Sleep on This: Racist? (June 1)
Good evening, friend.
He was, LITERALLY, the only “black” kid in our high school. (No one said “African American” back in the seventies.) His name was Clint and he was my friend. I know…the proverbial black friend that every enlightened white person claims. But it was true. We hung out together. He visited my youth group. He came over to my house. (Although, I never visited his home, come to think of it. I’m not sure why.)
After graduation, Clint enlisted in the Army. I think I saw him one time after that. But frankly, that’s not much different from my other high school relationships. They all pretty much fizzled away.
But for four years, the “one black kid in school” was my friend. And it didn’t seem like much of an effort, honestly. I learned how to do this at home. My father spoke of his warm friendship with an African American man named Pogue when they were stationed together at the Air Force base in Riverside, California.
So…when I am tarred with the “racist” brush, I resent it. And I push back. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.
But over the last few days, I’ve begun to wonder: Is there a racist bone in my body? Nothing overt; I’m sure of that. But as I watch the seething, violent reaction to the in-custody killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, I realize that no matter HOW much I try to empathize, I really can never, never, never understand what it’s like to be a black man jogging in a white neighborhood or being pulled over by a police officer. And despite what I think to be my enlightened views on the issue, I have discovered clues that hint that I DO have some latent racism in me. At least at a viral level, if I could use a relevant, contemporary and haunting metaphor.
For instance, when I watched the video of the killing of Mr. Floyd, I was truly repulsed. It was painful and awful to watch…horrific! Yet when my communications team wanted to post a memorial on our Facebook page that included an appropriate passage of scripture, I initially refused. In part, I told myself, because we don’t yet know the whole story (although I knew there was nothing I could hear that could justify what I had seen.) And in part, I told myself, because it might be politically divisive within the church.
So I denied permission for the post. And I now regret that. I was not courageous enough to pay attention to my own revulsion and stick my neck out in a show of solidarity with Mr. Floyd and with the rest of those who found his killing revolting…rightly.
But all this has caused me to think more deeply and pray more honestly about the national stain that is racism, including the stain that I myself bear. I’m going to think out loud with you in this blog for the next few nights.
The verse my team wanted to post was Job 19:7: Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice. It was, and still is, painfully apropos! When a man cries, “I cannot breathe!” we must listen! And do something about it. And I’m realizing that millions of Americans have been crying out those same words for centuries. I’m not sure what it means for me to “do something about it,” but perhaps this confession is a starting point.
And if it stirs a need for confession within you, too…then good.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139: 23-24
Dear Lord, as I lay me down to sleep, I am shaken by the violence that has gripped our nation…and the timidity that has gripped my own soul. Forgive me…forgive us! Forgive us for the horror of slavery and the stink that yet remains. Open my eyes to ways that I might be used by you to heal these terrible wounds…and give me the courage to obey. Amen.