What I’m about to write has been a slow welling up inside of me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to write at all, let alone share it, until today when my thoughts started coming together and making sense to me. I hope I am able to articulate my main point: we are sick.
I haven’t watched the George Floyd video and refuse to do so, not because I don’t care, but because an emotional response is all it will muster in me. I’ve seen atrocious videos of all sorts of people being abused, attacked, tortured, killed, maimed, disrespected, and otherwise treated poorly. Just like everything else in this our current that lends itself to be driven by emotions, this is but the latest morsel of which we have to chew on. I hope the taste lasts longer this time, but I fear it will not. Whenever I contemplate the atrocities of discrimination and pure hatred towards others (regardless of race or creed) my mind immediately replays the infamous curb stomp scene from American History X. If you’ve seen it yourself, a chill hopefully just shivered down your back. If you haven’t, I can’t even invite you to watch it as it has literally scarred my life even though it is a movie. I am glad I have that scar.
It’s possible that what was captured on film and replayed for the world to watch is forever embedded in the minds and hearts of many just as American History X is for me. The outrage, sadness, and otherwise emotional response we all feel in one way or another produces questions. How can this happen? What could have been done to prevent it? Who is responsible? Why did this happen in the first place? Our search for answers has given the media, social sites, and every other platform more gas to throw on the fire to enhance their click and switch algorithms and we continue to play right into it. I would suggest that instead of looking everywhere else, we should look where the true answer lies: within ourselves.
I’ve seen some witty memes over the past couple weeks, as well as some inflammatory ones. Between the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement, the ALM (All Lives Matter) response, and the outcry for and against police forces around the world. I’ve also tapped into the various audio resources of podcasts I listen to regularly that have hosted a number of people from otherwise marginalized communities based on race, gender, and beliefs. I’ve contemplated how to respond to my friends who identify with the marginalized, oppressed, and disrespected cultures and communities around the world. As I’ve simply observed and watched the world mentally and emotionally unravel after being stuck in the pressure cooker of COVID 19 quarantine and then the heat being turned up I have been left speechless. My speechlessness isn’t because I am shocked at what happened, rather I am underwhelmed by the “nowness” and urgency of something needing to be done when this sickness has pervaded us since the beginning of time. What makes this instance any different? What happened to the outcry years ago against the injustice against Trayvon Martin? Now, the “churchy” answer to this problem we face is to create a meme with reference to Galatians 3:28 and call it a day, but our sickness cannot be solved with a simple bible quote. Since Cain killed Abel, we have been hating and mistreating “each other.” It is in this we arrive at the root of the issue.
I titled this article as such not to get peoples’ attention or encourage folks to read it (although I know it helps), but because “black lives matter” is way too narrow in scope. I’ve also begun to cringe whenever I see support for “all lives matter” because while both statements are true, they simply lend themselves to highlight the deeper sickness we have yet to address. We have become so divisive and emotional, driven by the undercurrent of our own sin, that we must shout louder to drown out the noise within our hearts that whispers, “it’s your fault.” Simply stating who matters and who doesn’t (even if your intent is to say that everyone matters) is divisive, offensive, and shorter sighted than we may be willing to admit. We’ve created and continue to perpetuate an attitude of “otherness” that despite what we say, continues to feed itself.
Being a missionary in a foreign land I had to come to grips with my own sense of “otherness”. It has become so customary for us to take on the mentality of “them”. “We” are going to serve “them”. “We” are taking “them” the gospel. “We” are helping “them”. As I write this I tear up, considering the depravity within me that exists to the point where I must STILL fight against this mentality after living in this foreign land for over 7 years to which point “they” have accepted me as their own. I am sick. I need a continued radicalization of my heart and a perpetual flow of God’s grace in my life to ward off this tendency to take on the spirit of Cain: hateful, envious, murderous. Yes, I venture to say that “otherness” is murderous. While sin is the underlying cause it is also the great equalizer. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We must fight to rid ourselves of the distinction between “us” and “them,” whatever that may look like in your context.
