The morning found me reading John 19. Joseph of Arimathea and Pontius Pilate look at each other as Jesus’ body hangs limp from a rugged cross. Jewish tradition would have had Him remain there until he withered and decayed, as a warning to others. It wouldn’t have taken much with Jesus. He was already beaten beyond recognition, whipped until sinew and bone were exposed for all to see, forced to wear a crown of sharp thorns that tore into tender skin, and then hung by stakes driven into his wrists and feet. It was an agonizing torturous death that had been witnessed by a community still praying for a Messiah.
Joseph worshiped Jesus. Yet he was terrified at what might be said of him, so he kept his love quiet. Pilate believed Jesus. Yet he was terrified at what might be said of him, so he kept his opinions hushed as the crowds screamed, “crucify Him.” But in a brief moment, both breathed in boldness and risked life and name and reputation. Joseph asked to care for Christ’s body. And Pilate defied tradition and said, “Yes, He’s yours. Please care for Him.” One risk led to another. Both risked for what was right.
The afternoon found me reading a Facebook post from a powerful writer friend.
You haven’t lived until you & your kid have been nearly hit by a car full of high school aged girls as you’re crossing the street to your car and they roll down the window to yell “Shut up bitch!” “Fat ass!” “Fuck you NIGGA!” (last one complete with “rapper” hand movements)when you scream at them because HELLO they nearly killed you and your kid with an SUV. They thought the situation was hilarious because they were giggling as they drove off.
Fortunately, a few folks saw the incident and a firefighter wrote down the license plate of the car. There was hope that something would be done. There was hope that the young women would learn a lesson. There was hope that things will change for the better.
I pray there’s hope. But I’ve got a confession to make.
I don’t know if I really believe it when it comes to race.
And I’m part of the problem. Because I’m like Joseph and Pilate.
I’d like to think it’s so easy for me to talk about Jesus. His vocabulary comes naturally to me. But what about the things that are dear to His heart? I want to think I am bold. I write about the orphan crisis and poverty and choosing our weapons of warfare. I talk about true beauty and I fight against shame. But do I risk enough? Amy I really willing to take a stand for all issues? Or do I allow the fear of what might be said (or not said) – hold me hostage to doing right?
I believe change needs to happen. My soul rages when I read the headlines. And I cheer when justice is served and when people are overwhelmed with grace and love. I grieve when hate takes over.
But then there’s the issue of race. Mine.
The same afternoon, I stood in my quiet suburban neighborhood and looked down at a patch of wildflowers at my feet. Country fields and roadside valleys were filled with Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Evening Primrose, and Verbena. Legend in Texas has it that I can pluck every color but blue. Blue is privileged. Blue is protected. Even though blue is every bit as much of a weed as the rest of the color growing around it, it’s held in higher regard. I wrote about the privilege of the blue that day. My blog was filled with poetic words about flowers, while Evernote remained filled with reality.
The red is lovely. The green has its own delight. The yellow is breathtaking. But blue is deemed worthy.
I am blue. I am white. Well, actually I am British, Irish, and Swedish, with hints of Cherokee Indian and Hispanic. And maybe Italian, if the heritage of my grandfather’s surname holds true. My ancestors chose to immigrate to the United States from Northern Europe and the UK.
I was born blue. And even though as a child I wanted to be any color but blue because every other color I saw had more love and had more life than blue, I was born blue. While my ancestors abhorred slavery and chose not to have slaves on their farms, my dad thought having a maid was something all affluent white folks did. So as a child, our maid was Birdie. She only came to the house on Saturdays – my dad picking her up and taking her back to her small home on the “black side” of town. My mom would clean the house before Birdie got there, because she felt so badly about having someone clean when she was a stay-at-home wife and mom. Birdie was kind to me, and I loved taking her home because her house was small but always full of love. There was laughter there. People hugged there. I wanted to be black because black people loved each other. White people fought and made their kids feel guilty for being alive.
I am still blue. Though I may have been stepped on and my petals ripped, though I may have wondered if there would ever be a field for growing or water for nourishing, I am still blue. My father was an alcoholic who spewed liquor-laced threats at my mother and me, a family member sexually abused me, and I experienced spiritual, emotional, verbal, and physical abuse in my first marriage. I was a single parent for a decade, working to make sure my son had food and clothing and a place to live. Most of those years were called the “bean days,” where I would tell my son I was really only hungry for vegetables so he wouldn’t know we didn’t have enough money for us both to eat meat. But I never had to go on food stamps, I was able to attend university, I was granted job interviews, and modeled to make money to pay the bills. I quickly got a job that led to more jobs. There may have been a glass ceiling, but there were no rungs missing on the corporate ladder.
