We are still reeling from the emotional turmoil of the past few months, trying to make sense of a perniciously racist system that some knew all too well and others didn’t want to believe existed. We #saytheirnames and realize we have already forgotten a few. There are so many. But surely this time is different, we tell ourselves. This changes everything, we say.
Have we finally reached a kairos moment? Is this a turning point in how we think about and respond to racism in our country? Perhaps. It is also entirely possible that well-meaning Christians will read books and issue public statements against racism without doing much to dismantle the system that allows the violence and discrimination to exist in the first place. Even the most empathetic among us tend to enthusiastically like and share hashtags, GoFundMe campaigns, and book club recommendations, only to shift focus when another issue takes the spotlight. No matter how horrific the event, our attention spans can be surprisingly short.
This was expressed recently by the mother of a child killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012: “I have a few regrets after everything that happened here years back. One was we let up pressure too early. The events were so horrifying I thought everyone would want to do the right thing. So [don’t] let this moment go by. Do not let up pressure. The time is now.”
For many of us, it is hard to imagine going through life without a plan. We carefully orchestrate our time each day so we stay on track and achieve our goals. And yet, when pondering a critical challenge like systemic racism, most of us do not have a plan. We prefer to wing it, hoping that someone else will figure it all out and then tell us what to do.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can become an anti-racist Christian. There is no shortage of resources to educate people like me who have not directly experienced racism. I made a list of the top books to read and am praying about it. But will this be enough to transform my intentions into action when it is so easy to fade away?
In struggling with this question, I found inspiration in Proverbs 16:1-3 (MSG): “Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word. Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. Put God in charge of your work, then what you’ve planned will take place.” So, in addition to checking off items on my study and prayer list, I decided to go deeper with God and ask what more I needed to do. What I learned is that before I could change the world, I needed to change myself. This led me to three areas to start working on:
-Developing greater compassion
-Being accountable for my actions as well as my failure to act
-Finding mentors to help develop my skills and influence
Be compassionate as your father is compassionate. (Luke 6:36)
It is said that the civil rights movement changed laws but did not change hearts. One way to change my heart is to be more compassionate. The word compassion comes from two Latin words that together mean “to suffer with.” This goes beyond feelings of sympathy or sadness. Compassion requires us to go to the place of suffering and share in the brokenness like Jesus did. It asks us to be vulnerable and powerless with the vulnerable and powerless. Compassion moves us from being detached observers to experiencing suffering in a way that makes “their” pain become our pain.
For me, becoming more compassionate starts by engaging more closely and regularly with those who have experienced racism in their lives. I’ve attended webinars that provide opportunities to interact with people directly impacted by racism who are willing to share their stories with me. I have also doubled up on church, which in the current online worship environment is easy to do. I worship and pray with an African-American congregation in a different neighborhood from mine, gaining insights and practical ideas that I would not find during my usual routine. In doing so, I am finding a surprising amount hope as well.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
For anti-racism to be embedded in my heart and my life, I need to be accountable. As Christians we are accountable not only to God but to one other. Yet it is rare in polite Christian circles to be confronted with our individual responsibility as followers of Jesus to fight racism and injustice. We fool ourselves into thinking that racism is someone else’s problem or that another person or organization will take care of it. Some churchgoers have even convinced themselves that it is inappropriate to talk about racism for fear of appearing “political.”
It has become clear to me that being accountable will require intentionally surrounding myself with trusted friends and partners who will challenge me to keep my commitments and use my influence for positive change. The more vocal I am about my intentions, the more likely that people who care about me will check on my progress.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
In the past, I have found myself stuck in neutral for lack of concrete steps to take when I am troubled by a particular justice issue. I don’t think I am alone in this. It sounds like a cheap excuse but many of us sincerely struggle with transforming our knowledge and good intentions into practical actions that use our unique talents and abilities.
I think having a mentor could help with this. When we are learning a new job, playing a sport, or studying a foreign language, we need teachers and mentors to help us develop the skills we need to succeed. Why should anti-racism be different?
Jesus Christ modeled this in his life and ministry. He taught and mentored his disciples using powerful stories and images, and corrected them when they got off track. Then he sent them out into the world to practice sharing the good news. Some of these disciples did not show a lot of promise at first, and they probably felt awkward and nervous taking those first steps. But Jesus never gave up on them and they changed the world as a result.
Is this your kairos moment?
I have no idea if this will be our country’s kairos moment, but it certainly feels like mine. I realize there is a lot more to becoming anti-racist than a simple three-step plan, but I needed someplace to start. Maybe you feel this way too. If so, I encourage you to slow down and spend time listening to God’s leading. Search your heart for a God-breathed plan that is uniquely yours. When you put God in charge of your work, your plans will succeed.