Good Guys, Bad Guys and A Long-Overdue Apology

{A little over a year ago, I organized a #BlackLivesMatter protest in my city and preached a message on racial equality in my church. Some of what I said alienated my white friends, which I have been reluctant to address. I cannot back down on my position defending racial equality, but I see now that my tone lacked humility, and that was wrong. I hope I can be forgiven. I wrote this immediately following my sermon last year. Please read these words with this in mind.} 

“There’s a police man, Dad,” John observed aloud as we rounded the corner out of town.

“Those are good guys,” Josh informed him.

“So are we the bad guys?” John inquired.

“No, we’re good guys too,” Josh corrected him, likely befuddling the preschooler in the back seat.

Good guys and bad guys. When you’re four years old, that’s all there is. In my son’s world, it’s assumed if one person is good, the other must be bad.

But we know this is childish thinking, to only have two categories, to think in black and white. As we mature, we’re supposed to move beyond the lines and learn the art of nuance. To know that we ourselves, and everyone around us, is at once capable of great evil and great good.

Who are the bad guys? You and I.

Who are the good guys? You and I.

Yet we want so badly to categorize people, at least I do, to slide them into one column or another. Shoot, I have a Master’s degree in categorizing people: it’s called “diagnosing” in Social Work.

But outside of a medical setting, this is not merely childish thinking; it is lazy. It is a sign of an unwillingness to engage in the reality of pain in the world, and not just The World at large, but in the lives of our neighbors, friends and family.

This conversation between John and Josh struck a chord with me in light of the back and forth throughout the nation on the issue of racial politics. It seems everyone is choosing a side and villainizing the other. We feel in order to be loyal to one perspective or group of people, we must be aggressive and outspoken against the other.

In church two weeks ago, I preached on race relations and why white Christians may have missed this issue, and while many people appreciated the discussion, I offended some of my white friends in my community. At first I didn’t care because I thought, Who are you, white person, to tell me you are offended about hearing about race issues when it is your privilege that even allows you to ignore it in the first place? But after talking with one of my friends who found my direct approach distasteful, I realized my zeal to uplift the members of my community who are black unnecessarily undermined the white community members.  I apologize. That was not my intent.

I wanted to shout a wake-up call to the white community. I had part of the idea right, the longing for justice and respect. But where I missed it is that I, in humility, must remember the goal is empowerment of all parties involved. For example, if at the end of this conflict, we determine that justice for people of color means police officers are disrespected or white people lose rights or respect, then we have not won.

{Click photo for credit}

I am still trying to figure out my role here. I don’t want to follow the path of the white-Savior complex. I don’t want to be so arrogant to assume that because I am white, I have the power to pull up or elevate African-Americans to “my level”. I have seen great power come from a simple conversation where I ask a friend who is black, “What is it like to be black in America? What is your experience?” I will be doing more of that.

I do know I don’t want to be on a side anymore. I want to be a listener to the white people and the black people and the police officers and encourage equality and unity through humility and love. I want to go on record as always pursuing the Third Way.

Can I say I respect police officers and also deeply respect my fellow African-Americans who are longing for justice? Well, I want to say both because both are true.

People on every side of this issue hold opinions that are both just and unjust, right and wrong, but to varying degrees. And who is the ultimate judge between us?

The precedent the Bible sets on issues of Justice leaves no room for interpretation. From reading Scripture, we see God fight racial inequality and defend the voiceless, like when he struck Moses’ brother and sister with leprosy for their discrimination against his Ethiopian wife. In Proverbs, Solomon warns against showing favoritism to some people over others. And in his letter to the Galatians, Paul’s exhorts the church that we are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither woman or man, but all are one in Christ.

What’s more, Jesus identifies with humanity so much that he tell us how we interact with and honor each other is how we interact with and honor – or dishonor – him. 

Clearly, God’s goal is unity and equality without discrimination.

