ARISE Reflection – PART 1
Confession… I am not a conference person.
Never have been. It is not that I am anti-social; rather, because I am introverted and anxious by nature, I tend to avoid dark rooms, overflowing with strangers, strobing lights, and loud noises. And by avoid I mean, I’m allergic. Now, because you are youth leaders, I know that a large percentage of you love this stuff. But I have been around long enough to know that introverts are also called, perhaps in smaller numbers and often kicking and screaming, into the ministry of teenagers. God is no respecter of personality when it comes to calling-just ask the prophet Jeremiah. But as a writer, it is, shall we say, an occupational hazard; one that today I am excited to adventure out into. Today I had the privilege of attending the Racial Reconciliation Experience. No matter how intimidating the crowds, I would show up with bells on.
With cross-county travel plans run amok, I arrived Thursday afternoon, two hours late, out of breath and completely over-done. My mostly incredible, but slightly uncomfortable, black boots had rubbed a nagging blister of my right heel. This nag caused the long jaunt across the huge conference center, up what had to be fifteen escalators, and three skywalks away, to be one-irritating step after another. By the time I entered the room for the experience, I just wanted to be alone and sit down.
Wouldn’t you know it? This particular seminar was highly attended and because of that, the only seats were way at the front of the room, right next to the currently lecturing Latasha Morrison, the speaker for the experience. I gingerly weaved my way through bearded heads and skinny jeans, trampling on feet, and apologizing like I had killed the first born child of each one. Finally, the seat I desired was in view. I grabbed it and tried to pull it back, only to realize that the seats were all connected. With my full body blocking the view to the speaker, I then had to ask the whole row to stand, so I could trample on their toes, until I stumbled into my chair, humiliated. Let’s just say, by this point, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to think about, let alone discuss, social justice issues. But I was there, sweating and irritated. Hopefully, those around me would never guess. I know how to put up the pretend good attitude face.
What followed was definitely a soul-shifting experience.
Using movies clips, sandwiched between illuminating but disturbing statistics, Ms. Morrison shared with us her passion for racial reconciliation. She began by sharing the reasons why we have a racial crisis in our churches, streets, and schools but telling the untold history of systematic racism in our country. Layer upon layer, she humbly but bolding peeled away all the excuses that disguised my pansy-white privilege. As she shared her heart, I sat in my seat increasing convicted of my white fragility. The conversation caused my shoulder to tense up and my stomach to churn. I felt ashamed and embarrassed by my country, and myself, for I slowly became very aware that in my arrogance and ignorance, I probably would have done the same as my ancestors.
Things have mostly come easy to me; yet, as evidenced by my childish irritation about my travel snafu, when things are not easy, I get an attitude of entitlement. I shouldn’t have to wait in line for thirty minutes for the shuttle. I shouldn’t have to drag this heavy bag up twenty-five escalators. Okay, it was only two escalators, but you get my point. I live a very privilege life, and here I was pouting about a few inconveniences.
I realized as I sat stewing in my conviction, that this was the same attitude that drives our churches and, likewise, our country today. Most of us don’t like to admit that we are selfish at our core. But this experience was like holding up a mirror to myself. Instead of seeing Jesus reflected back, I saw a pouting toddler internally throwing a tantrum because my peanut butter sandwich was cut into rectangles instead of triangles.
Towards the end, Ms. Morrison challenged us to consider the components of biblical justice. In her wise words, “Rendering biblical justice means that we must dismantle any system that promotes systematic racism. We all have a responsibility.” We can’t watch someone else do it. The Lord actually requires that we work to set things right.
He has shown you, oh mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8
What does that mean for today’s youth leaders?
It means that we can’t just talk about justice on Facebook. Wearing a safety pin and quoting Martin Luther King doesn’t fulfill the requirement to “act” justly. We must model to our youth how we put action behind conviction.
At the end of the session, Ms. Morrison called for us to action. Her heart’s cry is that we would start with the act of confession.
Lord, we confess our complicity to acts of violence in our time.
We remain silent.
We harbor hatred in our hearts and deny the image of God in others.
Forgive us, Lord.
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