"We Christians, in particular, need to face the degree to which white Christianity has failed – grievously, tragically, unarguably failed – to teach its white adherents to love their non-white neighbors as themselves." It was these words of Brian McLaren in his reflections 'What I Saw In Charlottesville' that convicted me in my walk as a disciple of Jesus to speak out against the injustice of racism and bigotry while at the Charlottesville Vigil here in YYC. After witnessing the brutal violence and death of Heather Heyer as a vehicle careened into a crowd of demonstrators last weekend, my heart raced with emotions as one sign at the vigil exclaimed in Heyer's last posted tweet, "If you are not outraged, your not paying attention!".
Arriving in front of City Hall, there was a fair sized crowd that had gathered around the platform. I saw people groups from many ethnicities and culture along with members from the LGBTQ2 and the CAFA organization (Calgary Anti-Fascist Action). The only Christian presence I saw was a small group of women from Hillhurst United Church who stood with a long rainbow banner amidst the other onlookers. I couldn't help but feel as though the church has truly lost its voice to cry out for justice and offer comfort to the oppressed. Is this not truly the place where followers of Jesus would gather with the diversity of our communities and speak for truth and stand for the rights of all people as the body of Christ?!
The vigil opened with the singing of a Cree song of welcome and unity led by a Metis woman with her young son standing beside her as we shared in lighting candles and holding them up in remembrance. I couldn't help but reflect on the words of Martin Luther King as I stared into the flickering flame, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Several people went on to share of the unjust rhetoric being spoken in both Canada and the United States by public citizens and political leaders. It was evident that we were both remembering and grieving the losses of last weekends violence but also standing in solidarity against the principles of hate and racism that drove such unjust actions and beliefs.
Sitting in silence I felt the voice of God seeming to speak out, “Whom shall I send, and who will go?" In the spirit of Isaiah, I cried out, “Here I am! Send me.” But with a Church that has lost its understanding and vision for bringing freedom to the captives and liberty to the oppressed, what can we do to reimagine this call of the Spirit?! Where are we to start?!
Imagine All The People...
"I have surely seen the affliction of my people... and have heard their cry..." These were the words of the God YHWH out of the Book of Exodus as he bared witness to the injustices and enslavement of the Hebrew people by the Egyptians. It wrecks my soul to think of the depth in heart and emotion for the Holy Devine to acknowledge such a moment in time and the suffering of a people in the spaces of all creation when I fail to truly see and hear the cries of oppression in my own backyard.
As Canadians, I think we like to think racism and bigotry do not exist in our society. Yet, it was a short stocky East Indian lady who stood on the platform boldly telling the story of her friend Nimra Amjad who was running for the school board, With her friend boldly standing beside her she spoke with courage, "They told her, 'Paki bitch! What right do you have to run for office in Canada? We will find out where you live, the Aryan Guard will find you. Beware.'" How could this be happening in my own city?! How can this hatred be in a modern mature society?! How could I, and everyone else, be so blinded by the privileges of suburban exclusion to not even be aware of such bigotry in our city?!
The words of the Israelite God YHWH seem to point to a way of finding a start by creating deeper relationships with our ethnically and culturally different neighbours and truly listening to their stories and experiences. We cannot simply allow our narrow boxes of reality and personal beliefs confine us into the loss of relationship with such unique and amazing people and the riches of their worldview. Invite them over for suppers; knock on their doors while sitting at their kitchen tables for coffee or tea; walk with them in the local parks and discover their sacred places of belief and identity; build, renovate, and construct each others homes. And when voices of bigotry and racism speak against them, stand up beside them on the platform in front of City Hall and cry, "THIS IS WRONG!!"
... Having Become One And Enacting...
"I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them..." The God YHWH continues to show the way as he not only sees and hears of the Hebrews oppression, but he experiences it himself and takes action to bring a change of justice to the people. This was a radical emancipation not just for the Israelites but the freeing of the Egyptians from the institutional and ideological enslavements of their idols, beliefs, and false gods too.
In an article of the 'Independent Journal Review' titled 'This Man Spent Decades Befriending KKK Members', Daryl Davis, a black African American, tells his story of how he went around the country befriending hundreds of KKK members with the simple question, "How can you hate me when you don't even know me?" In his own words...
"It’s a wonderful thing when you see a light bulb pop on in their heads or they call you and tell you they are quitting. I never set out to convert anyone in the Klan. I just set out to get an answer to my question: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” I simply gave them a chance to get to know me and treat them the way I want to be treated.
They come to their own conclusion that this ideology is no longer for them."
It seems remarkable to me that in the very Exodus story, it would be in Moses' obedience to God's call that YHWH's wonders would bring such an emancipation to the people. We must begin to realize that faith without action is dead and in the enfleshing of God's image (the imago Dei/Christi), we are called to "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause." (Isa. 1:17)
As we seek to be involved in our search for justice, we can join organizations that reflect our desire for reformation. Here are a few such organizations; join one, get involved, and become a radical emancipator!
... The Greater Wonder & Strength Of Diversity
It was a few years ago that I read Desmond Tutu's book 'No Future Without Forgiveness. Still, his words on ubuntu continue to move my soul:
"My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.” It is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are."
While I remain fervent in my own faith as a Christian, I think we must deeply learn to repent of the historical ideological imperialism in our religion if we are going to be able to authentically and with grace, pursue the cry of social justice and freedom for the oppressed. We must learn that we live in a city and land of diverse beliefs and religions as well as cultures, ethnicities, and worldview. This is not a weakness, but one of our greatest strengths in human identity.
It seems telling to observe that in YHWH's promise to deliver the Israelites, he didn't just promise to bring them to a land without history, diversity, or multi-ethnicity. He said he would, "bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites." This was a place of rich cultural and historical multi-ethnicities.
My experiences at the Charlottesville Vigil in Calgary has revealed to me a deep need for Christ's voice to be raised in real and concrete forms by his followers against the bigotry and hated taking root in YYC. We must rediscover the Spirit that led Martin Luther King in the 50's & 60's when he said, "All life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother's keeper because we are our brother's brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."