Sometimes, it's hard to tell if we are getting more and more polarized or if the internet and social media just make it appear that way. And maybe that's beside the point.
The last week or two, with violence erupting once again in the U.S., as black men are mistakenly murdered by police and then the retaliatory shootings of cops in Dallas, it seems there's a lot of entrenched ideas about . . . well, everything.
Every conversation about racism is a powder keg, it seems. Perhaps that is built into the situation and it's a situation built, most certainly in the U.S., by white people. And so many white people reading this have already gotten defensive.
I'm not sure I can trace my thought process on this, but one night I was responding to a post on Facebook and observed that for some white folks, we hear the phrase "white privilege" and we worry that this means we're accused of being intrinsically evil and for others of us, we find it a fitting description of something we've experienced.
I worked for several years in retail. Those stories from black people who say they're often followed in stores just for showing up black? Let me confirm them. The very few times that I was told by management to keep an eye on someone, it was a black person. I'd ask why and be told they looked suspicious, which I figured probably just meant black and so I didn't follow them around because I had a smidgen of awareness. Never mind that more often than not, our shoplifters were blond. The point is that when I first heard the phrase "white privilege," it gave a name to my experience in retail.
I've seen a lot of posts in the last week arguing about "Black Lives Matters." I don't know about about you, but when I first heard the phrase, I got it. I understood what it meant. While so many people see an invisible "Only" in front of it, I understood the silent "Also" at the end.
But too many people can't seem to grasp the thought that white people are privileged in this society and that white people can still be good people. We can't seem to grasp that a slogan that lifts up black people doesn't push down anyone else.
Maybe a good ol' Lutheran slogan us useful here.
Simul justus et peccator.
Simul - et. At the same time - and. We are justified and sinners. Not either/or. Both/and.
It occurs to me that I am both, anti-racism and a racist. I recognize and decry the sin of racism and I recognize that it is part of the fabric of my life, woven into how I move as a white male in a culture built by white men. I can say I have white privilege while recognizing the injustice in the system that gives it to me. I can say that black lives matter while knowing that I have benefited from a culture that has said that my life mattered more.
Paul tells us in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Romans "that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." I don't think he says this to guilt trip us and I would make all kinds of nuanced arguments about what "died for us" means, but it is fairly central to Christian theology that our salvation comes through grace, before any kind of deserving, without any kind of entitlement. We are justified---saved, if you will---while we are still sinners.
Accepting this takes some measure of humility. I don't want to be a racist, and yet if I reflect upon my meeting of certain categories of humanity---I still have initial reactions based on race. I recognize that is bad, it is a sin. As much and as often as I can, I try to confess that sin, if only to myself and God, and try to move past it.
After some internet conversations, I have mixed hoped about whether these few words will make a difference. Still, I type these words, hoping that they might open a crack for someone to understanding and love for people who are not our enemies.
Perhaps I type these words with the hope given to me by Abba Poemen:
Abba Poemen said, “Water is soft, and stone is hard. But if you hang up a
bottle of water so that it drips onto a stone, it will wear it away.
Thus it is with the Word of God. It is soft, and our mind is hard, but
those who hear the Word of God often open their hearts to the fear of
Simul - et. It is Gospel hope for us as we move forward in these troubled, violent times. Perhaps it is a window through which you can see white privilege and that black lives matter and maybe a host of other things as well.
It's a word that reminds us that we needn't be perfect ourselves before we speak out for justice.