I hesitate to simplify the definition of the problem of our sickness by giving it the name of sin and leaving it at that. We fail to realize how much we sin against ourselves, having the audacity to justify or diminish the consequences of our actions or inaction and choose feigned ignorance. Despite your own spiritual beliefs and regardless of your creed, it is easy to see that we are sick. We’ve been sick. This issue is not new. We can insert any type of race or distinction and find a situation to plug it into. ______ Lives Matter. As soon as we do, however, we highlight our own depravity in that we have to differentiate because we don’t see the “others” as “us.” By identifying “which” lives matter reveals the complexity of our sickness. I listened to a sermon that brought me to a complete stop as I was walking down the street the other day. The speaker said that when the video of George Floyd spread across the world and everyone watched it, many people saw a black man with a white cop’s knee pinning down his neck. However, the black community saw themselves, their brother, their cousin, their father… Having not seen the video myself I cannot say what I did see, but it made me wonder: would I consider myself in that position or would it be simply “someone else?” Most white folks immediately denied any relation to Derek Chauvin (the offending officer) and the policing community has subsequently separated itself from the perpetrators.
It’s not even a matter of ethnicity at this point, it’s a matter of whether or not I consider myself connected to those specific human beings. While we mourn what happened to Floyd, we should also mourn the depravity of Chauvin that caused him to act that way. What about the trafficked teenage girl and those who treat them like property instead of human beings? What about the boy soldier kidnapped and trained in the Congo and his commander? What about Jewish Europeans in the 1940s and those that persecuted them? What about the victims of 9/11, or Columbine, the typhoon in the Philippines or the Titanic sinking? The problem reveals itself in that we don’t identify with the victims of tragedies nor the perpetrators. This is a symptom of a greater heart condition.
The revelation of our “otherness” isn’t that we discriminate or ignore atrocities around the world. It is that we refuse to accept that we are connected as human beings in this existence and are collectively responsible for the evil that is perpetrated. We are created to live in a harmonious community despite our differences; we are connected whether we admit it or not. In fact, it is our differences that make us beautiful together. There is a song by Casting Crowns called City on a Hill which I love and hate at the same time. I love it because it reveals the beauty of the diversity of mankind, but I hate it because it shows the divisiveness it creates because we abuse ourselves. How many times have you heard folks who are victims of some kind of atrocity that think or say, “I never thought it would happen to me?” THIS is exactly our problem! It HAS happened to me because it has happened to you. If it happens to one of us it happens to all of us. If one of us does it, we all do it.
While the world stopped spinning to watch the George Floyd atrocity on social media and news outlets, a similar and dare I say more atrocious act of violence happened right here in Guatemala. A world-famous Mayan medicine man by the name of Domingo Choc Che was burned alive in his hometown after being accused of witchcraft. At the time, he was part of a research project by the University College of London, Zurich University, and the University of the Valley to better understand herbal remedies for diseases. They tortured and beat him for over 10 hours then after dousing him with gasoline lit him on fire until he died. That video is also circulating the internet but quite possibly with many less hits because well…we don’t relate as closely. Despite the fact that his innate knowledge of plants and herbal medicines could have led society closer to a cure for cancer (amongst many other things), a human being was beaten, tortured, and set ablaze not by one or two cops with a racial issue, but an entire community. The video continues with purportedly nobody stepping in to help (I refuse to watch that video too).
It makes me wonder, how many more of us have been persecuted, abused, oppressed, tortured, and murdered around the world just today that we don’t know about or care to investigate? Have you felt it? Can you hear the cries of the injustices of our people across the globe on a daily basis? We are destroying ourselves one hateful act at a time and are ignoring it. How many times do I need to punch myself in the face with my right hand before my left hand grabs it and tells it to stop, at the very least for the sake of self preservation. We have used the anesthetic of “otherness” to numb the pain and help us ignore the real problem because we are too lazy to work on it. We’d prefer to use a band aid on a gaping wound because otherwise it would “be too much trouble,” but we are bleeding out! We’ve abused ourselves for way too long and we need help. I could go on for the rest of my life never hearing the phrase, “well you can only do so much” again and the times I have heard it would be too many. The first thing we need to do is to recognize the sickness and start working towards discovering what works. But we continually burn the medicine men alive because we think they threaten our well-being when they are only trying to make the world a better place. It makes sense though…I’ve occasionally thought about cutting off my foot to solve the problem of tripping over my own shoelaces, haven’t you? Too often we cut off our nose to spite our face then are outraged we can’t smell anything, crying out for justice in regard to the very injustices we create.
