In Christianity we have a fundamental belief that God became flesh–all of who God is entered deeply into the human struggle. We call this mystical act “incarnation”–the Word became Flesh. I have recently been obsessed with the idea of Mutual Incarnation–when an issue takes on flesh and when I am willing to allow all of myself to enter into the struggle illuminated by that incarnated issue. This is a blog about one of those experiences.
I am not trying to hide my perspective on these issues, but debate is not my intent. Rather I am inviting you to explore your own opportunities for mutual incarnation!
I am a part of a community in Denver that values being disturbed. Our staff meetings often dive into topics that make many of us uncomfortable. For that reason I wasn’t entirely surprised to see a few folks from our staff making plans to jump into a van and participate in a Freedom Ride to Ferguson, MO.
Until recently, my only exposure to social unrest was through a television screen as I scarf down a bag of chips. When I decided I had seen enough, I would turn the tv off or just turn on an episode of Modern Family.
When friends of mine decided to go to Ferguson, it wasn’t as easy as it had been to look away. Suddenly I was paying attention to what was happening. I found myself feeling nervous for the safety of my friends. I also found myself incredibly disturbed by the question of “Why?”. Why were people feeling so hopeless? Why were friends of mine so moved by this event that they sacrificed money and time to stand in the freezing cold with people they only somewhat knew?
The reason my community values being disturbed is because we see it as a sign that God is inviting you to experience something that will transform the lens through which you see others, yourself, and God. I didn’t know it at the time, but that is exactly what was happening to me.
Soon after she returned from Ferguson, one of my friends invited me to a “Die-In”. I was feeling so incredibly moved by all I was seeing, and even though I didn’t quite know if I fully agreed with the Black Lives Matter movement, I knew I needed to start listening from a different vantage point.
I cried twice that morning as I was lying on the ground shouting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, I Can’t Breathe!” For the first time I felt the pain, anger, and resilience of the movement. I felt it even more when I heard the news report that claimed our group had disrupted business inside the capital in ways that couldn’t have been true since we never made it inside the building.
That lie, however small, opened my eyes to the truth of what had been called the “Propaganda War” which aimed to smear the reputation of the protesters at every level.
I knew I could never fully return from where I had now been. A few days earlier I might not have accepted the invitation from another friend to come to a meeting at a coffee house and hear from those within the movement. My spirit stirred within me and I knew I had to go.
That meeting turned out to be the inaugural meeting of the Denver Freedom Riders–an intentional effort to unify the groups in Denver participating in the Black Lives Matter Movement. In that room I heard stories that, again, brought me to tears. This time the tears were coming from a place of guilt. I had heard the term ‘White Privilege’ many times before, but hardly understood what it meant–and largely denied its existence.
Story after story filled my heart. Stories of being pulled over multiple times a week. Stories of being stopped and frisked in shopping malls. Stories of being wrongfully arrested. These stories were not being told by active gang members, but local poets, musicians, business people, teachers, etc. But the stories that tore into my heart the most were the stories about “The Talk.”
In my context “The Talk” has always referred to the awkward attempt from your parents to talk to you about safe sex. In this group, the term evidently meant something very different, so I awkwardly asked. A friend of mine kindly explained what it meant. The point of this talk was to learn the importance of being respectful, not making any aggressive gestures, and going overboard in communicating that you are not a threat when you are stopped by a police officer.
Somehow this had become the norm within the black community. The most startling thing to me was the way these folks were talking about it as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.
“The Talk” was the brick that finally broke the glass keeping me from seeing what white privilege looks like. I did not grow up with generational wealth propping me up. I had to work hard to get to college and am still paying off a huge amount of debt to remind me of that. These things convinced me that I wasn’t privileged, but yet I had never even heard of “The Talk”. I had never (and still don’t) fear interactions with police officers. The thought that they might see me as a threat would make most people–including myself–laugh. Many of my black friends can’t say the same. They, instead, turn to the way they dress and speak to help communicate the fact that they are not dangerous.
Black Lives Matter feels–to many of us–like an issue that will eventually fade away and make room for peace once again. That was certainly true for me only a few months ago. Today, it is the cry for true peace and justice coming from many of my friends. It is a cry that has truly disturbed and transformed me in profound ways.