Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Recently a friend tweeted about the jury ruling on the Ferguson indictment: "If you don't think racism in America is a problem you're either not paying attention or you're part of it." And when I saw this I thought immediately, "Yes, this." And then shortly following that thought was a second one, "Oh, ouch."

As much as I agree with her charge, it also stings a bit because I was that person just a few months ago. I was the person who preferred to downplay and gloss over race issues, I was the person who naively believed that the crusade against racism was prolonging its existence, I was the person who sighed every time an issue of depraved human nature was construed as an issue of race. 

And as that person, I was defensive and put off by any judgment, implied or actual, that I was part of the problem. 

A former roommate of mine feels very strongly about racism. Living with her meant that I had to listen to rants on race issues on the reg. I remember brushing my teeth and actively tuning her out because it actually made me a little annoyed that she cared so much. I could tell she thought I was part of the problem. I could tell she thought I was racist, or at least ignorant. I think she thought my "color-blind" approach was BS. So I listened to her rants defensively, focused on maintaining indifference and preserving my moral high ground.

I'm a horrible person, guys.

It was on the train ride to work a week after Mike Brown's death that I read a news article about what had happened. That's how insulated I was, that it took me a whole week before the thing hit my radar. But there I was, snot liquifying in my nose, tears dripping down my face, as I read news reports and witness accounts of the unfolding events in Ferguson. And I kept thinking, "Dear Jesus, I can't believe stuff like this still happens in this country, I can't believe I didn't know." He touched my heart and in that moment I saw things differently; I was grieved over the injustice I had denied existed. 

I wouldn't necessarily count myself as one of the enlightened just yet. The pesky part of privilege is that you don't know what you don't know. I gather that I have been ignorant, but I'm still sorting out just how ignorant I've been. And I haven't the foggiest of how I can be part of His ministry of reconciliation in this. All I know is that before my heart was hard to stories of racial injustice systemic in my country, and now I ache with a sorrow I don't fully understand. My indifference is turning to empathy for people who have been systemically wronged.

But I say all of this to say that I get there are people who think "the whole Ferguson thing" is sensationalized, warped, and packaged as propaganda. I get that there are people who don't think that racism is an issue in the USA, and I opine that those people take that stance because they want to believe that racism is a thing of the past, that we're better than that. I get that because I have been and sometimes still am one of those people. And because I've hoed that row all I can say is, "Break our hearts, Oh Lord, for the sin in our land break our hearts."

So I offer this as hope. I see the grief and frustration expressed by friends whose hearts are also broken over this and other demonstrations of the injustice in our society and I aver, take heart! Jesus is softening hearts. He's softening mine. And one day, all will be healed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Psalm 73 // Never Let Me Go

Surely God is good to those who are pure in heart,
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.

It's strange to me that living in a distant land doing something I'd never done before was easier for me than "living the dream" that I've had these past few months. But perhaps not so strange. It was easy to admit and surrender that I had no idea what was going on in circumstances where I was helpless to take care of myself. In class, in the grocery store, in the airport, in the post office, on the bus, on the street, in Karaganda I was pummeled by my own helplessness, and it was easy to give in to that. I needed help, of course I did. I think faith is a little like Florence says, "It's over and I'm going under, but I'm not giving up, I'm just giving in."

Here, in my "element", in my home culture, in a city that I love, studying what I love, doing work that I love, here I ought to have been comfortable, here I ought to have been master of myself. Here I should have been strong enough to do as I ought to do. Here I should be others-center, self-disciplined, industrious, composed. But instead here I have hated my helplessness, and I have counted His help as something available only to those who aren't in survival mode. Here I have struggled to duck-and-cover behind the shield of His help, I have resisted trading the shreds of my self-efficacy for His gentle guidance. But what can I say that David hasn't already said better?

When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

I feel the hunger to testify, to express in some sort of public way that my God is real to me, near to me. That my God is the reason I can face my students with a smile on my face, that my God is the reason I can roll out of bed in the morning. I have felt like a mess, I have burdened myself with the guilt of a hard heart, piled with doubts that I was capable of abiding, recipient of anything more than cheap grace. I am not capable. I am a mess. But my God is my helper, my protector. The only strength I have in my heart is the portion He has given me. It sounds a small offering indeed, but what He is doing in me is a painfully wonderful open-heart surgery. And I love Him, I love Him, I love Him.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
    I will tell of all your deeds.