My Messy Beginning
This is our last post on our series of racial reconciliation and privilege perspectives. It has been an enriching, humbling, challenging ride. Thank you for all your comments to me! This last post comes from Joy Becker.
Joy Becker is a wife and mama living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She recently resigned from a twelve-year career as a literacy coach and first grade teacher to become a full time stay-at-home-mom with her two young darlings. She is a lover of new notebooks, October, and goat cheese, and a hater of traffic, scary movies, and overcooked asparagus. You can peek even further into her love for Jesus, food, motherhood, and friendship over at 44 & Oxford.
I prefer when my writing culminates into a complete thought, when stories and anecdotes sit with me long enough to reach a finish line. I tend not to hit that Publish button until I've drawn a conclusion, tidied things up, and feel a sense of a closure.
Today is different.
There is no sense of closure because I'm just beginning this journey. I have so many conclusions spinning in my head I hardly know what to do next. I'm in the midst of so much learning and thinking and questioning; it is terrifying and thrilling. There are days I'd like to rewind the clock to before I wrestled with privilege and injustice. I’d like to unread and unlearn information that has left me wondering how me - this affluent, white, stay-at-home mom in the suburbs of Cincinnati - can possibly be part of reconciliation. Other days I want to shake myself because I spent so many years missing it, looking right past it.
In the spring of 2016, I began reading the book Seven. Oh, to this day, there are times I wish I could unread it. God knocked the wind out of me within the pages of that book, awakening me to the intensity and responsibility of the privilege I was born into.
Up until that day, I had thought very little of privilege and what it looked like in my life. I suppose when privilege is your norm, it is easy to miss.
But soon I saw it everywhere.
I saw privilege when I opened my fridge, stared at shelves full of food, and ordered pizza because I didn’t feel like eating anything we had.
I saw privilege when I put my contacts in each morning because I’ve had resources to correct my failing eyes for nearly 30 years.
I saw privilege when I handed in my letter of resignation, voluntarily leaving my job to stay home with my children.
I saw privilege when I was pulled over for a missing headlight and never considered a police officer might treat me unfairly.
I saw privilege when I freely disagreed with colleagues and never thought twice that my race would be the backdrop for how others interpreted my words.
I saw privilege when our president was elected because as much as I hate how he speaks of the oppressed, I knew my day to day life would not be much different.
God put a fire in my gut the week I read that book, a restless stirring I haven’t been able to shake. I can’t stop reading and talking and asking questions. I can’t unlearn that I am in the top 1% of wealthiest people in the world, practically drowning in resources. I can’t pretend educational opportunities are the same for all children. I can’t ignore the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are desperately trying to come to America, and yet live such isolated lives once they are here. I can’t unsee the hate-filled eyes in those videos of Charlottesville.
This is my messy beginning, my shuffling along, fighting my way through the weeds, with my hands outstretched, asking God, "What now? What can you do with the hesitant offering of a woman prone to wander, resist, and cling to privilege? Can you dig it out by its ugly roots? Can you keep forgiving me? Can you make reconciliation my heart’s cry rather than an item on my to-do list?”
During the past year, I have looped through a cycle of emotions regarding the abundant advantages in my life.
I am ignorant.
I am overwhelmed.
I am disgusted.
I am paralyzed.
I am afraid.
I am humbled, forgiven, and obedient.
Those first five stages are fruitless at best; sinful if I’m honest, and I need to deal with them as such. I need to call out the sin in my life.
I am ignorant. That is sin. Ignorance is choosing foolishness. It is looking away from truth and ignoring the mind God gave me for learning and questioning and engaging. Ignorance is choosing oblivion to global and national crises, excusing myself because it's too sad, it's too hard.
I am overwhelmed. That is sin. I am looking to my own ability to solve injustice rather than following the lead of Him who came to change the world through servanthood. I am sinking into defeat, rather than clinging to a God of victory. Nothing is impossible for Him, and to be overwhelmed is to disregard the power of the Holy Spirit who is alive and active in me.
I am disgusted. That is sin. The Lord needed to bring me to a place of disgust, a harsh realization of my abundant privilege. But to stay in that place of guilt, apologizing for all I have, is to forget the One who gave it to me. He did not accidentally place me in this life at this time in history, and He is not interested in my apologies for living in America, for being white, for being educated, or for succeeding in a career.
I am paralyzed. That is sin. The reality of injustice is so thick and so heavy, I get lost in it. And then I do nothing. I stay in my neighborhood and in my home, with my conveniences and luxuries. I hang out with people who look like me and think like me. We talk about how thankful we are Jesus came to do all that messy work, but disengage ourselves from real action. Pretty soon, doing nothing is my norm.