I will die blue. As much as I attempt to hide my own hue or become a rainbow of color so that no one really sees me, I will die blue. Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India, used to stain her skin so she would fit in with those she was serving. She didn’t want to stand out. I want so much to blend, to not be seen as having more or being privileged. But there’s nothing I can do to stop it. My skin, my education, my career history, my neighborhood, my everything tells the world I am white.
Even though I understand my worth as no greater or less than any other color – even if I see us all as fortunate weeds that are blessed with beauty – I am yet blue. I honestly see us all as misfits. And even the most evil of souls finds a place in my heart for pity. I only see one Hope – that’s Jesus. And I only see one great darkness – and that’s Satan. I believe everyone is redemptive. I believe the Pharisees truly believed what they were doing was right. I think we are all blind and we are all in need of real truth. And I believe real, gut-level, risky love is the only way.
And I want this.
And in that moment, my prayer becomes this –that my presence may help and not harm, complement rather than compete, that the privilege of my blue might become a protection for the rest of the garden, that the honor given this one weed may be used to honor others.
Or else there is no beauty in blue.
So why am I so afraid? Am I afraid I won’t be taken seriously because I am known as an encourager? That no matter what I do, it will never be quite enough? That my whiteness will do more harm than good?
I am Joseph and I am Pilate.
Time has passed. And more black lives have been shamed, ridiculed, bruised, lost. So many more.
Jesus, I grieve. I grieve because I want justice to be done. I grieve because history keeps repeating itself. I grieve because lives do matter and hatred fuels hatred and something needs to be done. I grieve because no family should lose their grandma or their son or their neighbor to murder. I grieve because violence is not how to deal with violence. I grieve because we say we want things to change but we point the fingers with an “It’s your problem to fix first,” instead of a “What can I do to help?”
I shudder in fear at the events in Charleston, South Carolina, because a murderer was invited in, given a place at the table, shown grace and love by the very ones he had already decided to destroy. This was not a momentary lapse of sanity. This was intentional slaughter, the hate-filled blood coursing through the veins of a young man who said he wanted to start a race war. My mama bear passion wants to grab him by the scruff of the neck and say “Want to know what it feels like?” as I point his gun toward his face. I want to talk to his parents and say, “What the hell happened to your boy, and didn’t you see what he was becoming? Did you play a role did you play in the way he views life – and others?” I want to shake those who heard the vitriol in his words and ignored it. I want to shake and shake and shake. I want to scream.
Yes, hatred begets hatred. Violence begets violence. Evil begets evil. Scripture says hell’s mouth ever-enlarges so that it can swallow more and more people whole.
Then, I hear the still small voice, reminding me once again of John 3:16 – and the invitation that still extends to a 21-year old with empty eyes and shackles. I hear the voices of the victims’ families. The voices of the very community, saying, “God forgives you. I forgive you. Please repent.”
This is truth. Racism is sin. It is not a teaching. It is not an illness. It is not a “thing.”
It is sin.
And this sin needs repentance. This sin that’s not a simple mathematic equation of good generation + good teaching = safe next generation. Sin finds fresh blood with every new life.
And this life wants to strike it down.
I want to be a reconciler. I want to be a bridge. And being a bridge means I could get trampled. But white privilege tells me that just finding the perfect words will somehow make it all better. White privilege tells me we don’t have to resort to fighting and name-calling. White privilege tells me that we just reason with each other and we can fix it in a heartbeat. Because I’ve never had to fight to to be considered real.
Oh, I’ve fought before. As I child, I would stand in the living room and scream out my “please stop yelling NOW” to my parents as they spewed their hatred toward each other. As a woman in an abusive relationship, I planned an escape and then stood resolutely as the hate mail poured in from those who never took the time to ask why I left. I’ve stood for the poor and I’ve stood for the orphaned, unafraid to ask hard questions about dignity and integrity. And I’ve even fought my own family about race. I took my grandmother on head-to-head after her compliments about a nurse who offered her exceptional care at a hospital ended with “he was real smart for a nigger-boy.” I defied my mother when she grew terrified that the police might be called when I invited black classmates to the house to decorate a float for a high school homecoming parade. I pled with students at my high school to reconcile when racial conflict resulted in the murder of a friend.
I wasn’t afraid to speak as a child. So, what’s happened to the fire? Now, I keep my mouth closed far too often.
And so I grieve. I remain Joseph. I remain Pilate. But I want to be Joseph and Pilate that day after the crucifixion – I want to take a risk that encourages others to take a risk too.
I don’t know what that looks like. But I know it starts with this. It begins and ends with this prayer, “Today, help me find the words. Today, please use my white privilege for good.” I can’t not be white. But I can choose to not let it get in my way. It starts by me saying these words. “Racism exists and I want to end it.”
Will you join me? Will you start by saying the words?