I am pretty adamant about not being a participant in my own dehumanization. Christian Cooper, birdwatcher. New Yorker. black man
Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12
Lord of Love and Justice make us honest enough to tell the truth about racial terror and courageous enough to step into the waters of racial justice. Amen
Last week, a black male birdwatcher in Central Park asked a white female dog walker to observe the leash law in the brambles. Instead of honoring the law and her neighbor, she called 911 and told the dispatcher: A black man is threatening me in the brambles; send the police. Christian Cooper calmly lifted his phone and video recorded her little shit fit. His sister posted the video on the internet and it went viral.
When asked why he stood firm, Mr. Cooper said, I am pretty adamant about not being a participant in my own dehumanization.
Christian Cooper held on to his humanity as well his neighbor’s and lived to tell about it. The attempt on George Floyd’s humanity ended differently. His body was crushed under the knee of an armed bully. Mr. Floyd was unable to escape the terror of a public lynching.
Friends, like it or not, we are inextricably connected to one another. If we don’t stand up to racial terror, we are complicit– and we have become participants in our own dehumanization and the dehumanization of our siblings of color, worldwide.
We have a problem:
We live in a culture that favors its privileged children in every way imaginable. As a result, most white Americans lack some of the discipline needed to become fully responsible adults. Instead of responsibility, we blindly engage in self-protective and indulgent patterns, which act as an opiate—numbing our personal and collective conscience. We are literally swimming in an ocean of unconscious self-interest. Unconsciousness is why white Europeans and Americans enslaved Africans in the first place. Unconsciousness permits the terror of mass incarceration (modern day slavery) and police brutality (modern day lynching) to happen in 2020.
There is Hope
There is a passage in Hebrews Chapter 12 that applies to this situation. The word discipline is used at least nine times. The writer uses the image of a parent disciplining a child. In ancient families, the role of parent was to discipline a child so that the child could grow up to be a responsible member of the family. The Old Testament prophet Amos describes how unaware, religious adults come to “trample on the poor” with unjust economic policy and corrupt judicial process. (Sound familiar for our time? Have you seen the movie Just Mercy?) In Amos’s time, these practices catered to the privileged at the expense of the vulnerable.
In the face of such exploitation, prophets like Amos, Jesus, Nelson Mandela, MLK and Malcolm X name the evil and call the children of God back to responsibility. “Seek the Lord, seek good, hate evil, love good, establish justice.” These are the works of good neighbors everywhere.
The time is now. Americans of all faiths are in a season of discipline by which God is summoning us away from the self-service that furthers racial oppression, and in many situations, racial terror. This problem is more than 500 years old with new permutations and combinations emerging every generation. The call to grow up goes way beyond private character and all the way to public practice.
If we are lucky, we modern culprits will grow up to be like the tax collector in Jesus’s parable: aware of our own sin and hopeful that the LORD of mercy will forgive us and heal us.
Will we put our armor (privilege) down and stand up to racial oppression and terror with true power– our human vulnerability (most effectively exercised by acts of compassion and truth)? Or will we hide behind the lame armor of blaming and scapegoating various individuals, institutions, neighbors of color, non-church-goers, rioters and arsonists?
Each person must ask: What does the LORD require of ME? How will I stand firm in my vulnerability?
Some things I’ve decided to do out of simple discipline: Go all in for #blacklivesmatter. As a Christian pastor, I sometimes stay quiet about subjects that might alienate a parishioner. No more. #blacklivesmatter. PERIOD.
I’m going to re-read and re-watch a whole library of works written and scripted by black leaders and theologians over time. I’ll share the bibliography and watch list with you here in the coming days.
I don’t really care what religion you are. Being a Christian does not make you a conscious person. Many people outside my faith are awake and active and working for justice. Our siblings of color need us all to work together.
Love you, K