Racism and Policing: Sitting in the Tension and Seeking Healing

I will get some things wrong, most likely a lot of things. I will miss something, and fumble through. And, I will do my best to describe the tension I’m attempting to hold while avoiding the binary choices the government, the media, and the masses appear to be suggesting. I can’t stop thinking about the pain and fear I see spilled out on the internet all day every day via hateful memes, name-calling, finger-pointing, us vs. them, either/or, tribalistic, angry rants. I believe we need to start talking about how to stand up for what’s right without perpetuating hate. I believe we need to start talking about how to advocate for holy causes without creating unholy wars on our social media accounts, in our families, neighborhoods, communities, churches, states, and country. I believe we need to press into the hard work it takes to have uncomfortable, and more importantly, humble conversations that result in the kind of change that comes from radical love and courageous action.  

As I read the rhetoric on both sides of the issue of police brutality and systemic racism, I keep coming back to the falsehood of dualistic thinking. I keep clinging to, “yes/and,” while trying to reject the natural response of “either/or.” I struggle to avoid binary choices while continuing to practice non-judgment of those I disagree with. It is uncomfortable and lonely to avoid sides, because choosing a side brings immediate belonging. But, I choose to sit in the discomfort, and plead for God’s love to consume my heart so that I may learn to love others as He loves us all. 

What I know is that I have yet to see or feel the value in clinging to sides, digging into being right, staking my claim, or protecting my tribe at all costs. What I know is that I’ve consistently witnessed good fruit grow from loving, listening, and holding grace with open arms. There has never been a time in my life when I’ve felt a more desperate need to find nuance, while attempting to push mass incivility out of my heart and mind. Rather than run to a side and hunker down in an echo chamber filled with people who agree with me, I believe God is calling me to deeply know that I am no more righteous than my neighbor…that my feelings and opinions are not the only ones that matter…that I don’t have it ALL right, and I never will…that I am living in a broken world that breaks people, and that bold action with a foundation of love and grace will bring healing. 

  • Being right doesn’t bring healing. 
  • Name-calling and pointing fingers don’t bring healing. 
  • Pressing into our agenda doesn’t bring healing. 
  • Shame and blame don’t bring healing. 
  • Weaponizing our words doesn’t bring healing. 
  • Spouting statistics and building defenses don’t bring healing. 
  • Gearing up for the next gotcha doesn’t bring healing. 
  • Memes don’t bring healing.  
  • Cancel Culture doesn’t bring healing.  

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  • Healing comes from moving towards that still small voice of the Spirit. 
  • Healing comes from listening. 
  • Healing comes from grace, love, and forgiveness. 
  • Healing comes from putting understanding above being understood.
  • Healing comes from allowing ourselves and others to express the emotions that make our bodies sick when kept inside.  
  • Healing comes from community…communing. 
  • Healing comes from validating one another’s trauma and doing no harm.
  • Healing comes from expressing God’s love with our actions, our words, our insistence on putting others before ourselves. 
  • Healing comes from pressing into difficult conversations with a hunger to hear over being heard.
  • Healing comes from de-centering ourselves and making the human being sitting across from us, God’s own creation sitting across from us, more essential.
  • Healing comes from restorative dialogue.
  • Healing comes from healthy boundaries. 
  • Healing comes from learning what weighs heavy on another’s heart and then pursuing an avenue to lift that weight so that they can soar.  
  • Healing comes from loving the other as they need to be loved without conditions. 
  • Healing comes from allowing the grace of God to show us how to lift another up, protect another’s heart, save another’s life, vote in another’s favor.
  • Healing comes from dismantling structures that allow for abuse, developing policies that lift up the oppressed, creating solutions that are equitable for all, and putting others first as Jesus ALWAYS did! Others first: Every. Single. Time. 

I’m not capable of being the hands and feet of Jesus without his direct movement in my heart, and I’m seeking that movement, praying for that movement, hopeful for that movement as I continue to fight the urge to enter a battle that appears to call for “othering” and division.  

The world, the news, many people I follow on social media suggest I choose between all Black people or all police. The love of Jesus tells me that this is not the choice. The love of Jesus tells me that there is hope for change, hope for restoration, hope for redemption, hope for freedom, and that it stems from a love that permeates our core, a love that calls us to lay our lives down for another, a love that sacrifices self, religion, world-views, politics…a love that calls for death to self. 