God’s call to us is to put down the weapons of right and wrong and to listen to the side of the other. We must choose empathy. Think for a moment with me:

What must it be like to a police officer who daily faces hatred from simply doing his job? By putting on a uniform and showing up for work each day, the police officer faces kickback, anger and even hatred because of something they are required by law to enforce. If a person has a bad experience with one police officer, future members of law enforcement will not be given the benefit of the doubt. They are all bad guys, some have concluded. But this is lazy thinking.

What must it be like to be the object of profiling, surveillance or violence just because of the color of your skin? What would it be like to feel that if someone killed you, especially someone who is tasked with enforcing the laws that are intended to protect your life, that your life would not be defended or held in equal value? What would it be like to be told by your family as a child that you need to accept the fact that you can’t go into certain parts of town dressed “like that”, or you can’t keep your hands in your pockets in the grocery store, only because of the color of your skin?

In America, by and large, black people are still not given the benefit of the doubt in a situation where their character is in question. The main reason I know this is because some of my friends who are black told me their stories. Are all black people being wrongly stereotyped and profiled by all white people and all police officers? Of course not. That is lazy thinking. But this is part of the story, and if we don’t hear this, we aren’t listening.

The truth is, we are dealing with people here, people who are made to be villains and heroes when neither of these are true.

I want to be part of the solution, to see black people treated with the respect and equality white people have historically enjoyed and come to expect, not just from law enforcement, but to see people of color given equal opportunities in the work place, in places of worship, academic institutions and in their neighborhoods.

I want to see police officers respected by the citizens they serve and protect. I want to see all people hold an appropriate amount of fear of their position, not fear of abuses, but because of the law they uphold and seek to enforce with the blind eye of Justice. And I want to see police officers held to the same standard they enforce.

But even more than that, I want to move beyond “good” and “bad” guys. I want to get out behind the walls language has created for us, literally making this a “black and white” issue. The inevitable result of Us vs. Them, of Police Officers Vs. African-Americans or White People vs. Black People is that there are only winners and losers.

Equality becomes impossible when there is competition. When one side advances, the other side retreats. When one group gains rights, the perspective is, the opposing group loses them. This broken thing will always result in war.

{Click photo for credit}

But I can’t encourage equality if I don’t live it. It will have to start with me.

So I’m sorry for the hammer I used to smash my white friends, which led them to believe I wanted them to be the losers. I am sorry for the ingratiating tone I used in my speech in which I hoped to uplift my black brothers and sisters, which implies that I believe pressing down one race will elevate another and perhaps level the so-called social playing field. I assume there are many who stopped listening to me because of my misguided approach.

Behaving this way says I missed it. This is not the way of heaven. If equality and unity are our goals, then we must move out from our stone-throwing positions. Instead we aim together for mutual empowerment, equality, which always means seeking the good of the other before oneself.

This is so hard to do, I know. I have been one of the worst offenders at side-picking and name-calling. I have felt a deep anger at whites who refuse to see their inherent privilege in a culture where nearly every stock photo in Google is someone who looks like them. And I have felt a great despair at the gap people of color feel is between “us and them”, that they don’t feel heard, that they might hate me for what I unknowingly do and don’t do.

But this is an internal battle first and foremost, and it is one worth fighting as equality of the oppressed will surely benefit not just those who are presently voiceless but those of us who have privilege and voice.

As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” implying that victories of Justice here, no matter how small, are a threat to injustice everywhere. 

If you want more help thinking through the logistics of racial reconciliation and what this looks like for us in real life, check out this insightful TED talk by Vernā Myers on confronting our biases with honesty and generosity.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, having open conversations with your friends who are black will surprise you. You will learn things you never knew simply because you never asked. You can set your mind and heart to listen and not defend yourself, then ask, “What is it like to be black in America? What is your experience?” This has been immensely helpful to both me and my friends.

If you’re still trying to decide where you stand or how relevant this is for us in our culture or in the church, listen to my husband’s message on a similar issue the early church encountered 2000 years ago and how they responded.

If you have not read Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have A Dream speech in a while, refresh your memory here.

Finally, may we remember that our work is effective when we aren’t satisfied with a “losing side” and a “winning side”, but when we can say that winning means all people, arm in arm, welcoming ones who are the same and different, with the goal of unity, equality and life together. 

