Thursday, August 17, 2017

More Important than Me.

When political tides loom large, and the Facebook frenzy is intense, I tend to be very selective in what I comment on and like. After all, sometimes it takes a lot of words to fully express my observations, intentions, and the heart behind these black and white letters. And I don't usually have all day to interact back and forth in the online world. No matter, I still want to say something about the events unfolding in our country but I am not a voice that carries a lot of weight in these matters, so I have been hesitant to put my thoughts on paper/computer.

I grew up in a small, isolated, Oregon beach town. I can remember one black male student in High School, a few more Hispanic kids, and a handful Asian students, but the gross majority was white. My college was also mostly white, and while I knew some of this was geographical, much of it is racial. Not because black students were not welcome, but because of the historical events that have altered what is available to who.

Most of why I don't often speak up is because I don't know the entire picture. Living all of my life on the West Coast, as a white woman, in a liberal state has put me far away from the front lines where most of our country's racial prejudice has been battled. I have seen it here and there, and now more so with social media and instantaneous news, but I know it is not the same for me. My dear half-Filipino friend who married a black man has said she sees it far more often now. Comments like "You are pretty smart for a black guy!" or people being surprised at the way he speaks are frustrating to her. It feels minimal to many, but this the small perpetuation of judgement by appearance is part of what keeps us from ridding of racism in our country.

A few things I do know, but I don't know them well, are the ways drug-arrests, housing affordability, and educational opportunity continue to rob much of the black community. Not only because the perception many people have of black people, but also because the cycle of living without fathers, without opportunity, surrounded by many other desperate people unable to get by is incredibly hard to break. The income differences for black employees (which I don't know how much or to what extent still exists) has contributed to this. The "free pass" that many white people have received, and continue to receive, for breaking the law or possessing drugs contributes to this. The placement of former slaves and the segregation our country allowed and enforced continues to affect black people today. It is complicated, sad, terrible, and more. And this is why I have a really difficult time writing anything about it.

I continue to wonder what my role is in all of this turmoil. I can only begin to relate to the terror some feel out in public because of who they are. Only recently have I become more aware of my weaknesses and the way that could make me vulnerable to others, which makes me cautious of every single male I pass on my nearby running trail in broad daylight. I despise assuming the worst, but the risk of being caught off guard could be great. How much more for those who live in neighborhoods where this is their reality every day, from school-age on?

After I began homeschooling my children I started to read a lot more about education in general, both in regards to how children learn and the state of our educational system in America. Paul Tough has some great books about this and seeing how home atmosphere affects the ability to learn and succeed is both enlightening and heart breaking. Even worse, the segregation that cast many black people into specific neighborhoods continues to give the children living there now a meager education and high-risk for life in prison.

My soul gets knotted up trying to understand how my homeschooling can benefit kids who have very little opportunity just several states away. How can what I teach at home make a lasting difference? How can I use what I learn to help the children there? How can I even be involved in all of this sitting at my table, typing on my laptop, in perfect peace on my dead end street?

Sadly, I don't have wonderfully packaged, clearly laid out answers for you. I simply have a few insights I hope challenge the way you think and the way you act. Because honestly, if we thought more about the consequences of our actions, much of the travesty in the history of mankind would be drastically different.

A large piece of this puzzle is what we value. In America, we value Freedom, or so we say. Protests, marches, riots, and disregard for others show we really only value a certain kind of freedom. What we mostly mean by saying others are free to protest, is that you are only free to protest things that are right and good. Since most people do not agree on what is right and good, this gets sticky. I don't know all the details of how everything unfolded in Charlottesville, but I will never understand how a statue can mean more than the hearts and safety of others. I don't know enough about General Lee or the history of that statue to know why it was important to many, but I know having a statue that brings shame to others is not worth keeping. And living out here in Oregon, even though I consider myself a conservation Christian, I cannot understand why someone would want to honor a statue that represents to many the hurtful past of slavery and war.

Are you seeing why this is hard for me to write about?

There is one thing that constantly comes to mind in all of this political, social, and emotional chaos: "...count others more significant than yourselves." (Philippians 2:3b)

Jesus considered our eternity more significant than remaining with God. He left his role to take on ours, to take our travesty, our consequences upon himself. As Christians, we are called to the same life. Not to be killed for others necessarily, but to willingly suffer and serve on behalf of others. To value what other people need more than what we think we need. Can we honestly say we do this on a regular basis? You may not think you need to live this way, or maybe you think doing this all the time seems extreme, but I would venture to say our country's long history or serving self is biting us in the butt.

We are selfish, and we strive to make ourselves known. We want others to know exactly how we feel or exactly what we think. I do it too! Look at me, blogging, writing, posting, and expressing myself. I am guilty of the selfish ambition Jesus hates. I need to stop, we all need to stop, and it will benefit our country more than we realize. If every single person in that protest stopped and thought about what was best for their black neighbor, could they have honestly marched on in their fierce determination? If the Nazi's stopped to think about what was best for their Jewish neighbor, would they have continued to serve their country's military?

Sadly, when it comes to kill or be killed, many people opt for saving themselves. Heck, even if it comes to giving 15 minutes for a friend or taking 15 minutes for ourselves, we opt for the route of self. Are you seeing this? How can we expect to change our country for good, to be willing to serve the underprivileged, the cast-out, the condemned or discriminated, if we cannot even serve the people living in our house. How many times a day do we really give up something we think we need in order to give to someone else? I have a hard time giving up a place in line at Target, or a parking spot at the Nike Employee store. We cannot expect to find the willingness to change our world without knowing it will cost us the pursuit of self.

Take some time to think and pray over this. Consider what we take for ourselves and what it costs other people. You cannot expect to serve the greater good of the world and serve yourself as well. At some point, you will have to choose one or the other. I am convicted about how much of my life revolves around choosing myself over my neighbors, my family, and my friends. It shouldn't matter what they believe or what color their skin is. If I value others more than myself, I am revealing what I believe.

I believe God creates each person purposefully, specifically, and with great love.

I believe God wants everyone to know Him personally, deeply, and desires for them to live with Him forever.

Jesus is that way. It's not just what I believe, it's what God said, what He ordained, and what He proved.

If I follow Him, I cannot continue to serve self.

In all of this, I absolutely have to trust God with my care, my needs, my eternity. Anything I give up here on earth in order to give to others will be the silliest sacrifice I could imagine. What we gain by serving Christ is greater. If that does not motivate me to serve, it's because I don't know it, because I don't really believe it to be the truth I claim it is.

So in all of this American angst, what will you serve? An ideal? A political party? A religion? A particular way of life? Or will you serve God? Will you serve the other people in your day to day life? Courage for radical service will only come by knowing the value that service contains. As Christians, we know our value lies in eternity with God, and nothing we can gain in this world is worth losing that. So serve in confidence. Know your sacrifice is not in vain. Each small step will lead you closer to changing the world, but it will only change if you start right now. Don't wait until life gives you the opportunity you think you need. If you have kids, co-workers, family or friends, you have all the opportunity you need. If you see other people ever, you have opportunity to change the world around you for the better.

Take each opportunity and consider those you meet, those you know, those you encounter every day, as more important than your selfish desires. This is the mind of Christ. This is what our world needs.

*If you have friends, family, or connections with people who need tangible help on the front lines of these racial battles, ask them how to help, ask them to put you to work. I'm sure there is more we can all be doing. Serve others, be humble, and just start where you are.

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