I stood surrounded by a group of girls who were angrily taunting me. I knew nothing about them, and they knew little about me, save for being new to the school and painfully shy. Looking different than the others, I also didn't talk as they did. Unaware that my skin color was the issue, I struggled to grasp their hatred toward me. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing racism. At that moment on the playground, having girls call me words I had never heard before, I could have judged them, thinking, All black-skinned girls are mean, and I want nothing to do with them. While this thought never crossed my mind, I was sure this group of elementary girls was acting out to hurt me, as children often do. Caught totally by surprise, I had no idea how to respond with love.
That experience at age 10, as well as the many that would come after, built a wider world view that has stayed with me well into adulthood. You see, I graduated from a predominantly black school which was located in an almost exclusively affluent, white neighborhood, and I was in the minority. It didn't take long to see that the Civil Rights Movement had not yet shifted the needle of systemic racism in this area.
The city was divided and bitter. That bitterness exploded my last 2 years in high school in the wake of Rodney King's death. For fifteen minutes, four white officers beat King, while other officers watched. We waited for justice. It was discussed in our classrooms, around the dinner table, and in our churches, consuming us at every turn. It is much like how we wait now for justice for George Floyd's family, and the many others who have died. Back then, as now, it was an opportunity for eyes to be opened and healing to occur. When justice did not seem to come, the nation exploded into riots, and the teens in my city were placed under curfew. I remember thinking, as things began to finally calm down, nothing has really changed. We are just going our separate ways and nursing our wounds.
Hatred and blame coming from both the black and the white communities were what I witnessed on a daily basis. Everyone seemed to make judgments for why things were happening, and few seemed interested in working on loving their neighbor as themselves. My classmates and I planned to protest against the KKK at a rally that was planned for the town, but gratefully the city shut the event down before it started. I was a white girl, angry at injustice, but still found I was lacking the maturity to love my neighbor as myself. The KKK were the enemy, and I could not love them as I did my black friends.
Today, my neighbors' suffering moves me to tears and causes deep sorrow. Yet I feel helpless to change the system that keeps wounding them. It isn't enough that I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, as I sit tucked safely in my suburban world. I must love in the same way God loves me. But am I willing to be in the trenches advocating for God's justice? Do I spend time listening, mourning with, and hoping for the kind of justice which Christ preaches? John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar” (NIV). Hatred isn't changed because someone else does the work. It changes because I learn to love my neighbor as God loves me, including the neighbors I do not agree with. Racism will cease when ALL of our hearts are moved by the love of God for ALL of humankind.
Our Heavenly God wants our nation to heal, whether from racism or any other form of hatred. His overwhelming, unconditional love for me reveals the lies that I believe about others and myself. Jesus aligns my thoughts and actions with the truth of God through scripture. Christ was crucified for my sins. His unconditional love from the cross forged a bridge between cultural and religious divides, and it opened our hearts to the possibility of loving our neighbors.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
What is in your heart? Is there hatred of any kind? Allowing God to reveal the experiences that shape our beliefs is not easy. Many of us have turned a blind eye or aren't even aware there is a bitter root masquerading as self-righteousness in our hearts. We are called to open our minds and spirit to expose the places where our wounds linger. When we do so, the healing touch of God interrupts the negative behavior patterns and mantra that we may be repeating. If you catch yourself saying "they," "them," "those people," chances are hatred has been setting the tone for your beliefs. We all have a starting place, and it is never too late to turn away from hate, towards love instead.
My current goals are simple. Make eye contact, encourage others, listen, and mourn with those who mourn. In dealing with my own struggle with hatred while in my twenties, God changed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of loving flesh. Loving our neighbor as ourselves isn’t easy, but it is so worth the effort. Just like a house must be cleaned, anger, bitterness, and hatred must regularly be rooted out and removed. Sometimes this means letting go of being in the right, and almost always, it means we must let go of judging others.
Judging each other was one of the first things Jesus addressed in his ministry. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). We tend to make judgments that do not take in all of the facts. It is necessary to recognize God's work in the rough character of others, by humbly recognizing his transforming power over our own sin. Jesus desired our whole hearts to be biased towards love, and we can't do that if we are constantly focused on passing judgment.
I don’t love at that level yet, and you may not be either, but take heart with me. Jesus loves you and is moved with compassion for you. The more you and I tap into knowing Christ, his attitude, and his actions, the more grace, kindness, humility, and forgiveness we will display to others. It takes God's love to love a world that doesn’t yet know the freedom from hatred.
Oh, Lord, I cry out to you. Help me to love my sisters and brothers as you have loved me. Please remove any bitter root that leads to hatred, and clean me from all unrighteous patterns in my life. Amen.
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