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These stories pump water

I love brand new ideas, really good ones I wish I thought of. Don’t you?

Well, here’s one for you. Have you heard of CausePub yet? If you haven’t, you’re about to.

I just wrote a story for CausePub, an organization creating books for a cause through group-publishing. [Click here to read the story and vote]. [Their current book project is called Couch Rebels, a collection of stories about folks who rebelled against horizontal life and got up to do something, to change something, even if the thing they changed was themselves. The concept is genius. Here’s how it works.

  • CausePub identifies a charity or cause they want their book to support
  • CausePub solicits stories from adventurers and story-tellers
  • After stories are submitted, they approve the stories and post them to their site
  • Story-writers solicit votes from friends and strangers
  • CausePub selects great stories they love with the most votes
  • The Couch Rebel book will be published as a Kindle eBook on August 14. So soon!
  • When anyone purchases the book, the proceeds are divided between the cause, the writers and basic overhead costs.
  • For Couch Rebel, 50% of the proceeds will benefit Blood: Water Mission. The breakdown is in the graphic below.

[Follow CausePub on Twitter here and find them on Facebook here.]

Here’s where I need your help: I wrote a story for CausePub, and I need your vote.

The story is below. It’s a story about a time when God met me and my seatmate on a plane to Atlanta. I didn’t see it coming. I love this story because it makes me like God even more. Please read and take a second to click VOTE. Thank you so much.

What God Thinks About You

“So, where are you headed?” I asked the young brunette next to me to end the awkward silence. She smiled the stranger smile, as if wondering how long this conversation might take. “Somewhere tropical. With friends.” She needed a little prodding, and I wondered if I should just lay off. Instead, I offered my own less glamorous destination: Atlanta.

I attempted to stir the conversation with more questions about her destination, responding with appropriate amounts of awe and jealousy. I hoped we would catch a common thread in our lives and the chatter would take off, giving me an opportunity to eventually talk with her about Jesus.

But no such luck. The conversation flailed, and we politely took up our books. I leaned into the window, pretending to read, but inside I argued with myself, knowing God might have bigger plans for this three-hour plane ride.

Eventually, my discomfort with silence grew larger than my desire to be well-mannered company. “What are you reading?” I finally inquired. She stammered a bit. “It’s a little unconventional. I’m not sure I want to say.” She tucked the pink book cover down toward her lap. I attempted to reassure her I didn’t have plans to judge, but I wasn’t going to push it. But what was she reading?

“I’m reading about artificial insemination,” she offered hesitantly, waiting for the verdict to read on my face as she turned the cover toward me. “I’m not married yet, but I’m 35. And I want to have a baby.”

Oh.

Click the button below to keep reading and vote.

Vote

A squishy, floaty, sturdy, heavy thing called Love

Only the things done in love matter.

Only the things done in love weigh enough to stamp eternity. Everything else just floats off the surface as vapor.

It’s not the act. It’s the intent.

Love might wear you out, but it doesn’t get tired that easily.

Love lets you be where you are right now, knowing you won’t always be here. It knows This too shall pass.

Love is lighter than gravity with a terrible memory for the bad stuff people do.

Love is more a grandmother and less a police officer.

Love doesn’t look down in vulnerable moments. It just looks you square in the eye. And it doesn’t flinch at all that you’re uncomfortable.

Love chuckles at the past, beams bright toward the future and sits perfectly content in this moment. Because its a pretty good one.

Love isn’t in a hurry, doesn’t wish it was somewhere else. Love can silence the phone and taste dinner.

Love likes itself, doesn’t wish it was someone else. Love takes good care of itself, but isn’t self-obsessed. Love doesn’t belittle itself because it doesn’t need your compliments. And it’s confident enough to care about you, to really listen, to squat down next to you in the dirt and feel all you feel.

Love looks past sour, crusty shells to warm, squishy insides. And knows just the words to safely let the guts out.

Love listens because the stories are the people, and the people always matter.

Love can tell you you’re wrong so kind you won’t feel the sting. You will just be grateful. 

