Written by Stephen Kelly, Worship Pastor & Director of Services at Willow Chicago
As I once again reflect on the painful reality of another unarmed black man's life being taken, I continue to not only grieve, but also ponder on how the church should engage. What are we willing to sacrifice?
Some of us don’t speak up or engage because of fear of what others might think of us. Some of us don’t engage because we’re unaffected by what’s happening and we are unaware of what’s happening right around us.
I believe in moments like these God is inviting each of us to open our eyes and enlarge our hearts to think and empathize beyond just our own self-interest. Anytime we’re open and get in proximity to those that have been affected by injustice, many truths and a way forward often become revealed.
I hope that in moments like these, beyond acknowledgments, we will pray that God would reveal to us what’s right in front of us, wherever we may find ourselves. Where might God be asking you to steward your influence? Could it be in your immediate family, in your church, at your job, in those close relationship where God’s love and truth can reveal those distortions that we all wrestle with. Maybe God is asking us to use our influence right where we are to speak truth and lean into the injustices and distortions all around us, and walk alongside those that are hurting and marginalized.
We must not be too distracted either by ignorance or self-preservation, that we miss the God encounters and opportunities right in front of us to engage in God’s mission of restoring what’s been broken by sin.
Until we allow the posture of Christ to transform our way of thinking, we will not have the courage to open our mouths and speak up with those whose voices and lives have been systematically silenced and trampled on, and that narrative normalized by bigotry, hatred, and greed.
Until we’ve counted the cost and decide to take up our cross, we won’t speak out against those systems that perpetuate inequality and injustice – just as long as we’re not personally affected by whatever devastation it causes.
Until we grow in maturity and understand that “love is what justice looks like in public” (Cornel West), and that “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (MLK), we are not fully embodying or living out God’s love. I believe it has to be (both, and)…We can’t just acknowledge that the world around us is broken, we must engage and use the God given influence we have to live out a better way. A way that humanizes each other and protects one another, recognizing that we are all created in the image of God, and together we reveal to the world, that the power of God redeems and restores humankind, not just in the afterlife, but in the here and now.
May we not tread down the wide road of those that claim the resurrected power of Jesus, but their lives are wrapped around a self-centered comfort; their conscience unwillingness to answer the call to stand and fight for anything other than that which enables their own success.
Teach us, Oh God, how to walk down that “narrow road that leads to life” that few indeed find. Teach us how to pray “Thy kingdom come,” and not our own. Teach us that the only way to truly have abundant life is to truly die to everything that doesn’t reflect your unconditional love demonstrated through sacrificially laying down your life for everyone. If we really want to see change, we are going to have to sacrifice something. It's going to cost us something. My friend Judy Peterson says it this way: "Speaking God's vision into the world comes with a cost; the risk of exposure and the possibility of retaliation. But not speaking out comes with a cost as well. I guess it comes down to what you are willing to lose."
I’ve found the journey down the narrow road painful, hard, and also more fulfilling than I’ve ever dreamt. As you walk down that narrow road with Jesus – leaving the trappings of fleeting happiness and unsustainable successes – true hope, peace, and joy abound, not restricted by temporary circumstances, but held together by the fullness of God’s eternal love and provision!
Come Holy Spirit, anoint us for the road and work ahead. For the harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few.
For further exploration into race in America, check out these resources:
- "The Color of Fear" Part 1 & 2
- "Just Mercy"
- "Race: The Power of an Illusion"
- "The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1976"
- "Black Panthers White Lies" | Curtis Austin
- "The Tuckers: Meet the Descendants of America's First African Family"
- "The 1619 Project: Nikole Hannah-Jones on Confronting the Truth About Slavery"
- "What I Am Learning From My White Grandchildren: Truths About Race" Anthony Peterson
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community by Martin Luther King Jr.
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- 16 Shots