In the midst of these tense times, I’ve tried to keep my commenting to a minimum. I’ve spoken some but not as much. Instead, I’ve tried to share the voices of those who know more than I do on this subject. I’ve written about racism in the past in my Heal the Divide series and my article on the Segregated Church. I’ve been aware of these tensions for many years. But I’m not an authority because I haven’t been the victim. I never have been and probably never will be. However, I can’t follow Jesus very far without hearing His call against injustice.
My voice is simply a small one in a chorus. Honestly, I haven’t really known how to articulate anything of value. Some people have reached out for advice and I’ve felt unqualified and inadequate.
I was watching a protest in Indianapolis. I was actually working on a cabinet my wife was restoring and listening to the news on the television. At some point, I sat on the couch and watched. We watched it for a long time. We sent the kids to bed because things seemed to be escalating and we weren’t really sure what we were going to witness. In hindsight, I wish we wouldn’t have done that.
The protesters were making their way to governers mansion when they were finally met with a wall of armed officers in riot gear. It had the makings of an old fashioned battlefield. Each side took their stance and dug in. Tensions rose to an almost unbearable level. The protesters were being asked to disperse because the time for curfew had come. But no one left. The standoff continued. I knew it was only going to take one poor decision by one person to set off a blaze of tragedy in front of the cameras.
Fortunately, that’s not how it ended that night. While all hope appeared lost, something different happened. The leaders of each side had a few conversations and eventually, the leader of that police unit came out and chose to walk with the protestors. With arms around their shoulders, the leaders that were squared off against each other walked together.
After the event calmed down, the news interviewed both sides. Both sides seemed less than satisfied with the results, but they both admitted it was a step in the right direction.
Then it hit me. The reason some people have reached out to me is because I talk, teach, and train about ministering to those in the midst of trauma. What is our current situation, except many people who have experienced trauma resisting? Many are resisting the trauma they’ve experienced or those they love have experienced. I began to look at this situation through this lens at that moment.
The Trauma Is Real
One thing about trauma, is you don’t get to dictate someone else’s trauma. You can’t tell another person something isn’t traumatizing. You’re not the one on the receiving end. I’ve heard many discourage those protesting because they don’t understand. You don’t have to understand to acknowledge there has been trauma. Honestly, you may never be able to fully understand.
The thing that really hit me, the reason I’m writing this and adding my voice to the conversation is because of the walk. If you’ve heard me speak or train on Trauma Informed Ministry, you’ve heard me say that one of the first things we need to do is to learn to walk with someone. Healing doesn’t happen outside the context of honest relationships. We were created to be relational beings. When I don’t take the time to walk with others, I can’t see what is going on in their world.
We typically shift into “fix it” mode, but you can’t fix anything if you’re not willing to walk. When I say walk with, it’s not a physical walk necessarily. Walking forces us to go slow and take our time. When we walk with someone, we spend time with them. We listen to their heart. We begin to see the things in their world that were once invisible to us. Walking with someone is doing life with them.
Walk Like Jesus
You see this in Jesus’ walk to Emaus after He rose from the dead. The two men He encountered were defeated. Their worlds were shattered. They lost hope. Jesus didn’t come in right away fixing their worldview. That’s not how it works with relational beings. Jesus walked with them for SEVEN MILES. He took the time to dialogue with them.
He was invited into their home and he sat down to have a meal with them. They were getting close. It was in that closeness and that intimacy, that the truth was revealed and healing could begin.
I remember the first time my eyes began to become open. I was a freshman in college and I worked overnight at a homeless shelter. There was a guy a few years older than me who was sleeping at the shelter. My worldview didn’t know how to process this.
His name was Brian. His skin was a different color than mine. He liked to stay up late and talk, so most nights he was there we spent hours talking. One night I asked him why he ended up where he was. He told me about how he had dropped out of school to sell drugs with his uncle. That was something I had never been tempted to do. That was never even an option put in front of me growing up.
He said, “Paul when you were in school people probably asked you what college you wanted to go to and what kind of job you wanted when you graduated.”
Brian was right. dropping out of school wasn’t something that was ever even a real thing in my world. He said, “My dad, brother, uncle, and cousins all dropped out of school to sell drugs. It’s what you did in my family. There wasn’t another option. No one in my family ever graduated high school.”
I began to realize there was a difference. We both grew up in an America where you can be anything you want to be. But I grew up in an America where the support, resources, and plans were laid out in front of me. Brian grew up in a different kind of America. Going to college was only a realistic option for some. I began to think about how my life would have been different if I had grown up in Brians America. I’m sure I would have made different choices.
After a few times in jail, Brian decided he was going to break the cycle. He went to the shelter because he had to leave the town he was in. He felt like his life could be at risk if he told his family he wanted out of their way of life. At the shelter he had access to food, a job coach, and other resources. Brian had never even been taught how to make a resume or fill out an application.
I don’t know what happened to Brian, but I know that his chances weren’t good. Statistics were not in his favor because of his criminal history, level of education, family dynamic, and the color of his skin. Those aren’t opinions. They’re facts. America can be a great place if you’re white and raised in the right community and family.
We love success stories. People always talk about individuals who rose above their situation to become something great. Those are good and inspiring stories. What Brian taught me is, that’s rare. It’s not the norm because it’s just a fairy tale to some people.
This is only one of the reasons protests are happening. Our educational system, the criminal justice system, economy, and healthcare system are all skewed. If you look at the statistics, their all skewed in your favor if you’re wealthy and/or white. That’s not an opinion, it’s data.
Data Isn’t Enough
If I’m honest, the data usually isn’t enough to convince me. It should be. The truth is, my eyes become more open when I walk along with someone who comes from a different life. When I hear their story, hear their pain, hear their passion my own life begins to change. If mere words and statistics were all that mattered, why did Jesus come to live among us? It’s because something different happens in relationship that’s more than informing. Facts can inform, relationships transform.
Now I have to make a very clear point here. White people aren’t Jesus trying to save people. While I’m using Jesus’ example, I’m not comparing any of us to Jesus. We need saving. Like the disciples, we need to be saved from our hurts, hangups, and poor perspectives of God.
I challenge you to find someone who is on a different side of this issue or any issue and walk with them. Do some life with them. Hear their heart. Pray with them. Worship with them. Eat with them. Let God use those relationships to begin to reveal His truth so the healing can begin.