Indeed, only the things done in love matter.

Jesus is love. If you don’t know him yet, introduce yourself.

The battle of healing among the sick

It was about two and a half weeks ago, a Monday, and the healing conference was only a day behind me. I didn’t pray for any strangers for healing at the conference, but after coming home and hearing the stories I’d heard, I decided I was going to do it.

I would stop saying “No” to God, to the nudges, to the stories of hurting and injured people around me. It was too much.

So I started saying, “Yes”. When someone would tell me about pain or injury, I became more likely – not perfect – to say, “Well, let me just pray for you really quick…” or “Do you mind if I pray for you really quick?”

Most people would say “Yes”. In fact, everyone has agreed to prayer if I have offered. Wow. Didn’t even think about that.

So I haven’t been dealing with rejection. I’ve been dealing with the possibility of it, which is still there. I’ve also been dealing with how to respond when God doesn’t heal right then.

I’ve realized most people don’t expect God to heal them. I do, but they think I’m just a nice, little Christian lady who is doing a good deed. Maybe so, but I have seen, and therefore expect, immediate healing.

And that’s good. I should.

After I pray, I say, “Does anything feel different?” People think this question is funny because, well, all I did was pray, so of course nothing will feel different. And they are often surprised when something is. They realize they can move this or that body part, their range of motion returns, pain decreases or leaves completely.

And they are shocked. And so am I. Even though I expect it. I have to play it cool, of course, but I’m always thinking, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it. Wow!”

Another huge struggle I’ve been having, aside from the fear that God won’t act like I hope he will, or the fear that I will get rejected or thought of as weird, is the most difficult struggle yet: my own sickness and increased injury/illness in our family. 

I have been more sick the past two weeks than I have been in a while. My family seems to be getting it too, as John has had a severe case of eczema that ebbs and flows, and two days ago, he banged his head on our bed and required two staples in head at our local E.R. This does not seem normal.

A few days after the conference, I had prayed for 5 people in three days and seen a few of them receive healing. By Thursday, I had a powerful, insane migraine that persisted beyond prescription medication and other remedies that normally do the trick. I went to the doctor, got new medication and was told to go back on my iron supplements to treat anemia.

Okay, then. But almost without reprieve, I began to have head pain and various headaches, some of them migraines, throughout the week. I went through my migraine prescription in a little over a week, and today, I am home again for the second day with a sinus infection.

I remember at least one time, probably more, where I was in pain from a headache and prayed for another person and they were healed. One particular moment was at work when a co-worker announced to the people in my workspace that he had severe back pain and even had trouble sitting and standing. I said, “Let me pray really quick” and he obliged.

In front of four other co-workers, I put my hand on his back and commanded the pain to leave. It probably took 20 seconds. Afterwards, he was shocked. He bent side to side, sat down and stood up again, and marveled at the missing pain.

The pain was gone. I made sure the bystanders knew it was Jesus who took the pain. I can’t do it. 

Some people have suggested the cause of my illnesses is simply that I need to take better care of myself, which is always true. Almost everyone needs to take better care of themselves. But I’m not eating or sleeping different or doing anything different. I shouldn’t be more sick. The only thing I am doing is praying for people.

Other people have suggested that the pain or injury from people I pray comes to me after it leaves the person. This is not true for two reasons. First, I am not getting all the illness I pray against. I don’t have back pain, knee pain, hip pain, leg discomfort, etc. I have a sinus infection and recurrent migraines. I did pray for a friend who had the sinus problem, but her issue didn’t go away. And I vaguely remember praying for someone else’s migraines in a group of people, but I highly doubt that was it.

The second reason and most important reason I am not receiving the injuries of others is because that transference of pain is simply witchcraft. When Jesus died on the Cross, HE took all our infirmities, all our pain. When I say, “Be healed in Jesus name”, I am recognizing the power in Jesus’ gigantic act of crucifying all sickness and infirmity and death with himself.

He took it up our diseases so we don’t have to.

When I lose my faith at times, which I do, I repeat Psalm 103 to myself, “He forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases…”

ALL your sins. And ALL your diseases. 

