Black lives matter. I must begin there, and if I begin there then I must confess. I must confess that I was ignorant for far too long of the need to say unequivocally, publicly: Black lives matter. I am embarrassed to confess that I was oblivious to the systematic racism and injustice so prevalent in our society and that obliviousness is the very essence of white privilege. Recent events have caused the scales to fall from my eyes. I still have a lot to learn.
I moved from Nova Scotia to North Carolina the summer before I started fourth grade. The first day of school I sat nervously in the third row. Midway through the morning, I jumped, startled because I felt someone touch the back of my head. I turned around. The African-American student seated behind me said, “I just wanted to feel your hair.” The truth was, I wanted to feel his hair, too. My shyness prevented my doing so and eventually the strangeness of our respective hair, and one another, was bridged by a shared dislike of fractions.
What I remember most about that unexpected exchange was its sincerity. Innocent curiosity of difference compelled our conversation and maybe our friendship, too. At that point, I was unaware of the history that dictated so much of our respective lives and futures. I changed schools a few years later and we lost touch.
I wish we could meet again, sit as close as we did in that classroom and look each other in the eyes so I could ask, “I just want to know about your life.” I wish I could ask with utter sincerity, knowing I am limited and ignorant and obtuse, but honestly eager to learn and know and hear. But that puts the burden of educating me on my friend and that’s another example of white privilege.
Through the magic of Facebook I found my fourth grade classmate. He lives not far from the elementary school where we first met. He is married, has children. He studied auto mechanics. We have five mutual friends. I noticed pictures of him at church with his family.
As different as our lives may be, he is my brother in Christ. We are one in Christ Jesus our Lord. Members of the same household, parts of the same body. If we were to sit down together now, could we start with that truth? Or has the gospel been so twisted by white supremacy that a manifestation of that kinship is unobtainable?
Is it possible, given the reality of our past and pain of our present, for me to say with integrity, “I just want to be your sister”?
In his book “The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race,” Willie James Jennings writes, “A separation is occurring with Jesus, a breaking of political arrangements and social bonds and a tearing asunder of allegiances. His hearers are offered a choice: remain as you are or follow him. Jesus is offering an alternative way forward for Israel, Yet to know that way will require the greatest of sacrifices for Israel. The children of Israel must choose to form a new family in Israel. … Jesus reveals a wholly new determination for the life of a child of the covenant. … He presents a new intensity of covenant love greater than the power of death, love that leads to new life. This new must be chosen. It requires social death for the sake of a new life (Matthew 10:32-39).”
If I say, “I want to be your sister in this new form of family” and if I choose this Jesus-life, as a person of privilege I must not only make sacrifices, I must be willing to die so that we can live this new life together. Am I willing? Am I ready to lose my life in order to find it? Do I have the courage to choose the covenant love that leads to new life, for everyone?
My hope is that through Christ all things are possible and, together with the Spirit, we will form a new family where undeniably, unequivocally, black lives matter. However, unless I am willing to lay down my life for my friends, my family, I will hope in vain.
Grace and peace,