Manifest destiny: a love letter to my white Christian neighbors
Dear you, dear me, dear us,
I was a fresh faced sophomore in college, packing to go home on a holiday break when the ping! of the headline reached through my smartphone and down into the soul of me: another shooting, another attack, another devastating loss of life. Like most millennials, I typically hear about current events through social media first, so I took to my timeline to read what major news outlets and the people in my circles were saying. And there it was, tucked in the middle of the collective grief: a post overflowing with Islamophobic language, followed by several equally furious and hateful comments—their own tiny rally of hate, snug and nearly hidden amidst the outpouring of emotions and Jesus, come soon's. The author of the original post was a woman who worked with my mother; a woman who had never been anything but kind and encouraging to me, and who, just the day before, had posted all about how much she wanted her life to glorify Jesus. I dared to toss my two cents into the thread, hopeful that she would recognize that her words were deeply damaging. Muslims are human beings, I said, and are worthy of dignity and kindness. I went on to say that it wasn't fair to find the overwhelmingly peaceful majority guilty for the actions of the radical few.
It didn't take long at all for my fellow commenters to offer up some words just for me.
I was called naive.
Someone told me to "watch out for stones."
I was called an ignorant sheep and told to "enjoy the burka."
I was called arrogant.
A stranger told me that I was a "bad Christian who had clearly not read The Bible."
Apparently, doing unto others as you would have them do to you and loving your neighbor as you love yourself are taken pretty loosely by some around these parts, more like polite suggestions and less like the commandments that they are. In case you haven't noticed, we love ourselves an awful lot, but loving our neighbor at all, let alone loving them as we love ourselves, is a constant struggle. I’m reminded of the fact that admiration without criticism is simple infatuation: a short lived passion.
I don't know about you, but I'm tired of watching pieces of myself be suffocated and die off at the hands of short lived passions.
This is not the death that we are called to.
It's not how I want to go—not how I want to be remembered after I leave this life.
It isn't the legacy I want to leave for my children and their children.
I suspect it isn't how you want to be remembered, either.
We must examine ourselves.
It's going to be hard, y’all—standing up and admitting that yes, we are capable of that kind of hate, that we've actively participated in or seen and heard racist actions and comments and not immediately shut them down because to even acknowledge them for what they are would be too uncomfortable or costly. Family members might not understand. We might have to give up our spot in the "in crowd" in our places of work and worship and learning.
We must own the fact that the depersonalization of an entire group of human beings has been so intrinsically woven into the DNA of our society that we hardly even realize that it's there, that our entire existence as a country has been at the expense of those we've deemed as less than. We must own the fact that we have allowed fear to take root in our hearts and that we have allowed that fear to bully us into the belief that to acknowledge someone else's worth takes away from our own. We have to call it what it is: white supremacy, and pure, unadulterated racism.
I know what you're thinking. You aren't a racist. You would never do or say the damaging things we saw in Charlottesville. I believe you. I wouldn't, either. I know that for most of us, we genuinely believe that we're doing the best we can. But it isn't enough to just not be racist—we must speak out and condemn the words and actions of those who are. We must be the Esthers who are willing to acknowledge that if we have been given any privilege in this life, it is for the purpose of making sure that those on the outside have a way to get in.
Acknowledging our capacity for racism will be difficult. It might feel like the hardest thing we've ever done. But I promise you, if you ask Trayvon Martin's mother about the hardest thing she's ever done, she's going to tell you about burying her baby. If you ask Diamond Reynolds' four-year-old daughter about the hardest thing she's ever done, she'll tell you about begging her mother to be quiet so the cops don't shoot her, too. And if you had the chance to ask Heather Heyer if she would choose to show up again, my gut tells me she would say yes.
We owe it to them. We owe it to our neighbors. We owe it to our children and our children's children to tell a different story with our lives starting from this moment forward. Because when we dare to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, it changes the narrative of our lives. It changes the narratives of our families and our schools and our churches and our civic organizations and our communities. It makes a difference for eternity.
We owe it to our neighbors and our children's children to educate ourselves: to listen to our black neighbors and believe them when they share their experiences. We owe it to them to not make excuses or turn their narratives into partisan debates. We owe them our eyes, unafraid to look at the scars and the pain and the centuries their souls have traveled barefoot. We owe it to them to not just say that black lives matter, but to show it. Because we cannot love what we are unwilling to see.
We owe it to our neighbors and our children and our children's children to hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions—to let them know that we refuse to let them boast hatred and plant fear for a single moment longer.
We owe it to our neighbors and our children to pick up our crosses and die to ourselves, abolishing any shred of manifest destiny that isn't directly tied to the everlasting Kingdom—killing off any seed in us that is at odds with a free spirit. Because the Jesus whom we so proudly boast on our bumper stickers and Twitter bios and business cards came down to tear down every single barrier. He came to put our shame to death; allowing his own flesh to be ripped open so we could have a new name.
So you can feel free to call me naive. You can tell me that justice and equity are dreams that will never be realized on this side of heaven. I've heard it many, many time before. But I wholeheartedly believe that Jesus wouldn’t have asked us to pray for the Father’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven if that wasn’t a prayer he was ready and willing to answer. Mother Teresa said she "used to believe that prayer changes things, but really, prayer changes us and we change things." And I want to be in on the answer. Surely, there will be many days when the enormity of the problem will overwhelm us, but we must not allow it to paralyze us. We must be brave enough to take the next step, brave enough to expose our own beliefs, actions and lack thereof, holding them up to the light of truth. I won't be perfect at this. None of us will be, but our imperfection does not relieve us from our calling as believers to usher in a new kingdom.
For your continued viewing/reading:
These thoughts from Brene Brown
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
13th, a Netflix documentary directed by the incredibly wise and talented Ava Duvurnay
Time: The Kalif Browder Story—documentary, Netflix
For Akheem—documentary, Amazon
How to Heal When Your Heart is Tired, by Daje Morris
After Charlottesville: The Question We Absolutely Have to Answer, by Lisa Sharon Harper via Ann Voskamp
These words from Brittany Packnett
These words from Shveta Thakrar
Proximity > Politics, by Shannan Martin
Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult