Life + Culture

When It Happens to Our Own

Brown and Cleveland: Two people I admire greatly

This past week, two members of the Christian racial justice community shared gripping stories. Dr. Christena Cleveland, professor, author, brilliant speaker received a racist death threat letter. Charlene Brown, a national leader for black campus ministries, had a gun pulled on her by law enforcement while caring for a friend's lawn.

These are traumatizing events. Events that are unfortunately all too common. There are hardly two women that address the issues of racial justice and reconciliation with more grace and compassion than these. They each have a tremendous talent for making the concepts accessible and relatable to the many who hear them. And yet, they were targeted.

When it happens to one of our own, the stories in the national news become personal. It hits close to home. It feels more real. It is important to lean into the emotions. Wrestle with the indignance. Decry the injustice.

The letter Dr. Cleveland received

But I would also encourage us not to wait until it is one of our own before our hearts of compassion are opened. Don't wait until it happens to someone you know to believe their story.

Recognize the patterns. Appreciate the societal brokenness at play. Even if the story seems distant and obscure. Don't wait until it happens to your own.

Did you believe in August 2014 when it was Michael Brown's family telling the story? Did you believe Trayvon Martin's girlfriend when she testified?  Were you convinced before John Crawford's video was released? Or were you skeptical? Slow to offer your voice? Did you want to 'wait for all the facts' before you'd offer your support to a cause that has gone on for centuries?

This world works hard to otherize and demonize the voices of the oppressed. It takes intentionality to untrain the biased lenses with which we perceive these situations. It helps when we have a personal connection. This is why being surrounded by a diverse group of friends and colleagues is so crucial.

But "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Blessed are they that do not have to wait for the air-tight case to see the societal patterns. Blessed are they who do not have to know the victim to feel righteous indignation at the injustice against them. Blessed are they who will love the stranger as they love their friend and guard the dignity of all.

It is precisely because the world dehumanizes black and brown lives that we have to redouble our efforts to see the humanity, the imago dei, in each and every one of these situations, whether we know them or not. Whether they act respectably or not. Whether they are model citizens or not.

I am so grateful that both Ms. Brown and Dr. Cleveland are okay. And it is so encouraging to see the outpouring of love and support they have received. Keep it up! And I want us to be equally supportive and outraged when those we don't know, those that might even be "no angel," are targeted. Challenge yourself to love equally well those that you have not known.

If you were surprised by their situations last week, then you haven't been paying attention. If it's the first time you've personally encountered such events, it's a symptom of your isolation. If you thought it was a thing of the past, then you've been asleep. Must you put your hand in the wounds of our sisters and brothers before you will believe?

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