Sunday, August 31, 2014

We Need to Keep Talking

Talking about race can wear you down. I'm growing weary of talking about race myself. It hurts my heart, wears out my soul and sorely tests my patience. Yet, as I've had the opportunity to observe many heated conversations regarding race in light of events in Ferguson, MO, I've reached a stunning conclusion - we need to keep talking! Let me start with an assumption - as dangerous as those are - that most folks reading this essay have a heart for racial justice - or justice period. The perspectives and points of view may differ, but the hearts of each of you long to see a day when people,especially people of faith, somehow approach their potential for loving across all barriers, especially barriers of race. Language does not help us in our discussion, especially the words racist and racism. They are highly charged words that lead us down a path of blame and guilt which are at the core of America's race issues. In his book "Disintegration" Eugene Robinson establishes a helpful framework to get beyond the blame/guilt tennis match. First, Robinson uses a term that I believe helps address the issue without finger pointing in the process. He states that the US is "racialized". What does that mean? It means that due to our deep and complex history regarding race, the issue of race impacts almost every aspect of US life. That impact may be negligible, subtle, obvious or debatable, but it is very present. The particular issue in view at any given time may be seen from different perspectives, but all involved will know that race is a factor, though individual and corporate experiences may hinder the various perspectives owned from being understood by others. This fact is a necessary starting point in discussions of race. Our experiences and perspectives differ by virtue of our ethnic, social, economic and even linguistic backgrounds. This difference in perspective reminds me of a Classic Star Trek episode where due to a transporter problem, Capt. Kirk finds himself in a parallel plane with the crew. They can all see the bridge of the ship, but they can only see each other at certain instances and even then, they cannot hear each other and can only communicate by hand signals. Racial experiences in the US are a lot like that. We all share a common space, but simultaneously different experiences. When our paths cross regarding racial issues, we're all passionately communicating from our perspectives, frustrated that we cannot communicate what we're experiencing and not understanding the lack of communication when we share common space at the same time! Well, the complex and yet simple answer is we live in parallel universes, sharing common space at a common time, yet having particular experiences within that framework that are real for us but largely unknown to those around us of a different background. Why is this so critical? It's critical because we need to understand our starting points before we attempt to engage in meaningful conversation and then we need to talk to each other and keep on talking. We need to share some stories - as painful as that can be - to at least get a grip on why our passions run so strong and our hurts are often felt so deeply. We need to de-politicize this issue and "gracify" it, giving and receiving much grace as we share the truth in love. After almost 400 years of strife, this battle will be one we fight to the grave. Nevertheless, until we can consistently talk to each other, as tiring as it is, no progress will be made. We'll spin our wheels on the treadmill of blame and guilt until Jesus comes back...and He won't be happy.

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