As I press in, listen, learn, read, and pray about the next action step I should take to fight racism in our country, I am also holding many “yes/ands” in a tension so great I think my heart will tear down the middle if I don’t disconnect from the dualistic commentary pulling, pressing, pushing us apart in every corner of our lives.  

There is so much I have yet to learn, tomorrow may bring a new set of eyes, AND today my “yes/ands” sound like this:

Our country suffers from systemic racism.
There are police officers who deserve our gratitude.

Policing is born from the evil seed of slave patrols.
There are police officers who abhor evil and selflessly lay their lives on the line each day to serve and protect.  

There are policies steeped in racism that lead to the destruction of Black lives and protect racist police.
There are police officers who would sacrifice their lives to save anyone regardless of their skin color.

There are deadly consequences in communities of color when police breathe air they don’t know is racist.
There are police who have worked to build trusting relationships in Black communities.

There are rioters taking advantage of the cause of peaceful protestors.
The majority of people taking to the streets are doing so peacefully.

There are police pepper-spraying and shooting rubber bullets into peaceful crowds.
There are police officers kneeling and marching with peaceful protestors.

The brutality perpetuated on Black bodies by those who are supposed to protect and serve is sickening. 
There are officers who wear their badge with the spirit of a guardian rather than a soldier. 

There is an urgent need for re-evaluation, re-focus, re-structure, and reform in our country’s policing.
There are men and women in blue who put their lives on the line every day to serve their communities.

I do not know or agree with everything the BLM organization stands for.
I agree and loudly declare without hesitation that Black Lives Matter.  

I empathize with the rage, and do so without judgment.
I do not condone rioting and violence.

I do not believe looting is a solution.
I do believe that no matter the looting, murder is worse, and excusing murder by police must end.

I mourn the loss of Black lives.
I mourn the loss of cops killed in the line of duty.    

Ultimately, what I hope and pray for while I hold these “yes/ands” is that the Lord will transform my heart and thoughts to be more in alignment with his. I continue to ask Him for wisdom on how to better love my neighbor, my enemy, my fellow human who was created in the image of God. I continue to pray for his eyes, his heart, his guidance on how I can move and breathe in a way that will lift up the marginalized, protect the oppressed, and stand for the disenfranchised. I continue to ask him what it is I can do to be a light in the midst of collective mourning.

I continue to pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, please help us navigate this fractured world in a way that mends the broken-hearted and avoids the creation of deeper fault lines in the souls of your precious creations. Help us to tear down the walls of injustice and destroy the power structures that create inequity and inequality while also building bridges of love and restoration.  In Jesus name, Amen. 

A Letter to Mormons

Dear Mormon Neighbors,

Having lived in Gilbert for most of my life, we have been visited by many young, passionate, Mormon missionaries throughout the years. Recently they have been offering their help with anything we may need assistance with. These exchanges always include the typical pleasantries where I thank them for their generous offer, and add that, “no, we don’t need help with anything at this time.” After their last visit however, as the young men pedaled away, I realized that I do have a request. A request that has been bubbling beneath the surface, unspoken for quite some time now. A desire that began formulating in my grade school years and has been refined since having children of my own. The next time a Mormon missionary asks if there’s anything they can do for me, I’m going to humbly and vulnerably reply as follows:

