“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD
and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.
And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many
on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.
And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them,
O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.” Ezekiel 37:1-4
In this morning’s devotional reading from A Slice of Infinity I read,
“There are some scenes in life we approach with utter dismay and fear at our ability to make a difference or accomplish the charge before us.”
The curser on this screen seems to taunt and dare me to pick up my cross now and #GoThere.
To speak or not to speak? That’s a real question. I want to speak no, I want to scream at all the violence and injustice in the world. In my country, In my state, my town— my street.
Heck… in my stinkin’ heart.
In response to a N.Y Times inquiry asking “What’s Wrong With the World?”
G. K. Chesterton said it best:
“Dear Sirs, I am.”
That’s the way I feel right now. That’s the way I feel even on my best days:
I am what’s wrong with the world.
Some days I feel like there’s nothing I can do about the horrors before me.
Experts are assembling on all sides representing schools of thought and opinion on everything from racism and suicide to genocide and biological pandemics. The airwaves aren’t just buzzing, they’re teeming with swarms of angry wanna-be’s dive-bombing issues from every angle and missing the mark almost every time.
I’ve hesitated to join them. Because I’m an expert in one thing only: my personal experiences with these subjects as I’ve walked with God. I can’t speak much further than this and yet I’ve been called/invited/dared to share from here.
And people? I’m scared.
Why? Did you ask why? I hope so because that’s another question demanding an answer. Why are we scared to share honestly from our personal experience?
So, before I decided to “go there” I called on a friend who “lives there”. We’ve been doing life together for almost 5 years. We’ve traveled this road before but we never drew any lines.. we’ve simply been trying to live this sometimes difficult and dirty life as cleanly as possible… both of us trying to carry our cross and be a bridge for others to cross over at the same time.
It hasn’t always been pretty but it’s been real and the trust and love we have for one another is rooted in our love for Christ and based on times spent in hard conversation. Real and hard. This was no exception and as I listened to her heart on the subject of racism together we lamented it’s root cause and existence in so many areas today. I know it affects her and the people we love and I hate it.
She also listened to my heart as I expressed that I feel like I’ve been a victim of racism too. Not in the same way no, not at all, but because it exists and is a real problem, because I have white skin I’ve been treated like I might be guilty of racism until I can show that I’m not.
That hurts too.
It’s hard to be a voice when you are shut out of the conversation because you are considered responsible for the sins of people you never met and somehow must make amends for them. Or please.. just be quiet because you can’t possibly understand.
Can I help that?
Can I try?
My early years were spent in New Jersey.
I can’t remember any experiences with this kind of racism because it was never spelled out to me that way. I think my parents were fairly grounded in this area but I can’t say for sure because they never talked about it. My neighborhood was predominantly white but I can’t tell you why. We had a black mailman— Lee, and he was invited in for lunch a lot. We went to his house a few times and played with his kids. It was normal.
Oh yes, we had our racial lines but they were divided up differently— “Spics”, “Krauts”, “Pollocks”, “Wops” — I heard those words sometimes. Raised in a trailer park, I heard other words too but they were rooted in something much different than nationality.
When I moved South I heard another word and felt another anger I’d never understood before: “Yankee”. It took me many years to navigate the troubles that my “sin” of being raised in the North insisted upon my person. Combine that with being poor and from a broken home with a strange accent and it’s a nice, nasty soup.
Outcast, ostracized and abused, I was rejected on many different grounds. I don’t talk in these kinds of terms very often because I’m not looking for sympathy. I firmly believe it’s not where you come from, it’s where you are going. I’m not a victim.. or a survivor. No, I am a child of God walking the rough road to glory like so many others.
However my past is a gift because it’s given me the ability to see and feel differently. And I do. From this perspective I believe that kindness is the cure. I know, it’s naive but it’s exactly what Jesus taught and I guess I’ve been so hungry for kindness myself that I just keep trying even when it’s hard.
Even when it’s not welcome.
It’s also given me the courage to speak up when I need to but I’ll confess that this time, I’m trembling over what I’m being asked to speak into. Terrified.
Terrified of being misunderstood.
Because there is so much at stake and there is so much anger over who really owns and has a right to speak into this issue and who just needs to hush up, listen and “do better”. Because I really do care about the cause of Christ and ministering hope to my hurting brothers and sisters of every race, creed, color, addiction or lifestyle.
I’m terrified because I’ve been here before.