Our problem isn’t racist tensions between people of color, marginalization of females, defining the rights of unborn babies, understanding the complexities of developing countries and how to stem the inflow of their immigrants illegally passing through our borders. Our society’s illness stems from looking outward more than we look inward. The virus is exacerbated by mediocrity and lack of responsibility. It’s the fear of what we will find when we dig deep and try to understand the complexities of our own psyche and come face-to-face with our own brokenness. While the COVID 19 pandemic and its subsequent precautionary “social distancing” approach to stem its spread has made us uncomfortable, it has at the very least allowed us to understand possibly more than ever that we are created to live in community. We are meant to be connected. We thrive when we act as one.
The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth to address some dissensions they had as they were trying to live the transformed life but continued to live with an untransformed mind (Romans 12:1-3). As part of his dissertation of what it means to live in unity, he used the idea of the body in order to further explain his point. I touched on some nuances of this above but would like to present to you the fullness of the text as paraphrasing might leave out a subtle truth that is necessary for us to grasp the gravity of the situation. We were created with differences to unite us, not divide us. In 1 Corinthians 12 he exhorts the church to understand we all need each other because ofour differences:
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” not because of this is it not a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body, not because of this is it not a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body just as he wanted. 19 And if they all were one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 Now the eye is not able to say to the hand, “I do not have need of you,” or again, the head to the feet, “I do not have need of you.” 22 But by much more the members of the body which are thought to be weaker are necessary, 23 and the parts of the body which we think to be less honorable, these we clothe with more abundant honor, and our unpresentable parts come to have more abundant presentability, 24 but our presentable parts do not have need of this. Yet God composed the body by giving more abundant honor to the part which lacked it, 25 in order that there not be a division in the body, but the members would have the same concern for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer together; if a member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
We see this same struggle amongst the original followers of Jesus as his very first 12 disciples struggled to understand that we were created to live in equality and harmony. They more than once asked him how they can be greater than the “others” in their own group and who gets to be his “first mate.” He simply shook His head and told them that they don’t know what they are talking about. It wasn’t a matter of asking the wrong question, rather that they asked the question at all. This is why He said, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” for superiority doesn’t come in ruling over others or taking on a place of power, rather of service. However, this isn’t just about serving others, rather treating others as you would treat yourself because as you treat others, you indeed treat yourself. Since we are one, any other treatment aside from love and compassion is simply self-sabotage and abuse of oneself. There is no “other.” There is no “them.” There is only us. My life matters. Your life matters. My life doesn’t matter more than yours and vice versa. Yes, black lives matter, but if we have to distinguish that fact, we miss the bigger picture. Jesus (and many others) encouraged us to treat others as we would want to be treated because when we treat others with hatred, malice, and violence we are doing it unto ourselves as well. Mistreating others is simply a means of poisoning ourselves and the result is our ailing society.
If you are still reading this, I applaud you for sticking with me, for as much as I try to make my articles concise, this is something that has been written about and will continue to be written about for ages. I also applaud you not only for continuing to read but because hopefully it means you care and want to do something about it. So, what can you do?
I encourage you to dare to reflect upon your own “otherness.” What areas of your life, which people in your purview, who in your periphery is there that you tend to “other?” This “otherness” is a byproduct of fear. As you identify the “others” in your life, seek to find the hidden fear that makes you consider them an “other.” Propose to rid yourself of that fear and overcome it with love. Love after all is a decision, not a feeling. Make the decision to love the “others” until you can love them as yourself because those “others” are really you. Dare to love “us” and refuse to classify anyone as “them,” because in reality, you are discriminating against yourself.