When Loud Christians Lose Their Voices

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I know lots of loud Christians, though these days I am finding too many of them are selectively loud.

They live at a high volume and know no inside voice—but only when it comes to the handful of sins they fancy condemning; those ones that reliably grab the headlines and consistently rally the faithful and generate easy Amens in the pews. Then they commandeer the megaphone and the airwaves with such regularity and relative ease; deftly marshaling their resources of pulpit and platform and political bedfellow, to brandish showy outrage at a failing humanity.

Then their brimstone tirades and finger-wagging crusades become ubiquitous. 

Yet there are times when these perennially loud religious folk suddenly come down with acute moral laryngitis; days when they lose their usual prophetic voices and are rendered conspicuously silent:

When black men die at the hands of police.
When area mosques are vandalized.
When shooters rampage gay clubs.
When Native Americans brave dogs and bulldozers to defend their graves.

When dark-skinned people seek shelter on their shores.
When the Presidential politics of fear come wrapped in stars and stripes and crosses.

In these moments the once ever-present Church suddenly disappears.
The perpetually loud Church says nothing.
The brazenly bold Church goes into hiding.
The freedom-loving Church seems less interested in freedom.
The pro-life Church becomes less passionate about life.
The For God So Loved the world Church shrinks down to the Red States of America Church.

And this silent sermon is preaching loudly to the watching world about what really matters to far too many professed followers of Jesus. It is once again reminding millions of people that there really isn’t that much Good News for them; that the Gospel is a white man’s luxury item.

Where are our timely Sunday sermons? Where is our collective righteous anger? Where is our visible presence on the ground and in the protests? Where are our perpetually zealous pastors and evangelists?

The world hears you, quiet Christians. I hear you. Jesus hears you.  

If you’re pro-life just as long as that life isn’t black or gay or Muslim, you’re not really pro-life, you’re pro straight, white life. You’re pro-babies—as long as those babies grow up to join the NRA and vote Republican.

If your idea of freedom is the kind reserved for only those who look or vote or worship the way you do, it isn’t really freedom you’re burdened with, it’s protecting privileged affinity.

If there is a border of nation or pigmentation or religion around those you feel most called to defend and protect, you’ve made God into your own image and crafted a special-interest Savior who lobbies only for “your kind”.

Because Christian, if as you so rush to proclaim, all lives really do matter to you—then you should be fighting for a whole lot more of them right now. You should be much louder than you are right now. You should be in the streets and at the pulpit and over the airways championing the sanctity of  life; in Tulsa and Charlotte and Aleppo and Pulse. 

You should be so loving the world in a way that more resembles Christ. 

In these moments, organized Christianity will be damned for its silence or redeemed for its volume. It will be proven to either be complicit in the wounds of the world, or it will become the balm that stops the bleeding. It will either look away or it will look into the mirror.

Today we who claim faith will either be a clear resonant voice of equality and justice—or a loud, clanging cymbal of selective, self-serving noise.

But know this, Christian: you are being heard in these days—whether you speak or not.

 

 

Tear Gas for Tears (White Instruction on Black Grief)

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Imagine you’re at home and the phone rings.

It’s your wife or your son or your father, telling you they have car trouble and they’re stuck in the middle of the road. You’re worried at first of course, but then they reassure you that it’s okay because the police are on their way. You exhale and feel at ease and you put the phone down.

But almost immediately it rings again. It’s a number you don’t recognize. You answer it, and the breathless, nearly inaudible voice on the other end of the line tells you to go turn on the television. And there along with rest of the world, you learn in real-time that your wife, son, or father is—gone.

Gone? Dead? But how?

Your mind instantly races toward the possibilities. Hit by another vehicle? Robbed by an opportunistic criminal? A stress-induced heart attack?

No. Shot to death—by police, in the middle of the road with hands raised. 

You fall to the ground and grief overwhelms you. You hear the horrible sound of your own voice screaming.

Life as you know it is over.

And then imagine that you’re told that you need to stay there on the ground and be quiet and behave yourself. 

Last night, a white friend posted this far too familiar preemptive social media chastisement to the black community and those who might be outraged in solidarity, at the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte.

“No need to riot or protest. What is that going to do? You’re going to push the cops and they will have to retaliate by their laws. And you will suffer. You don’t want to fight the police, you won’t win. Cooperate. Your life will become easy. Obey the law. And for those who said he had a book. Do you know? Do you believe that? Or do you believe the story of those who have been sworn in to serve and protect you? This isn’t anything we can do now. The justice system has it now.”

This is the disconnect. This is privilege. This is the second way white people fail people of color. We abide daily, deadly atrocities against those they love the most deeply in this world, and then expect them to silently endure them because the alternative is too uncomfortable for us.

