We're Not Done Learning to Love Our Neighbors

Baby Steps to Learning to Love Our Brothers + Sisters
I've been praying over this post for months. I have this confusing "gift" of fully agreeing with both sides of a conversation. I feel what you're saying and I feel what they're saying, even if it's opposite words.

I've been quite content to sit back and listen and pray and share in safety with my husband and maybe a couple close friends. I've been okay with that. I'm not qualified, so perhaps quiet is a good place for me. It seems it's time to whisper in a few words. Well, a few times a thousand, but who's counting?

I pray these words form a bridge or creak open a door or soften a heart or whatever metaphor fits what we most need. If you don't read any further, I pray you'll know this: Jesus has enough love for us all and room for us all.

There's a video going around this week of cops breaking up a pool party in McKinney, Texas. Can you even bear to read anymore about it?

In case you haven't seen the video, here's a quick recap of the seven minutes: The video picks up with a police officer chasing some teenage boys and trying to get them to sit down on the grass. He ends up handcuffing a couple. Someone's trying to explain their version, and the cop says that's not his problem with some expletives in between.

He keeps telling everyone standing around to go to the other side of the street or he'll arrest them, too. They're generally lingering and talking, even as he walks toward them and cusses at them to leave. The cop and a few girls are just out of sight of the camera when there's a commotion and we see on screen the police officer whipping a bikini-clad teenage girl to the ground by her braids or her arm or a rough combination of both.

A couple guys come up behind him to get him to stop and he pulls his gun on them as they run away. A couple fellow police officers come up and chase after them, while he goes back to detain the girl by putting both knees into her back. She tries lifting her head and saying he's hurting her and calling out for her mom.

It's all a terrible visual. Of kids not listening because of fear or injustice or whatever causes teens to tune out authority they don't agree with. Of an officer who snaps and reacts in a way not fitting even for back-talking teens. And it's all documented on camera, cemented in millions more viewers' minds than were there that day.

I realize to say I kind of identified with the officer a little, at this point, puts me in a terrible place. We can all see a girl armed with only her mouth doesn't require nor deserve a cop's bodyweight plus "30 pounds of gear" pressing his knees into her back.

Yet, identifying with his guilt is this humiliating place I've found myself. And I can't write about what's going on in America and elsewhere in the world without admitting where I'm coming from.

Last week, the kids were having a non-listening day. I've shared my struggles with motherhood before, and it's always worse when the kids push my patience. I'll say everything 15 times with them still not listening and I just can't handle it. It was one of those days, and I knew I needed my daughter to go to her room.

There wasn't really a good reason, I just knew if she stayed in front of me not listening, I would lose it and do something I regret. She knew my demand was unjust, so she turned to me and firmly insisted, "No!" She would not go. I said it firmly and directly again, to which she stomped in the direction of the stairs then turned and shook her head defiantly.

When I had first sent her to her room, my patience was already spent. I could feel my blood pressure rise and my teeth clench. On the third time when she turned on the stairs and screamed at me, I shot up toward her, my heart pleading that God wouldn't let me hurt her, and He didn't.

Something took over me and I picked her up in a big bear hug, firmly holding her in front of me on the stairs, instructing one last time, "I understand you don't think this is fair, but sometimes when mommy and daddy tell you to go to your room it's so that we can catch our breath and be rational and loving. We know we're about to snap and we don't want to. Even if you think it's not fair, you have to obey. Then, we can talk about it later."

She asked what "snap" means. I explained the loss of control that occurs in a heated moment, which she later experienced firsthand when she snapped on her brother. In retaliation to his pestering, she gritted her teeth and started punching him. Ah, sibling love.

That officer snapped and I saw it coming as I watched the scene unfold on video. Teens claiming innocence but making cops run after them instead of obeying and just sitting down, unfair or not. Boys telling their version of the story when he's out of breath and it's not time for that yet. Girls lingering and back talking instead of getting out of his way.

It's no excuse. It doesn't make it right. Yet seeing him snap felt like a mirror being held up to my own struggle with my own kids. That I had a little guilt of my own to address before demonizing someone else with that same tendency--albeit his played out on a larger scale.

