Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Voice - Part 1

I remember the first day I truly began to hear.

A dear, patient friend of mine looked me in the eye and said "You look in the mirror and see a woman. I look in the mirror and see a black woman."

We had been friends for awhile. I had been asking questions, trying to listen, but, when you've grown up with one perspective on life, an entirely middle class white perspective, opening yourself to another is no easy feat. It takes work, intentionality...and it takes willing to be wrong, to repent and to try again. And again. And again.

No one likes feeling wrong. No one likes seeing the truly ugly parts of oneself revealed. The biases, the failures. It hurts. No one likes admitting a whole society could possibly be so off track. No one.

Her words stopped me in my tracks. She knew that all her interactions during her day would be colored by the truth in that mirror. That though we were sisters, our experiences were vastly different. Could I understand sexism? Sure. Could I understand, truly feel the pain of, racism? No. Not a chance. And there was no way I could understand the particular ways in which racism and sexism collide for a black woman.

It hurt. It made me sad. And angry. And helpless. And it would have been easy that day, in my privilege, to defend myself. To shed white tears and plead for comfort and absolution. Or tell her she was imagining things. Or choose to step off the journey because I have that choice, unlike my friends of color. I can walk away if it gets too hard.

But you know what? Hurt is worth it, my friends. Not if we just stay there, no. Tears, prolonged and self-pitying, are ineffectual. But tears of true lament? Tears that cause us to say enough is enough and then seek to change? Those God can use.

To lament the history of our country. To grieve the lives lost through enslavement and genocide and white supremacy. To weep for those ostracized from the church. To mourn the brokenness of our justice system. To look at ourselves as individuals, root out our own biases, and replace them with a passion for justice rooted in God's good news.

That is the work of a disciple.

And friends, let me make something clear, I have not arrived. No one has. I know more than I did 10 years ago. God willing, I will know more tomorrow than I do today. Because I am making the choice to stay in it.

Some days, I truly wish I were still ignorant. It was way more comfortable.

Being comfortable, though, is not really part of the call to follow God.

And that same friend, during a difficult discussion said one other thing that is always, always in the back of my mind.

I was angry because I felt it unfair that her voice didn't carry as much weight as mine in convincing white people of racism. I was raging. I was guilt-ridden. I didn't want to believe in injustice.

She looked me in the eye and said "Use your voice. Use it. And maybe someday your voice won't be more powerful than mine anymore."

Dang.

Friends, every time I have wanted to back down from a debate on Facebook, every time I have witnessed a racist event and wanted to keep my mouth shut, every time I have wanted to avoid the truth, I have heard her voice in my head.

Use your voice. Use it.

It's a privilege to stay quiet. And so I speak.

What about you?

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