We want them to die and grieve—and to do it quietly.

And when they refuse, we send in military-grade officers and armored vehicles and tear gas, and we brutalize them once again for daring to be rightly outraged in the face of the most outrageous of acts.

No.

White friends, we don’t get to define grief for the black community.

We don’t get to tell them, before the bodies of their loved ones are even cold, how to properly respond to the murders of their fathers and brothers and wives.

We don’t get to make the rules on both when they die and how they mourn. We don’t get to police their pain.

To my friends of color grieving again today and to those doing so in solidarity: Grieve as loudly as you need to. Rise up. Protest. Scream. Demand conversation. Demand to be heard. Refuse to be shamed into silence or intimidated into shutting-up. Fully feel the depth of your sadness. 

This cannot stand. This is not acceptable. This is not America—or at least we will not let it be our America.

We will loudly grieve together, and when they meet our tears with tear gas, we will meet them with defiant hearts that refuse to relent.

We will lock our arms and fix our eyes, and demand a justice that rightly honors the lives taken too soon.

This is not just a wake, it is a waking-up.

 

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White America, It’s Time to Take a Knee

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For the past month I’ve watched lots of white Americans lose their minds in response to Colin Kaepernick and other NFL player’s peaceful National Anthem protests. I’ve seen them question these young men’s patriotism, malign their motives, attack their methods, and treat them with the kind of open contempt usually reserved for serial killers and child molesters.

For simply taking a knee during a football pre game in an effort to foster a conversation about the deaths of young men of color at the hands of police, these men have been made into the enemy by so much of white America. In some twisted, ironic, almost laughable missing of the point—it’s somehow become the angry black man’s fault for disparaging his country.

And today, as the footage of unarmed father of four Terence Crutcher’s public execution goes viral, I’ve been looking to these same people for some semblance of grief at his passing, some anger at the circumstances of his death, some outrage at the sickening deja vu these images are manufacturing.

But I’m finding none of these things. Instead I’m finding victim blaming and rationalizing and elaborate efforts to tell us why our eyes aren’t seeing what they’re seeing.

I know what my eyes see. I know what they see over and over and over again.

They see humanity ignored, they see fear metastasized, and they see white people excusing away murder instead of facing the brutal truth that maybe institutional racism is real and maybe Colin Kaepernick and his brethren are worth listening to, and maybe they shouldn’t be vilified outliers who we’re trying to shut-up.

Maybe we should all be kneeling right now.

White friends, if your immediate response to the shooting of Terence Crutcher is to try and justify why he’s dead, instead of asking why he was shot next to his disabled vehicle by those charged with as protecting and serving him, you may be the problem here. If you aren’t greatly burdened with grief for his family and you aren’t moved with compassion for the way scenes like this repeatedly kick people of color in the gut, you need to ask yourself some difficult questions about your own patriotism, your own appreciation of freedom, your own civic responsibility. You need to ask yourself whether you’re really for Liberty—or just white comfort.

Because from where I’m standing, I see Colin Kaepernick and those like him doing what many of you aren’t doing. I see them trying to keep more people from dying. I see them doing something to stop the bleeding instead of trying to make peace with it. I see them being the best of America in the face of the worst of America.

Right now we should all be taking an unflinching look in the mirror, white friends.

We should be digging deeper and facing our own acquired blind spots and inherited prejudices, and acknowledging the deeply embedded privilege that makes those things so very difficult to assess on our own.

We should stop defending songs and flags and pre game ceremonies, and some cheap, ornamental nationalistic pageantry—and actually be about the work of life. We should be binding-up wounds instead of heaping salt upon them with our shame and disdain.

And instead of demonizing Colin Kaepernick and instead of blaming Terence Crutcher and instead of shouting down our brothers and sisters of color as they mourn, we should be listening to them.

More than that, we should be saying with our presence and our pain and our social media voices that we are grieving alongside them; that this is not okay with us, that this is not the America we want either.

Our brothers and sisters of color should not be kneeling alone anymore.

Today white Americans, we should all be taking a knee. 

 

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Loving Your Enemies—Even in an Election Year

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I’ve been a Christian for most of my four and a half decades on this planet—and I finally figured out the one big difference between Jesus and me.

Okay, so maybe there are a few, but one of the key differences between us is our eyes.

There’s a story in the New Testament, attributed to the disciple Matthew. Jesus is traveling throughout the villages, teaching, preaching, and healing. The writer says that when Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because he saw that they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Bingo.