  • Please teach your children to be inclusive of my non-mormon children and please guide them to carry that inclusion past grade school, into middle school, and throughout high school.
  • Please encourage your children to sit with mine in the lunchroom.
  • Please permit your kids to invite my kids to their slumber parties, birthday parties, and weekend get togethers even AFTER my child has made it clear that he or she is not interested in attending fireside, seminary, or church with your family.
  • Please allow your teen to go with mine to school dances, athletic events, and group dinners trusting that just like you, my husband and I have done the best we know how to raise a teenager who knows right from wrong.
  • Please welcome my children into your homes and permit your children to visit ours.
  • Please ask your kids to consider how isolating it must be on “Seminary (extra credit) Days” for those kids who do NOT come to school dressed for church.
  • Please reflect on the fact that adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours comparing themselves to their peers, so when they recognize that it would never be “acceptable” to date your son or daughter or be your son or daughter’s best friend, it is, at best, damaging to their delicate self-esteem.
  • Please call to mind your younger years when your primary objective was to be loved and accepted for who you were without having to pretend you were someone else.
  • Please understand that my families faith also emphasizes the importance of loving others, giving of ourselves, forgiving those who have wronged us and seeking forgiveness when we wrong others, doing what is right and turning from evil, seeking a relationship with God, spending time in prayer, and living a life inspired by Jesus.
  • Please support your children in having open, vulnerable, honest, transparent, loving, kind, accepting conversations with my children about what they believe and why. In fact, while our kids are having that “grown-up” conversation, I also hope to enter into this depth of sharing with you…the Mormon parent.
  • Please know that I hold your child in the same regard as any other child who shares my family’s faith or who prescribes to no religion at all. Your child is special, and beautiful, and worthy of my love and caring regardless of doctrine or theology.
  • Please believe that I see our differences as an opportunity for us to grow together in loving-acceptance. God did not call us to “tolerate” our neighbors. He called us to Love. I love and welcome you, your family, and your faith because we are all children of God made in His image. Your faith is a sizable component of who you are, and you are God’s creation with gifts and beauty and a soul that has the ability to positively transform my life with each encounter.

As these hopes for my children spill out, I realize that these are the same yearnings I had when I was too young to express them and they remain yearnings for me now. I would like to know my Mormon neighbors. I would like for us to share our celebrations and mourn our losses together. I would like to enter into deep relationships with you that allow us to celebrate our differences and lift each other up versus silently judging one another from across the street or the backyard fence. I would like us to hug and share dinners, and text jokes, and go to movies, and have pool parties, and discuss politics, and cry and laugh, and live life together. These desires have never been expressed because I never felt important enough to express them, but now that I have children there is nothing more vital than ensuring they have a deep sense of belonging to this village we chose to raise them in.

For decades now I have felt an invisible yet palpable partition between my family and our mormon neighbors…a silent criterion that has said, “we can’t be that close…we can’t walk this life together too often, we can’t be intimate friends unless we share the same faith.” I want to tear down this barricade and abolish this silent destroyer of fellowship. I fear we are forfeiting valuable friendships and life-changing communion with one another as we allow religion to segregate our lives.

We are not that different. Our children are not that different. We are all living in a beautiful yet broken world doing the best we can with what we have. With inclusion and acceptance we can lighten each other’s burdens and love each other through the brokenness. We are all damaged humans, so let’s be damaged together. As our fractured pieces are assembled together, we will transform into a magnificent and vast tapestry of vibrant hues and unity…we can weave our hearts into a community of “us”…dynamic threads of surviving souls stretching out to reach each other, love each other, understand each other….staying true to ourselves while supporting one another. Loved and loving! Fully belonging!

Sincerely,

Renee’ (your hopeful neighbor)

P.S. I am not proposing that Mormons are the only religious group that could receive a request comparable to this one, or that this applies to every Mormon. I’m also not assuming that I wouldn’t, myself, benefit from reading the same words and applying them to my life with regards to another group or an “other,” an “outsider.” I believe every religion and every denomination could benefit from being more inclusive, but I write this letter in relation to my own experiences and memories and the concerns I have for my children. My Jewish/Agnostic husband could write an identical letter, based on his history, and just change the greeting to Dear Christians or Dear Italian Catholics. We can all admit that it feels good to belong to a group, but too often it’s at the expense of living a life void of those who are different from us, and I believe this is a tragedy. It is exhausting to correctly locate and consistently remain in the good graces of the right “club” these days. Race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, political affiliation, socio-economic status, neighborhood, state, coast, country, profession, and the list of ways we etch the invisible line goes on and on. I find that when I try too hard to belong to a particular group I lose sight of God’s vision for my life, which starts with loving “others” the way He loves me. We are created for community, and I believe our lives will always be richer if we truly follow God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I pray that God will give us the courage to knock down walls, the strength to build bridges, and the grace to love with out qualifiers. I pray that my children will grow up loved and loving! Fully belonging!