Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hurts, Hymns & Healing: Lamenting The City I Love

For the last few days my heart has been heavy with sorrow for the city that I have grown up in and loved all of  my life. Like many around the country, I hoped that such a thing would not happen in my city, that somehow we would not be touched by the racism and violence that has broken out around our nation. This was naive optimism - and unrealistic. So when the news broke of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, my heart sank. It first came on the local news two nights ago. I saw it right before I went to bed and I prayed for the city I loved and for what was surely to come. In circumstances such as these, as Christians, we should lament. 

This morning, I knew I was going to one of my stores that was near where the protests and rioting happened last night. There were those who asked me, "Are you really going to go there?" My answer was a resounding "Yes," not only because it's my job but, more importantly, I believed God wanted me to go there. There are people in that store I deeply care about and pray for. It is a predominately Hispanic and African American, so I prayed during my morning commute on how I could best be Christ-like in the midst of the hurt and anger our city is struggling with in terms of racism. I prayed that God would give me the right words to speak and, more importantly, the ears to listen.

The sky overhead was gray and melancholy, as if it reflected not only my spirit, but the spirit of this city right now. Driving up I-85, when I first saw Charlotte in the distance, I truly felt moved with compassion for this ornately beautiful city that so often gleams in the sunlight, but was now dimmer with the cloudy sky. Then Audrey Assad's gently voice came on and she began to sing the hymn "Be Thou My Vision." 

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart 
Naught else to save me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Walking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

There is such healing in those words. I love hymns for the power and depth and richness they contain. As I listened to this one, I couldn't help but think, "What if we truly saw the world through the eyes of Christ, how much differently would it look to us?" If we could see each other with his compassion, mercy, tenderness, and grace then how much would we and those around us be transformed by it?  If we did, there would be no "other," no "us" and "them." There is no love in otherness, only judgment. We cannot love in an "us' and "them" scenario. And we are called to love, to love as Christ loved: unconditionally. In the kingdom of heaven there is no "other," so is it any wonder we are then called to pray and strive for "on earth as it is in heaven?"

When I arrived at the store, sure enough, I was approached by people of another ethnicity who knew me and wanted to know what I thought about the situation. I spoke of my sorrow for both sides and how I hoped that, in the midst of this brokenness, we can find true healing and wholeness, that I hoped and prayed that this would lead to real understanding and reconciliation. Certainly I long, as the prophet Amos did, for "justice to roll down like a streaming river." But then I listened. I listened to what they had to say. 

How much would our society changed if we stopped reacting and started listening?  To hear another person, to know their story, to be present with them in their time of hurt or sorrow or anger. To hold that and to shed tears with them or an embrace is to be as Christ. He did not build bigger walls but a bigger table for all to come to. How then can I not do likewise if I claim to follow him?

It's not easy. It's not always comfortable. But it is compassionate. It is our calling.

I grew up in this "Christ-haunted South" and I have seen the racism that runs deep in it. I understood the protests taking place at Trade and Tryon in downtown where there were once slave auctions. I know the racism of the South I have grown up in. But I also recognize that it is also deep down inside of fallen me. And I must face that. Our country must face this. Because there can be no repentance and no healing for that which we do not recognize and admit is there. 

For my city and my country, I pray daily for peace, justice and reconciliation. But that is not enough. I must also work towards it. And to teach me sons to do likewise. To see people as people with real stories and dreams and aspirations and sorrows and joys and brokenness. Christ has called us to love our neighbor - all of them. We cannot love what we fear. Yet what we fear is merely a projection of what we fear and do not like in ourselves. Thankfully, perfect love casts out all fear. 

This week marked the anniversary of two men who I have never met but who have deeply impacted and shaped my faith: Rich Mullins and Henri Nouwen. Both men were highly successful in their fields (music and theology). Rich was a hugely successful Christian recording artist yet he gave away most of his millions and lived on only what the salary was for the average American. He also chose not to live in a mansion but left Nashville for New Mexico to work with impoverished kids on the Navajo reservation.

Something he once said that has stayed with me over the years was this:

Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche
in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and 
your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where
you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. 
Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and
Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken.

And Henri Nouwen was the same way.

He was a well-known and well-respected Dutch priest, theologian, author and speaker. In the course of his career, he taught at the University of Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard but he left all of that to work with the physically and mentally handicapped people of the L'Arche Daybreak Community. This was started by Jean Vanier in 1964 and they work with those who have special needs, many of them severely challenged.  Many did not understand what would cause Nouwen to do such a thing.  While he wrote about how hard this work could be, he also showed how he had never been closer to Christ than when he was taking care of someone who couldn't even clean or bathe themselves.

Nouwen once wrote:

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into
the places of pain,t o share in brokenness, fear, confusion
and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with
those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely,
to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be
weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable,
and powerless with the powerless. Compassion
means full immersion in the condition of being human,

When I think of the legacy of both of these men, it is not one of selfishness and ambition, but of love and compassion and mercy and tenderness for the forgotten, the hurting, the broken, the lonely, and those who society pushes to the fringes, who we so often do not see because to see their hurts or their disabilities or their pains would be to recognize our own and we don't like doing that. 

Healing in Charlotte does not start with those protesting, or with the police, or with the local government. It starts with me. Social justice, as I have seen so often in the Old Testament with the prophets, begins with the individual admitting their own sinfulness and then moves out to recognizing the sins of the city and the nation. 

I pray. Constantly. For my own heart to heal. To see my own hidden racism. To see my own complicity with the broken and fallen world. I confess my sinfulness and cry out to God in lament for myself, my city and my nation. I pray that God removes that fear. I pray that I can truly see through the loving eyes of Christ. I pray that all of this is the first step toward my city's and my nation's healing when it comes to that sin or racism that has soaked this nation's soil from the backs of slaves to today. 

I pray that the grace and mercy God has extended to me will be the same that I desire to extend to others. I pray that others can see that I am a follower of Christ by my love, that it mirrors his love. If I don't, how else will the world begin to change? I cannot change the world, I can only change myself through Christ. I pray that that change begins today and to those I have hurt, I offer this, "I'm sorry."

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