All of them. 

Me and John, waiting for Jesus.

I am not walking in the full measure of the healing available to me. I don’t know of anyone who is this side of heaven. But I am not giving up. I am asking for revelation on my own healing.

And I am going to keep praying for restoration from a God who I know loves to give it. 

Stories of Fear and Faith #6.1

https://vimeo.com/63140117

This is all a little surreal. I’m really doing it though. I am praying for strangers and friends alike for healing. I am realizing what an adventurous God I’m working with here. He loves so much. I just have to stay connected to that love or I’m headed for compassion burnout. But it’s been fun to just watch what he does. I know I’m not the one healing these people, but I pray, and that gives him the opportunity. Amazing!

I got sick this week, and that messed with me a little. I prayed, friends prayed, but I stayed sick and in pain. It messed with me, but I decided I would keep asking God to heal people. I decided not to give up.

Stats from the week:
9 people prayed for
4 strangers prayed for
4 people experienced immediate healing, full or partial

Watch the video for short stories of some of the people I prayed for. And be encouraged that God can use all of us scared, broken people, wherever we are in life, to do miracles and great, big things!

You’ve never existed before

If you want to do something grand yet peculiar with your life, if you want to be something enormous, colorful and wild, but you can’t seem to think of anyone else who has done this before, well you’re probably right.

No one has ever been you before.

So the thing in your head that you want to do, the gigantic YOU you’ll be when you grow up, it’s never existed before.

So don’t use the patterns and the people who’ve been here to tell you how to live. They only point to what’s possible. But you can live a story all your own. You can choose your own adventure.

That song you’re singing right now, it’s never been sung just that way, at that time, with those people, on that instrument. It’s never happened before. YOU have never happened before. Everything you will do is new.

This age of the world has never existed before. This culture, this society, this technology, it’s all new. So never for a moment will you need old, recycled stories or the limitations of the generations to tell you what you cannot be.

They only hint at what is possible.

[photo cred: favim.com]

So go ahead and imagine, dream, hope and build your faith of who God made you to be.

Believe me, God’s not shrinking down his hopes for you. His dreams for you are infinite. Let yours be too.

I am found, or The thing I’ve been missing

I learned a lot about love this week, but it was kind of a backwards experience.

I learned how much I needed love when I tried to “love” people without feeling loved myself, and without truly loving them.

I’m great at being nice. Just ask anyone I work with. I practice forgiveness and written extensively on dreaming. Over the past ten years or so, I’ve heard God whisper kindness and love into my ear about other people, and while I haven’t delivered every message, I shared many of them.

I’m well-practiced at faith, at Christianity. At being good. At rituals, at standing and sitting at the right moments.

I’ve traversed the path of earning my salvation. But I’m so tired. Or I was. It wore me out trying to work so hard to love all these sick, despairing people. My heart hurt for them for a while, but eventually it was just the duty of the pastor’s wife, or the social worker, to console, to comfort, to pray, to offer encouragement.

I did it well, but I ended up bitter and resentful. And I couldn’t figure out why because I feel called to this crazy, taxing life. I don’t want to, can’t fathom, doing anything else.

This week I had to give out all this extra love, to total strangers too, not just people who can eventually scratch my back and tell me they appreciate me next week at church. But people who might tell me I’m bothering them. I had to take risks and try to give love when I didn’t have any to give.

So tonight I just laid here and cried because I’m so shriveled up and dead and I’ve been a branch off the tree for so long, trying to nourish myself and produce leaves and fruit without the sustenance of the tree. It’s been bad.

So I canceled my religion and converted from this belief system where I earn love and salvation and a spot in heaven. Cause I’m too tired and here was Jesus offering me love without a performance review in 90 days. Just giving out love for free. And I’m too tired to protest. To try to validate why I deserve it.

It makes me sad I went so long, but at least I remembered. This was always about love. That’s why I’m doing this. Because I got suckered in with good love. With him. With the feeling of forgiveness and newness, something no one else ever gave. With the knowledge, the absolute certainty I couldn’t earn it and that was just going to have to be okay with me cause I’m not making the rules. God can love whoever he wants, I guess. I can’t argue if he’s picked me.

