Opening speaker at the Justice Conference, Cornel West said, "There’s a radical gentleness in the air here.” But as I left the Conference the following night, I didn’t feel gentleness. Instead, I felt torn up, hurt, sad, regretful. Grief had settled inside me. As I walked with my husband back to our hotel, tears ran down my face. I felt grief at how unloving humans can be towards each other. Grief at how unconcerned we can be towards the suffering of others. Grief at how easily we brush aside words like “white privilege,” saying of course there is no such thing. And if there is, for sure, I am not part of it.
I cried because I heard too much. Too much pain from my black friends. Too many years of being treated less than.
I felt grief for my new friend Allen, a young black man recently graduated from Yale Divinity School. I cried because his life has been so different from mine. As we said goodbye I shook his hand and said, “My life is easier than yours. And that's stupid and wrong and I’m sorry.” He replied, “That’s okay. That’s okay.” But it isn’t and not one of us should think it is.
I wondered if the 2015 Justice Conference was harder to attend because it focused so much on the injustice that has found a home right here in my back yard. In my country. I can’t pretend it isn’t happening, and I can’t pretend I don’t have a role to play.
"The world could use more Justice." Our Uber driver said when we replied we were in Chicago to attend a conference on justice.
My husband jokingly said this should be titled The Injustice Conference because that is what we heard about. There were a few stories offering glimmers of hope, but mostly we heard about injustice. It was hard.
Immediately after the Justice Conference ended, my Twitter feed blew up with references to #McKinney. You can read about the incident in McKinney, Texas on your own and form your own opinions. But as followers of Christ, we must see every person as carrying the image of God inside. Every word we speak, every thought we have is a reflection of what we believe about our God. Reverend Traci Blackmon said, "Privilege is an othering of people that is supported institutionally in such an way that has become the norm. Privilege is saying that the God in you is less than the God in me. But if you are Christian, you must believe that God resides in each and every one of us."
I wonder if instead of so freely putting our bystander opinions on Facebook and Twitter, we could admit we don’t know everything. Justice Conference speaker, Jonathan Merritt said, “Bravery may mean learning when to shut our mouths and to observe rather than to opine, to seek to understand rather than to be understood.”
As someone who lives in a fairly non-diverse city, I am committed to shutting my mouth and listening. I am committed to learning the history of how we got here. I am committed to reading authors who don’t look like me. Reading stories from those who have lived the harsh reality of injustice.
It is naive to expect any person to come into a situation without preconceived ideas. Each of us brings a different past to the table. Different pains. Different triumphs. Our unique pasts mean we see situations differently. N.T. Wright says, “Integrity consists not in having no presuppositions but of being aware of what one’s presuppositions are and of the obligation to listen and interact with those who have different ones."
As part of the Justice Conference, I attended an all day training entitled, “Faith and Peace.” At the heart of the teaching was this: Jesus asks me to be a peacemaker. Am I living a life that reflects that? Have I been a peacemaker today? Have I been a peacemaker with my husband, my son, my daughter, my neighbors, my city, my enemies, my world?
"The world God is making is a world where my flourishing no longer trumps yours." Jer Swigart
"Mercy was at the heart of Jesus' messianic mission, just as it remains at the heart of the church's work today. Whether or not that's the script people want us to follow, that's the way we've got to go. And Jesus invokes a special blessing on the people who realize that this is the true story. . . This is where and how God is at work. Those who recognize it, and are not offended because they were expecting something else, will know God's blessing." N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone.
Matthew 11:1-6 When Jesus had finished giving orders to His twelve disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” "Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.”