That's obviously not the only perspective, and certainly not the "right" perspective--that doesn't exist. There's a whole group of people that sees a mirror in various ones of the people in the video. The boy innocently saying "please, sir" while getting cussed at. The girl being dehumanized as she's thrown to the ground. The onlookers with adrenaline pumping wondering "how long do we keep our distance and at what point will it be too late and we've stood paralyzed while a raged police officer takes an innocent life?"

Those are very real perspectives, very heartfelt concerns. Ones I haven't had to work through.

My friends and I got picked up by a state officer once when I was a teen. He was on a power trip and we thought the whole situation was hilarious. When he said to "wipe those smiles off" our faces we tried and we didn't say much unless he gave us a turn to speak--he didn't. Even when the two oldest of us got tickets we thought none of us deserved, they took them. I remember thanking him, because he phrased it that by doing his job he saved our lives. Maybe he did. We were making bad choices.

That experience held little real fear because I, and generations before me, have a different history with law enforcement. There isn't a past--post-slavery, mind you--telling the horrors of police officers abusing their power against people of my race.

While we'd all like to leave that horrific history in the past where it belongs, the stories linger. In some cases, history even repeats itself today. The '50s were an improvement from slavery times, and now is an improvement from the '50s. But it doesn't mean we're done growing and learning to love our neighbors more fully. To care for each other like brothers and sisters. That involves admitting our own guilt and taking on each others oppression.

We recently watched the movie The Good Lie.  Three Ugandan siblings, Theo, Mamere, and Abital, along with a few other kids are running for their lives after soldiers attack their village and kill their parents. At one point, soldiers see Mamere stand up out of a grassy field. When he ducks back down in panic, his older brother Theo stands up in his place. The soldiers take Theo away thinking he was the same boy and that he was alone.

A repeating theme throughout the movie is Mamere's guilt that his brother was taken away and not him. Years later, Mamere, Abital, and a couple others make it to Kansas City. Carrie, their job placement agent, talks with Abital one night sharing the difficulty of her sister dying from cancer. There's a pause when Carrie can't find the words, and Abital, knowing from experience, fills in, "You wonder why it was her and not you."

Those words halt and haunt me. Why them and not me?

Why wasn't it me born in a place where I'm running from Kony and his army or from the horrors of ISIS? Why isn't it me being sold into sex slavery so my family can afford food?

And, yes, even in our country, why wasn't it me abandoned at birth or mistreated by my moms boyfriends or living alone in homeless shelters? Why wasn't it me born into a race with a heritage still carrying inherited burden of its ancestors? Why am I blessed to have the Spirit intervene to turn a snap of frustration into a big ol' bear hug?

The question usually lands at a big fat, "I don't know." Then, God circles it back around us all pointing me to the oppressed in all areas of life and the world and says, "But they're still your brothers and sisters. And without me, your guilt isn't any better than theirs."

I'm not a trafficker or a slave owner or a member of ISIS or Kony's army, but I carry a guilt not too different from theirs. With a snap of impatience I remember my sins are born in the same darkness as theirs.

And though I'm not starving or discriminated against or forced to give my body in sex, I carry a bit of the oppressed's pain. With any struggle that sends me to my knees, I remember the salvation I need is the same offered for all of us.

The girl from McKinney on the hurting end of a cop that snapped is my sister in Christ. And the cop himself, is my brother in Christ.

I saw my brother when I watched that video. Mostly in the cops that didn't really get the spotlight. While I know he's not perfect, he's put his life on the line for people in the margins as a cop for the past several years.

I love hearing his stories when our family gets together. Sometimes I feel heavy by the sickness and darkness in this world that he had to look in the face daily, sometimes without break. Other times his stories make me laugh about the mishaps he's experienced, because some accidental mace in the eyes or a door that won't bust down is funny when you know everything turns out okay.

But it doesn't always turn out okay. Assuming the good in people isn't exactly in a cop's training or experience. Mistakes are made, and unfortunately the errors get the spotlight. So instead of talking about race in productive ways, we're getting caught up in the details of specific trials.

Media and misinformation causes everyone to go on the defense. Suddenly there's no room for hearing each other out because heated emotions about #copslivesmatter and #blacklivesmatter makes us think it's either-or and is putting literal lives at stake.

A white cop sent to patrol a multicultured ghetto was once a struggle, and now... Well, now some districts are rumoring about coming down with the "blue flu" because good cops might call in sick when doing their jobs is almost impossible. Or they de-police--parking for their shift instead of patroling. Because why show up if they're not wanted?

