• Reading time:6 mins read

We have a race problem in America.

I’ve started this like three times now—but everything I try to write feels inadequate. Inadequate to express the hole in my heart, the anger I feel over the murder of George Floyd, and the grief I feel at the profound inequality in our nation.

And yet, I know that those feelings are a pale shadow of what my Black brothers and sisters have experienced for centuries. I feel inadequate to do anything about it. I feel inadequate to say anything about it. I feel inadequate to even have a voice in this conversation because I cannot possibly comprehend the depths of their experience.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear for my life when stopped by the police. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid to go for a run. I don’t know what it’s like to be told I can’t protest. I don’t know what it’s like to shout at the top of my lungs but not be heard. I don’t know what it’s like to be silenced.

Black. Lives. Matter.

For those inclined to reflexively reply, “All Lives Matter,” let me be frank—you’re missing the point. Of course, all life is beautiful, but to articulate that Black Lives Matter is to highlight the challenges and experiences of a particular group that has been systematically oppressed in America. If you’ve got two hurt kids, one with a gushing head wound and the other with a paper cut, saying “All Lives Matter” is like saying those two things are equally severe. BLM isn’t about assigning more -worth- to one group of people over another, but about saying, “This group is more grievously hurt and needs immediate and direct help.”

I can’t help but think about the juxtaposition with another cultural moment this weekend—the SpaceX launch. We absolutely should be pushing new frontiers and exploring the cosmos, but in America, there is a profound gap between our best intentions and our worst instincts. We boldly race into outer space but can’t solve our racial divides. We send humanity towards the stars but have forgotten the humanity of our hearts—and even as we knock on the door of heaven itself, we are once again confronted by our original sin.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, as Apollo 8 astronauts orbited the moon for the first time in human history, astronauts broadcast back to Earth a reading of the creation account in Genesis. Then, as now, American spaceflight was set in a milieu of racial tension and activism—the civil rights movement. As Gil Scott-Heron said, “I can’t pay no doctor bill, but Whitey’s on the moon.” Here we are again. We must find a way to yearn towards the future while contending with the pains of our past. We still aren’t fully United.

Looking back at Earth in those moments, I can only guess what was going through the minds of those Apollo astronauts. Rather than division, I can imagine a feeling of hope and unity and love. They were afforded a different perspective, one that showed humanity as a whole. If we’re to find that unity, we -must- find a way to work through our differences and treat each other with respect, dignity, and love—regardless of race, gender, class, nationality, religion, or any other arbitrary classification we devise. And a large part of that means understanding and internalizing that there are groups of people who are treated worse than others, who are afforded less opportunity than others, and viewed differently than others—and then to do something about it.

If you’re a Christian (as I am), this -should- be nothing new. God is a God of love, and you fundamentally cannot love someone if you do not listen to them. Jesus accomplished the ultimate reconciliation of people, but it’s up to us to walk in that space today.

And that’s hard work. When people tell you they are scared, listen. When they talk about systematic oppression, listen. Learn about their experience. Think about how your actions and experience speak. We encounter racial divides even within the church that prevent us from truly seeing our brothers and sisters of a different race.

What would the church look like, if, rather than having a diversity committee and wringing our hands about how to make -our church- more diverse, we instead attended a house of worship and did life with people who don’t look like us, don’t speak like us, don’t worship like us, don’t pray like us, and don’t preach like us? I’m not talking about pulpit-swaps and occasional visits—but committing to the hard, messy, uncomfortable work of Christian life with our Black brothers and sisters for a year? Five years? Ten years? How would that change -our- perspective?

Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in his journal, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Our diversity causes problems, no doubt. It gets in the way of listening, of understanding, of cooperation, and of action. It’s -hard-. It’s hard to put yourself in the life of someone else and take their experience for truth when it is radically different from your own.

But we have to try. I have to try. Because that diversity, and the work it takes, is our greatest strength. We need to come together not despite our differences, but -because- of them. Diversity of thought and experience enriches our lives. It propels us to new arenas of thought. It lets us experience things as individuals and as a species that we have never before dreamed.

It lets us, in the words of John Gillespie Magee, “slip the surly bonds of earth…trod the high sanctity of space, put out our hand and touch the face of God.”

And in that, I have hope.

Leave a Reply