I am afraid. This is sin. Fear will lie to me every time, coaxing me to believe injustice is too much for my God. Fear tells me I will fail if I seek reconciliation. Fear tells me I will say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing. Fear tells me I will put myself in danger and be in over my head. Fear tells me I will upset people and annoy my friends. But God did not give me a spirit of fear, and to believe otherwise is sin.
I am humbled, forgiven, and obedient. Confronting my own selfishness is miserable, but once each of those daggers have been humbly laid down, I can claim Christ’s forgiveness and move on to obedience.
The Bible tells me to feel the pain of others. Be wrecked by injustice. Be burdened. The Bible tells me to pray, and not just on the days after horrific events like Charlottesville, but to get on my knees every day, crying out for the broken and forgotten, repenting from my sins and the sins of this nation. The Bible says to be faithful in prayer, be persistent, keep bugging God to shake my soul and not look away from oppressive systems that have handed me a life of advantage.
This doesn’t have to be an either/or approach. I can carry on with my daily life and remember the marginalized around me. I can write on my blog about eating dessert in the bathroom, and I can write about racial reconciliation. I can take my children to our community pool where they see dozens of children who look just like them, and I can take them to a church where they are the racial minority. My husband and I can celebrate special occasions at overpriced restaurants, and we can volunteer with the Cincinnati Refugee Resettle Program. I can go to the gym to teach Zumba classes, and I can learn to correctly pronounce the names of the colored women in my class, not just the white students. I can talk with my girlfriends about curtains and crockpot dinners and playdates, and we can talk about teaching our children to stand up for others. I can read Real Simple magazine and I can read about how to love my friends of color well. I can pray with my children for God to heal their owies, and I can pray with my children for God to awaken their eyes and hearts to those who need love.
This isn’t a checklist. It isn’t more to add to my plate. It isn’t one or the other. It is awareness. It is courage. It is a transformation of my heart to move past the years I spent desiring peace and wishing well to those on the sidelines.
Jesus spent His life on the bottom rung of the ladder. He surrounded himself with the powerless, the outcasts, the bottom dwellers, the marginalized. By his own choosing, He never made it up past that bottom rung. But I was born on the top rung; I was born into a life so far from Jesus. White. American. Middle class. Educated. Excess everything. It is a life so many long for, but it is a life that has proven to be my greatest hindrance in knowing the true Jesus. It is so far from the Savior who said He was “close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18) and that “the highborn are but a lie” (Psalm 62:9). There is such a distance from me and the man who constantly cared for the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the needy. It is so much harder to “seek justice and encouraged the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17) from up on this top rung.
It’s ironic how you can read something a dozen times and always hope someone else is taking it to heart. How did I miss it?
In every corner of the Bible, God is screaming, begging, pleading, urging me to love mercy and justice, to care for the last and least. If I’m going to believe the Bible is the Word of God, then it seems God is obsessed with social justice, and He asking me to stay engaged and join Him.
This is my messy beginning.
A note from Mika, Amy, Precious, and Joy:
It has been a joy to share our hearts with you over the past month. The four of us have each been challenged, convicted, and inspired. We have each prayed earnestly for our readers, and for ourselves asking God to shake some souls and spur on conversations that would bring Him glory. We would love to end this series by praying for our nation, together pleading with God to heal and restore.
We come before You with our mess. We acknowledge our sin and repent from it. We need You to do your thing. We need your power to bring change because we know we are powerless without You.
I pray, God, that You would heal our nation and bring us to racial reconciliation. I pray that our hearts and minds would be changed and that change would lead to action. May our hearts break for the damage white supremacy has caused in our nation - that we would see it for the sin it is, and commit to not being complicit in it. I pray we would move outside our comfort zones, invite people into our homes that don’t look like us, and build relationships in an effort to reconcile.
I pray America would become comfortable with being uncomfortable and no longer shy away from our horrid past. I pray we would know that racial reconciliation is not simply a good option; it’s important to You. May our hearts remain pliable for You to mold and change; performing open heart surgery if necessary to make us into a people that not only embodies the ethos of reconciliation, but the life style. May our days be less comfortable and more courageous. May our love for You, Jesus, cause us to actively love our neighbors well.
I pray we would lay down our privilege to serve and to see. I pray we would open our hands and our eyes. We are in need of Your grace and Your grit to do and hear hard things. Lead us, Jesus. Please do exceedingly above what we ask.
Jesus, you change everything
Jesus, you change everything
Lyrics from Holy Ground