Jesus looks at the masses and doesn’t see their “sin”. He doesn’t see their depravity or their flaws or their failings, or the things he finds objectionable or distasteful. He sees their heart condition; their vulnerability, their inner turmoil—their fear. Jesus’ default response to the crowds is compassion.

This is the big difference between Jesus and me. My default response is more often contempt, especially in an election year.

When I encounter the crowds; when I cross paths with people, whether online or in traffic or in the grocery store or in my neighborhood or in my home, I tend to see with eyes focused on who is upsetting me, where they’re getting it wrong, how much I disagree with them, the incredible damage they’re doing. I find my impatience growing, my anger welling up, and my heart becoming harder—especially if they aren’t in complete alignment with me on God, guns, sex, money, poverty, and public restrooms.

And honestly, this where most of diverge from Jesus. We don’t see people the way he did. We certainly don’t see our adversaries the way he did. He tells us to love them, to pray for them, to bless them.

To heck with that.

We prefer to dismiss ours, to shout them down, to shame them, to eviscerate them publicly. That feels better. That feels more like a win. That gives us the cheap, temporary high our fragile egos jones for. It’s not at all of Jesus, but that’s a minor detail. When it comes right down to it, most of us fancy calling ourselves Christians—as long as we don’t have to be inconvenienced by Jesus.

There’s another story where Jesus is teaching in a remote place, surrounded by what would have been a mix of the devoted, the curious, and the skeptical. It’s getting late and the nearest Chick-Fil-A is still 2,000 years away. We’re told that again, Jesus has compassion for the hungry crowd and he feeds the multitude with a miraculous meal—all of them. He doesn’t just feed those who agree with him theologically or align with him politically. He doesn’t screen the morality of those gathered to decide who is suitable for such hospitality. He doesn’t serve only those who have it all together, those who prove themselves worthy, those who are “deserving”.

They hunger and his compassion make them deserving.

This is a major gut check for we who claim faith in Jesus, especially in an election year. How can we lead with compassion and not contempt when seeing the crowds opposite us. Yesterday I spoke about this at a local church and then I opened the floor for comments. The first woman to raise her hand said. “I have two words: Donald Trump.” How do I love Donald Trump?

I wanted to dismiss the service or call for immediate silent prayer or pull the fire alarm—or at least phone a friend. I had to wonder whether or not I would serve lunch for Donald Trump. I didn’t like having to consider it. I liked my conclusions even less.

I have the spiritual gift of Agitation. Maybe you do too. Some people are non-confrotnational, some are confrontational, and others, like myself—are bionically confrontational. This passion can be helpful, even redemptive. It can help us see injustice and stand up to the bullies and defend the marginalized and care for the hurting. It can be a tool of compassion.

The problem is, it can so easily become toxic, so easily become a heart pollutant, to the point where we’re no longer fighting to right wrongs or to protect people or to bring change. We can begin fighting simply to fight; to injure, to damage. This is what happens when contempt replaces compassion as our default response to the crowds.

There are real challenges out there. Just open your eyes and you’ll see them. People will say terrible things and do awful things and act in the most disgusting ways. But we can’t respond by seeing them as terrible, awful, disgusting people. If we claim faith in Jesus, we need to remember the inherent humanity buried beneath these things and to see them as he did—as fearful, vulnerable, hurting people in need of compassion.

Because if we become so hardened that we see our adversaries with contempt, we will see their fear that often masquerades as hatred, and we will fear them—and meet their hatred with hatred, and we will be in perpetual war with them and within. Jesus’ command to love our enemies doesn’t get an asterisk. It doesn’t exempt us from participation based on who are enemies are or how reprehensible we believe them to be or how reprehensible their conduct is.

I honestly don’t know how to love my enemies. I don’t know how to bless and pray for those who curse me. I don’t know how to respond with benevolence to the most malevolent people. Some days days, I don’t know how to be a person who is angry and not merely an angry person.

But I look once more at Jesus for a possible answer. He was continually surrounded by the crowds, but he often withdrew to the solitary places to rest and pray. I think he retreated from the crowds, so that when he returned to them he could really see them again; not their behavior or their hatred, but their wounds. We all carry those scars, so this shouldn’t be as difficult as it is.

Whatever that retreating looks like for you; whether prayer, mediation, silence, nature, solitude, art, or a nap—do it, again and again. Withdraw from the noise and the bombast of the crowds and from the incessant need to protect your ego and defend your ground. When you return to the crowds and to your adversaries and to your enemies, you might see first, not their hurtful words and acts, but the hurt beneath them.

Maybe, just maybe you will default to compassion more than contempt.

Maybe you’ll fix them a meal.

Maybe you’ll find love for them—no matter who they’re voting for.

Dang, this Jesus thing is no joke…