On Thursday I wrote the Kicking COVID letter that was emailed Saturday. We’ve had over two months of collective national trauma due to the COVID 19 crisis, but I was feeling grateful for the love we’d experienced as we faced it together.
As events this past week evolved clearly we’re now immersed in another collective trauma. It is not new, it has been on-going for hundreds of years. African Americans experience it regularly. The murder of George Floyd precipitated an acute response to a chronic trauma and evil. Mr. Floyd’s grotesque murder was on the heals of the egregious killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. They join a long litany of similar examples. Racism and its consequences are a profound sin and trauma.
I have had many staff who have experienced this kind of racism first hand. People I love, respect, and am indebted to have been pulled over by police while transporting children we serve in our routine activities, deliberately antagonized, handcuffed, and imprisoned under the weakest of accusations. Those imprisoned were soon released without any explanation or apology. Certainly this does not characterize the majority of police, who have difficult jobs, but this has happened too often. I have no doubt in each case, my brothers and sisters in Christ, could have wound up dead by just one mistake.
These friends have been powerful partners in ministry, servant leaders in our community. I love them, and the injustice of their experience made me angry. I felt it personally because my love was personal. It was wrong, yet there seemed little recourse to act against it. It felt like persecution. My limitations to discuss these issues make me weak in many ways, but that doesn’t mean I’m not engaged in learning about it, taking action to reconcile, and pursuing justice and peace. I wonder if some of you feel the same way?
When I reflected on my recent letter about love, it seemed disconnected from the sudden events. I watched the news into the early hours of the morning, looked at reports on protests and disturbances in Wilmington, and had a hard time sleeping. You see and hear all the different things and feel weak and troubled with a distinct sense of hopelessness. Racism is a vicious foe. I think most people would agree we want justice. What does that look like, particularly from the perspective of those who are victimized by it, and how do we achieve it?
The complexity entails fear and frustration, sources of despair. It tempts us to choose what we understand. Love, on the other hand, invites us to seek to understand. It isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, and it isn’t always what we want. Humility is a good starting point. Perseverance is essential.
It’s daunting to look forward, but it is where we must go. Why, I wondered, did my comments on love seem weak in the face of all we are facing? When I am angry at people I love, my wife, or my family members, love seems weak compared to what I’m angry about. But it’s not. It may take time for that to set in in my heart, but love overcomes all things.
Which, ironically, takes us back to the message of my last letter. Love never fails. Whatever happens in the near and distant future, whatever we feel or encounter, however long it takes, discerning what it means to love and doing it is our path forward. I am thankful for what I have learned and have experienced about love at UrbanPromise from all our stakeholders. Continuing to love one another as a community in Christ and having that love be actions and truth is the only sustainable path forward. It’s a long journey.
Jesus Christ defines love for us. He (and His love) was not weak. He spoke the truth, challenged His enemies, and confronted evil. He also challenged His friends (Peter, James, and John for example) as well as those on whom He had compassion (the paralytic, the woman at the well). Confronting our sin, understanding it, acknowledging it, repenting of it, and asking for forgiveness as well as granting it, these involve love. In the ultimate act of love, He laid down His life for us. Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for others. How are we called to do that for one another in this context? How can we lay down our lives in love? We won’t always get the answer right, but we will be faithful to try until we do.
I have experienced so much love at UrbanPromise, much of it from our children and families, but also from staff, volunteers, and donors. My life is much fuller because of it, my faith informed by it. Love never fails. It will be difficult, demanding sacrifice. But I have no doubt, none, that love is the first question and the final answer, and that we, together, are the vessels of that love on earth. Let’s get to work, let’s persevere, and let’s prevail through love.
Executive Director and President
P.S. A couple closing words I find helpful for reflection on these things: 1 Corinthian 13 (so familiar but very practical, helps us take it to heart; read it slowly like the first time)
Romans 12:9-21 (read the whole chapter, outlines the strategy for change): “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what it good.” Read it all and reflect, it will help water the roots.
2 Chronicles 7:14, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Finally, One of my long term staff whom I deeply respect and who has lived on the East Side for years, posted the prayer below. I felt it was very poignant and helpful.
Dear God, Please bring peace to our city. Not just an absence of yelling but peace that lets Moms no longer worry if their boys will make it home each night. God please fix what is broken, not just broken glass but also broken hearts, broken dreams, broken bones, and broken ways of thinking. Please God find what is lost. Not just things but community, humility, humanity, and so many souls. Jesus we need you. Amen.