#blacklivesmatter. #copslivesmatter. #All.Lives.Matter.

All lives. All races and income levels and family histories and sexes and sexual orientations. I realize I might have offended someone putting those all on the same line. Each life is one Jesus created, then died and rose again to give true, lasting life.

He came to set the slaves free, and I trust He's still doing that today. Freeing the slave from a mental and physical bondage, real or perceived. Loosening the reigns of the slave owner, whether the grip is real or even unrealized.

He came for all oppressed. (Isaiah 58:6)

And we have part in that work for the oppressed.

We're not told to tell them they aren't really oppressed, so buck up. We're not to tell them we don't love their lifestyle so we can't share their burdens. We're to lower ourselves from our high horses to see the world from their eyes. To stop talking and listen. Being the voice for the voiceless. Echoing their pains, not downplaying them or saying their struggles are of their own making.

Oh, all the fine print and stipulations we put on our love and service!

When I do this I will see that we're not just neighbors--he is my brother, she is my sister, and God is Father of us all. Boy, is that comforting to trust.

Baby Steps to Loving Our Brothers and Sisters

I'm hesitant to add to the noise without sharing some practical ideas for moving forward. Here is some small start:

1. Stop talking and listen.

There is so much noise online and in real life. Opinions are blurted and often people are hurt in the crossfire. How often do we spend someone else's talking time articulating our rebuttal? Do we even hear the cries of the oppressed anymore? Listening to and acknowledging someone else's experience doesn't negate our own. There's room for all of us in the conversation. The more we're quiet and listening to a variety of voices and seeing different perspectives, the easier it is to a. wade through the noise to find nuggets of hope, b. acknowledge others for the experience-filled people that they are, and c. end on love.

2. Pray, pray, pray.

Sadly this has become a mantra easy to say and few of us follow through on. When we read the news: Pray. When we're feeling our blood pressure rise: Pray. When we walk away from a frustrating conversation: Pray. When we think someone is wrong: Pray. When we want to speak up: Pray. It has to be the beginning, middle, and end, otherwise we'll lose our humility, our love, our ability to forgive and apologize, and our open hearts. Which is the only way any of us can change for the better. Hardened hearts are a dead end road; open hearts form a bridge.

3. Speak experiences only.

We are so tempted to share our own opinions as universal truths. Maybe we go as far as to lay out x, y, z of a situation which becomes our ammunition. It's time to put the weapons down. When I share my experience, I'm acknowledging it's just one tiny piece to the whole. It's valid and worth sharing, but only surrounded in endless listening and praying. That's how conversation works.

4. Use loving words.

If we're going to speak, let's speak words of love. Love tells personal stories and listens and prays. And love acknowledges some words or phrases are off limits except for people within that group. I've heard overweight people call themselves fat, but would take great offense at being called fat by others. I've identified myself as a Bee with an itch, but have been driven to tears being called that by someone else. Those are just two narrow examples, the list goes on between races, sexuality, and more. Sure, maybe some of it shouldn't be used even within our own groups, even more so we absolutely shouldn't say them about others. It comes off as unloving and alienating.

5. Seek out voices of unity.

It's worth seeking out people that talk about the tough stuff with a vision for unity in God. Deidra Riggs, Ann Voskamp, and Jen Hatmaker are just a few that come to mind. There are many others. People speaking for the oppressed and seeking unity for God's people. Read words from these people in addition to or more than the mass media. And pray with them.

6. Trust in Jesus' salvation.

So much of the battling involves sticking up for opinions over people. I see it especially around lifestyle issues, but it happens with just about every disagreement. People "guarding the gates" so to speak. As if it's our job to tell people which choices are keeping them from Jesus. Or defending our own ideals as if they're the right ones. We are to experience Jesus and point others to Him. The saving and converting and changing hearts--that's His job. All of it.

News flash: We aren't meant to save the world. In light of ISIS and endless wars and America's differing opinions on hot topic issues, I am so thankful for that.

We are called to love, and some days that feels just as hard. So I'll approach it with baby steps. Shutting up and listening. Praying. Sharing my experiences in love. Seeking voices of unity. And trusting in Jesus.

It's all I can do, it's all I'm called to do. Love my brother, love my sister, love our Father. Amen.


also read:
how to be a christian: listen + love unconditionally
online interactions + the people they represent