Here is Austin’s live album. This song and these words are my Coming-Back anthem, the song of every minister whose heart is tired and broken. “You, Jesus, are the reason that I stayed.”

It was always about love. And I die when I forget that.

Stories of Fear and Faith #2

It’s our first full day in Oklahoma. Check out the video for a little background on why we are here, what we’re doing and a fun story about God giving me a message for a junior high girl. She was adorable!

Also check Instagram and Twitter (@sarahsiders on both) for my crazy #4days4ways challenge, wearing one shirt 4 ways in 4 days.

http://vimeo.com/62339864

I am crazy… …

I am crazy…

Because I believe one person makes a difference.

It makes a difference if they do their thing or not, whether they give who they are to the world.

How do I know? My husband is one person. I only have one of him.

My son is only one person. He makes a difference to me.

I will never forget the person who came up to me at the farmer’s market. I was six months pregnant in my long, grassy skirt. She told me I looked beautiful.

I will never forget that my dad always told me to be a writer. And it took me nearly 30 years to believe him. He was only one person.

I will never forget the total stranger on the plane in 2005 who told me God wants me to stop trying to control everything in my life, to relax a little. He was only one person.

I will never forget my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, who taught me the world is full of rare, delicate wonders and things to be amazed at.

See, only one person. In our lives for only a plane ride, a year or a lifetime. And yet making a difference, changing the course of a life. Incredible, isn’t it?

But if we believe we matter, we live differently. We live on purpose. We look out for others. Look for opportunities to lift their trajectory.

Believe you matter. Even though you’re only one person. Because that’s all it takes.

Stories of Fear and Faith: A video series

{Stories of Fear and Faith is a new video blog series about my adventures in overcoming fear of the opinions of others and using my ounces of courage to pray for healing and deliver the message of Jesus’ restoration to friends and strangers through demonstrations of love and power. Want to know how I got here? Read below. Otherwise, click the video below to watch.}

I’m a fearful soul with big, brave thoughts. A timid adventurer afraid to mess up her reputation. I wield a power as infinite as God, and yet, I am afraid it won’t come through.

See, I have these beliefs, old, strong beliefs that God is powerful, that he loves the way he made our bodies and wants to heal them. I’ve seen him do it too.

And I’m a believer that God “is not willing that any should perish and be lost, but that all should experience and enter into eternal life” (2 Peter 3:9).

He loves people. He misses his kids. He wants them back. That is the Gospel. It’s kind, welcoming, firm. It’s the voice of a heartbroken but gentle Father. It’s a really good story. Because it’s true.

I grew up hearing stories of healing. My brave dad prayed for a woman’s leg to grow out at work, amongst a mocking crowd, and you better believe that leg grew right out. There in front of all the disbelievers. Some believed that day, I’m sure.

My dad loved people so much he talked about God on his bus ride home from work. Total strangers heard that Jesus loved them so much he died for them. Then Dad would bring the stories home, and around the dinner table, we prayed for the ones to meet Jesus and take his invitation of transformed life.

That’s my legacy. And yet, I’ve been here, ringing my hands, afraid God won’t do it. Afraid I will look like an idiot. Afraid I will be ostracized, that my God will look small and I will look small and I will just be relegated to the title of crazy, outside and alone.

And I know what that feels like. That’s what my school years were like. Until college. I have no desire to go back there.

But I do love. And I want to love more. From all the “evangelism” I’ve done over the years, not much of it felt loaded with the real power of God that raised Jesus from the dead. It was mostly debate, conversations where I tried not to offend. Sometimes there was boldness, sometimes I clearly heard God give me a message for someone. And sometimes I delivered. Many times, I didn’t.

So here I am, trying to be brave. And I want to share it out here because I need the accountability. And I want all the fearful ones to learn to be brave too. This video blog won’t happen every day, but probably once a week at least.

And I’m hoping there will be more faith than fear as I go.

Stories of Fear and Faith from Sarah Siders on Vimeo.