By Deidra Riggs
One afternoon, I opened my email account and found this message, from a dear friend: “This kinda pisses me off,” the message read. “I don’t want it to, but it does more than a little. Pray for me.”
I scrolled down to read the forwarded message my friend had received and, with a deep sigh, immediately understood the reason for so much frustration. My friend had received a well-intentioned email from a leader of the local Christian community—an invitation to a conversation about, “growing tensions regarding race, police, and questions of justice.” The person sending the email is white. My friend is not.
The email was sent in the aftermath of an horrific week in which two black men—Alton Sterling and Philando Castille—each were killed by police in unrelated incidents in Baton Rouge and a suburb of Minneapolis, respectively. Then, in a senseless act, five police officers were killed by sniper fire while protecting protesters in Dallas, Texas. The quick succession of death and loss in the course of three short days, along with unanswered questions and collective grief, left many Americans reeling and rocked to the core.
Why So Angry?
You’d think my friend would welcome an opportunity to talk about these things, right? Why would this invitation be a source of so much anger and frustration? Isn’t this an opportunity to move forward, across racial boundaries?
All of these questions are valid. But, so is my friend’s frustration. You see, for quite a number of years, my friend has been trying to build relationships and to engage these types of conversations with this person (and people like him) about these exact issues. However, my friend has repeatedly been met with disinterest, unreturned phone calls, and cancelled meetings. The unspoken message my friend received from this Christian leader and others like him was clear: We don’t see a problem. You’re on your own. This just isn’t our issue.
Only, now it was.
For some reason, the tragedies in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas awakened something in this local Christian leader and now, he was ready to hear what my friend had been trying to communicate for so long. Of course my friend was frustrated. It was all my friend could do not to send an exasperated reply that sounded something like, “Now you want to talk about this? Now?!” But instead, my friend forwarded the message to me and asked for prayer.
Toward Reconciliation and Restoration
People who invest themselves in the difficult and rewarding work of reconciliation and restoration have the daily challenge of communicating a message to those who don’t want to (or simply can’t) hear it, yet. Over and over, these modern-day prophets tap us on our shoulders or hold our faces in their hands and try to get us to see what they see: the orphans and widows, the marginalized and disenfranchised, injustice and inequity, the broken and the lost. They invite us to step beyond the walls we’ve built around ourselves and our tribes and yet, as the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, we “would have none of it.” And, all the while, people are dying while we keep our hope to ourselves and “our people.”
We can’t hear these modern-day prophets, because they don’t look like us. Their lament doesn’t sound like ours. Their issues don’t overlap ours. We can’t relate. And, we don’t have to; unless we want to.
Perhaps you’re like that local Christian leader and you’ve been ignoring or rebuffing or discounting the cry and lament of the modern-day prophet in your office, your church, your community, your family. I understand. They are irritating and loud and their protestations make you nervous. Their demands make you uncomfortable and you’re surprised because you didn’t think they were that way. Let me encourage you to reconsider. Might I entreat you to lower your guard and listen for what God might be trying to say through this person who keeps showing up on your radar?
Maybe you’re like my friend. You have tried every way you can think of to get people to see what you see, but everyone thinks you’re a bit too intense. “Watch your tone,” they say to you. “Wait for the facts,” they offer. But, you know what you see. You know what you’ve experienced. And then, just when you had thrown in the towel, something happens and they finally want to talk. They finally see the problem, but it’s only a problem because now they see it, too. I understand. Let me encourage you not to back away or point a finger in their faces. Might I entreat you to make your way to the table for that conversation, the same way my friend finally did?
Yes. The two—my friend, and the local Christian leader—did make their way toward one another. That, of course is the goal, and a beautiful beginning. They didn’t solve the world’s problems in that first conversation, but they found their way toward one another.
God is always working to bring people together. As people who live our faith in the public sphere, we are uniquely commissioned to be people of reconciliation, even when culture encourages us to choose sides and shut out those voices of lament which may be difficult to hear or accept.
This is the work of reconciliation, and it is the work God expects of us. In spite of our frustrations, misunderstandings, and different perspectives, God calls us to make small steps toward one another, rather than away from each other. There, we are able to see how much we need each other—how much better we are, together.