We are Black in America. We want to be seen. We want to be heard. And not just because we have money or want to win money, can sing/dance or got caught on video being beaten by police, our mothers or another black person in a rap/dance battle. We want to be seen and heard, not just objectified, commodified or for your entertainment.
The media only sees me and my people in mugshots because the ones of us who "make it" are immediately stripped of our blackness and called "different" by ill-conceived compliments like, "but you're so different" and "you're not like them". Note* If you are non-black person reading this message, please stop doing that. It truly is painful.
My skin still says I work at department stores, I don't shop in them. My skin says I study on a basketball court, not in a laboratory. My last name is a reminder of a rape long ago, a genealogy of oppression.
And this is why we protest. To be seen and heard and no longer ignored and forced into ghettos and projects. And this is why we riot, because that we can still be shot in the back, cuffed and thrown into vans and herded into neighborhoods starved of resources is too much to take at once.
Hope and smoke rose from Southwest Baltimore via Fox, CNN, Twitter, Instagram and text messages from friends and family on our phones. I see the fight for light in the midst of so much darkness and I am in tears again.
I see people in pain and I will not distance myself from them and I will not condemn or condone the violence because I feel their pain.
I am not ashamed of them, because they are just like me. Instead I stand in solidarity with him holding the molatov cocktail, her hidden behind a bandana and spread my arms wide to hug them. I proclaim to you with a brick in your hand and a mind to throw it that you are seen and loved. I see you "outside agitator" and know that you are inside this prison in your city too and say thank you being present to the pain of others who seem close but might reside in another state.
We are not monkeys or animals, niggers or gorillas. We are people -- man, woman, child. We are made in the image of God and worthy of love, grace and acceptance. We are also worthy of fresh food, quality education, economic development and the police, fire and rescue squad coming when we call them. Oh, to be seen and heard, to stand in the sun and not be snubbed or our messages spun would be a stunning joy I only dream of. And I know that you dream of it too.
I know you can't put that brick down without knowing why they broke Freddie's back or shot Michael. I know you feel powerful when you flip that police car that made you afraid to sit on your own stoop.
I know you can't take that bandana off your face because who you are doesn't matter to some white people and the gas might be coming soon.
I know that you feel like you can't take it anymore. And it distresses and depresses me that it had to come to this...again. Today, just like the next time this happens though we, the marginalized, have a choice.
Like Peter when the Romans came to arrest Jesus, I long to pick up my sword and start swinging. Peter knew what it was like to be seen as an ignorant fisherman from Galilee. Can anything good come from Sandtown? He knew what it meant to see his friends and his ethnic group abused by the Roman Empire. He knew what it was like to be overlooked by religious leaders and not cared for. He was a strong, hot-tempered fisherman and with his friend and teacher Jesus, about to be taken away he fought back with a sword, cutting off Malchus' ear. But then Jesus, in an amazing mystery, called not for violence. He put the severed ear back on the soldier's head and healed the very person who came to arrest Him. This makes no earthly sense!
Jesus did not do this because He wanted the status quo to continue or to appease those in power. He was not falling in line and thinking "if I just obey it'll be alright."
He was not thinking, "if I don't resist they won't hurt me."
No, He did this because He knew who He was and He had a different plan. Jesus knows that He is the Son of God, the Son of Man, Redeemer and Messiah. He had a plan for redemption that included victory over all suffering and a final cure for all violence and oppression. It did not look like victory then and it doesn't look like victory now. We can be angry, but we must sin not. And our anger will not cause us to sin if we sit with Jesus, bring our anger to Him and find our identity in Christ; and wait for our assignment in His plans. Because God is the only one that can bear the weight of our identity and actions out of that reality yield long-lasting fruit because true reconciliation is an investment in eternity.
If all of that is true, we need to go to our respective Gardens of Gethsamane and plead with God because we need Him to be able to take up our Cross and follow Jesus to our Calvary so we can share in the resurrection. That is the only way the bricks won't be thrown, buildings won't be burned and police and protesters will live in peace. I know full well that the only reason I don't get on planes and trains traveling the country with bandanas, bricks, extra cell phone batteries and Clif Bars declaring war on bigotry, misogyny and every perpetrator of racism and personal and corporate oppression is because Jesus didn't do that -- at least not that way.
His bricks were parables and His bombs were prayers that drove out demons and healed the sick. He wasn't skilled in hand to hand combat but His hands flipped tables, pointed at religious hypocrites and abusers of power. He didn't break store windows, He broke bread and fed thousands at a time. Our God's plan is little and slow and does not feed our need for instant gratification BUT oh if we would trust Him perhaps we would learn from the Great Reconciler how to bring different types of people together under the Jehovah-Raffah, Our Banner.
When I bring my anger to Jesus, He says that Vengeance is His and He will surely repay.
He collects my tears and allows me to draw near unto Him.
Oh, that I would trust Him and not my heart prone to wander and be discouraged.
He says Blessed are the peacemakers and as one of those, I will seek wisdom to speak truth to power, dining with my enemies and blessing those who hate me.
With the sermon on the mount and the Beatitudes in mind, we have to ask ourselves. What would Jesus do if He lived today and His community was being oppressed and killed by those in power?
Perhaps He would be like Jonathan and Courtney Bettle and open their home for prayer meetings and distribute hot dogs on corners to hungry volunteers. Perhaps He would be like the Gormleys, Zooks, Breidegams, Vaughns and other families staying up late for prayer and conversations. Perhaps He would be beside the unnamed men and women who shout "don't give them a reason" and link arms between riot gear and people.
Philippians 2 says that He was obedient to death, even death on a Cross. So, the answer to WWJD is always the same. He would stop and pray. And then do whatever the Father says.
When we experience or witness oppression, violence, abuse or hurt we stop and turn to Our Father in Heaven with all of pain, sadness and bitterness and cry out for directions. And we wait for Him to answer. And we don't act until He says so.
We hold two questions as followers of Jesus when we have deep internal conflict under the pressure of the external world: where is my Cross and where is my Calvary? Because all of us are called to die to ourselves -- our wants, our desires, our revenge, our justice. So that we might live an abundant life with an abundant God.
I asked Our Father what I'm supposed to do today and I know I am called to write and called to pray. What about you?
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