and no sorrow…you know what I mean?
And sometimes I wish that following Jesus could guarantee this for me. But I know that’s not reality. At least, not for now.
It is something that He guarantees down the road, though. But down the road seems so far away.
I find some comfort in knowing that He’s pretty well acquainted with sorrow Himself, though. Yeah, that part helps.
I’ll hang on to that for now.
In these unprecedented times, it’s natural to want a sense of control by looking to the past.
You will likely hear many people, including some Christian leaders, offering certainty about what is to come. Faith does not mean trusting our ability to predict the future by looking at God’s past actions.
True faith means surrendering the future and trusting in God’s character which is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The ministry of the gospel in our churches involves more than doctrinal argumentation. The work of the gospel is subtle, like the work of a fragrance.
It is not just brute facts landing hard on someone’s mind, but an aroma wafting into a heart. And this light contact proves to be life or death.
Such is the astonishing power of the gospel of God.