We All Share It
Yesterday I was having a conversation with an African-American pastor, who leads a 147-year-old historic, black church here in Austin when he asked me a question that I was ashamed to answer.
He and I had met once at an event but didn't really know one another that well, and we both wanted to take the opportunity we'd be given in the midst of all of this strife and challenge to just have a conversation.
We also spent some time discussing the tragic circumstances of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and how his community is responding to all of the protests and violence.
At one point, he inquired if he could ask me a personal question that he'd always wanted to ask the white pastors he knew.
"Why are white pastors so afraid to speak up?" He asked me. "Is it because of what you think it will cost you?"
I felt like I had been gut-punched. I don't even remember what I said at first as I stammered through my response. My face got flushed and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
I finally had to confess to him that in the past I had tempered my responses to the social issues that divided our nation because I had been afraid of the backlash from church people.
And afraid of losing members... afraid of losing donors... afraid of losing my job...
That part of our conversation haunted me. It was the tipping point for me as I had been staring at a social media post I'd written but was afraid to post--a post where I spoke out, ending my silence at last.
In the end, it was that quiet question that enabled me to do it. A question that I began to ask myself over and over again.
"Why am I so afraid to speak?"
It's so easy in this current culture within which we live to create what Fr. Richard Rohr calls "false dichotomies" or "dualistic thinking." When we do this, there is no room for dialogue, no space for the other---especially when the "other" disagrees with us.
This way of thinking keeps us from realizing some very important things. We are all created in God's image, and when some of us are marginalized, and outcast, we all struggle. When some of us are wounded, we all feel that pain.
St. Julian of Norwich captures it simply like this:
There is only one suffering and we all share it.The problem is, far too many of us have grown used to ignoring the pain, pushing it aside, denying the Spirit's voice within us... We have become willing to do just about anything not to feel it, to put it in some opposite category... a false dichotomy.
Now it has found us, and we can't ignore it any longer.
I read this poem by e.e. cummings today and this line resonated with me:
now the ears of my ears are awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened.It's time to attune our ears to the cries for help on the other side of the noise of the 24/7 news programs, social media, and the like. The Spirit of God whispers, for sure... but sometimes the Spirit cries out.
We need to have our eyes truly opened to see others as complicated, beautiful image-bearers of God, who can't be placed in some either/or category. We need to see them more clearly so that we can see God more clearly.
Victor Hugo once wrote:
To love another person is to see the face of GodDon't be afraid. I say that to myself as much as I say it to all of you.
Don't be afraid in the midst of all this struggle. If our eyes are open, and our ears are listening, and our hearts are prepared to be led by the Spirit...
We will see peace. We will see hope. We will see glimpses of the kingdom of God here on earth. And maybe those glimpses will inspire us to seek the kingdom of God first, above all our fears... above everything.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.