It was 28 years ago. (gasp!) I was attending a small but decent private college where my foster mother worked. I didn’t fit into the affluent lifestyle most of the other students lived and considering my “outsider status” I really didn’t have many friends. OK.. so I was also weird! I couldn’t afford the sorority thing so rather than fuss about it, I affected an “I don’t care” attitude and busied myself as a student instead.
At that time there was a small group of black girls who also had a hard time fitting in. Over time and shared classes, I got to know them and they let me hang around. Maybe it helped that I offered to help with papers…or maybe they liked me? I don’t know.
I can’t remember the exact circumstances but one night I stayed on campus to help proofread and type a paper for one of the girls. The mood was heavy and dark and after a while the conversation came around to their bitter disappointment at being rejected by one of the campus sororities. We were pretty sure we knew why and it had nothing to do with money. WE were mad.
Then it happened.
The girl I was typing for suggested they ought to start their own black sorority. Something like that. Y’all. I just felt it deep down… the injustice and the inequality fueling more injustice and inequality and I said something I’ve regretted to this day:
I said, “I don’t think that’s right either because…”
I never got to finish that thought.
The three of them launched into a tirade, shouting hard, loud, angry words at me with such venom and emotion that the girl I was typing for fell out in a full-blown epileptic seizure. She bit her tongue and was bleeding. I felt awful. The other two put me out in the hall and shut the door.
Standing there with her paper in hand, feeling helplessly misunderstood, there was nothing I could say or do. So I went down the hall to the common room and finished correcting and typing her paper. Later I knocked but nobody opened so I slipped it under the door and went to bed.
They never spoke to me again.
It’s been almost 28 years. I’d like to finish my sentence now.
“I don’t think that’s right either because making a separate sorority won’t bring about true equality. We need to work together to make the change.”
I know. It’s hard and I’m naive but that’s what I believe and have been trying to live.
I’m happy to say that I’ve been back to that campus in the last few years and from what I can see, there is a healthy representation of many cultures. It didn’t happen overnight and I wasn’t there to participate in the change.. or was I? Maybe I was… maybe we all were?
Because those kinds of changes only happen in those daily moment by moment conversations of mutual respect for and in spite of our differences. When we ALL stop blaming and begin reclaiming territory stolen by evil and build upon the foundations of real Gospel love. When we stop just talking and do more daily walking with each other… in the rain, in the sun..doing real life together.
When we recognize the problems—the dry bones in the valley before us— are not simply black and white skin issues but black and white sin issues and there’s violence and thuggin on all sides because of it.
The devotional writer this morning said it so well:
“In the valley that tired and overwhelmed him, Ezekiel was questioned by the one who put him there….His answer is both evidence to his wisdom
and perhaps also a glimpse of his skepticism…(and) he offers a reflection on the one who asked: “O Lord God, You know.” Ezekiel gives the task back to God and then proceeds to follow God’s instructions to speak the bones to life.”
I’ve been a wreck since returning from Africa. I served and I was served. I didn’t go serve a nation of brown skinned people so I could come back home and feel better in my white skin. I went to serve God and served with brothers and sisters who are serving there still. God help me if I’m not back home to do the same.
I’ve been a wreck and it’s been hard for me to pinpoint what happened in my soul this time. Looking down over the valley of all this anguish and pain, I didn’t know how to express it. Then last Sunday a sweet guest minister told us how, after spending hours in the Word day after day, his mentor challenged him with these words: “Yes, but did you see Jesus?” and pointed him to Matthew 25: 32-40.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it
to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
That’s it! I’ve seen Jesus!
He was high and lifted up… EXALTED! And I want to continue to see Him here and now. Whatever it takes…I want to see Jesus and show others the way to seeing Him too.
Recognizing that our prayerful obedience to God in these ways and in all these issues before us is God’s “Plan A”… and we as His body and temple manifest here on earth are His “Plan BE”.
In the lives of others struggling with darkness right where we are.
In the places stricken with diseases.
In the war-torn places wherever violence is found.
In the #Fergussons brewing all around us.
In the places where innocence is stolen.
Everywhere and at all times.
It’s a huge valley of dry bones before us. God has lifted us up and has set us down in their midst… asking us to speak His living Word and live it out loud before them. But only He knows how to bring those bones back together and I trust Him to do it.
Because I’m not just a white girl from the North now living in the South willing to “go there”. I’m a sister, a sinner saved by grace willing to go there and beyond… to keep moving and being moved by God because the days are short and there’s much hard work to be done and I want us all to be working together.
“So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” Ezekiel 37:10