Yesterday I spoke about how we can choose peace. I started by saying how tired I am of all the conflict, but that I'm inspired that we can choose peace.
Within two hours I was standing outside a restaurant in full embrace with a black man, both of us weeping.
I asked him how the message came across. He said he's tired of everything being about "black and white." He told me, "We need to be concerned about people, not the color of their skin. We need to have empathy for each other." I couldn't agree with him more.
In life, when there is conflict and a door opens that allows us to escape that conflict, I am inclined to walk through that door. Most of us are, to some degree.
Sometimes that door is labeled "distraction." We can escape conflict by just distracting ourselves with humor, or Netflix, or ice cream, or whatever. That's not really escaping the conflict, it's just delaying it. And letting it get infected.
But sometimes the door is labeled "rebuke" and "correction" and "repentance" and "forgiveness." We should always choose that door when we see it. And when we do walk through that door, we should close the door behind us.
Many of us don't keep it closed though.
Think about where there's been broken trust in your life, and how easy it is to revisit the conflict whenever it feels more familiar than whatever other discomfort you're facing.
Someone hurts you at work, so you come home and remind your loved one of the time they hurt you. It's a familiar conflict. You know that you will win this argument so you open the door and pull the offender back into the room. Even though you've already forgiven them. It feels ugly but somehow it feels secure. You at least know how it ends.
We do this at a societal level too. And each of us is prone to interact with the things of society at a personal level. We pull out past offenses because the new offenses feel unstable.
And then we fight.
One person says, "Black lives matter!"
Someone else answers, "ALL lives matter!"
And the fight is on.
But we're not stupid. Every single one of us knows what both sides mean by it. Every single one of us. But it's a familiar fight so it's more comfortable than other conflicts. It feels ugly but at least we know how it ends.
My friend with black skin told me that we just need to be about people, not about whether they're black and white. He said we need to be about empathy, not about picking sides. And everything in me said amen to that.
But then he told me that he lives scared.
I don't. I mean I wonder if times might change to where I need to be scared. But I don't live scared.
He said whenever he's around white people he has to make sure that he smiles and keeps his palms facing outward. No possible show of aggression. If he's angry about something he's not allowed to let it show. If he's insulted, he's not allowed to let it show. If he's just not feeling happy, he's not allowed to let it show. He's tired of being scared of scaring white people, or giving an excuse to people who want to do violence to black people. He's tired of it being about black and white. He's tired of being black where it's about being black or white.
He was caught off guard by his emotions. The tears burst and he apologized. But then he just let go. And there we were, a black man and a white man, standing on a sidewalk crying. My back was to the street. I wondered what people were thinking. He always wonders what people are thinking.
I asked him, "As a black man, you drive into our mostly white neighborhood, pull into the driveway of this mostly white family, you get out of your car and walk up to our door and walk into our house without knocking?"
I felt like it was a question but it wasn't. It was just empathy. And he cried very tired tears. He is always making sure that no one sees him as a threat. Smile and wave. Say something funny. Even if you're not happy. Even if there's nothing funny.
I reminded him that he's a good man. I said, "But if you're around a 75 year old white woman who isn't sure who you are, you'll do whatever you can to make sure she feels safe around you, because you're a good man." He said, "Yes, of course." But he's just tired.
Finally I reached out and pulled him into my embrace. I had wanted to do it sooner, but wanted to let the conversation mature. I wanted to hear everything he had to say, but then it was time.
We held each other tightly, there on the sidewalk, in front of the plate glass windows of the restaurant where we had just eaten and joked and laughed together. And there we wept...
We held each other tightly and he thanked me. He thanked me for being "family." I told him I loved him. He told me the same.
We got into our respective cars. I broke down and wept more. He probably put himself together and found his composure again. But I felt his pain. I'm not sure I've felt it before.
And then I watched "the black man" drive through the parking lot. I told Wendy and Bekah, "And everyone right now is noticing a black man driving through the parking lot." That would be so tiring.
We all know what the phrases mean. We're not stupid. Whether the phrase is "black lives matter," or "all lives matter," or "blue lives matter", someone is just saying, "My life matters." And really they're asking, "Does my life matter?"
We can all argue semantics. We can all argue logic. We can all go tit for tat. We can all try to pull people back into past conflicts where we feel like we will win. It's familiar there. We're all so smart. So why are we so foolish?
This isn't about winning, this is about loving others as God has loved us.
I am pleading with all who are on the side of peace, all who are on the side of love, all who are following the way of Jesus, to make sure you're fighting the right fight. Let's keep this about loving people because they're people, and working hard to have empathy for each other, in the name of love, because we've been loved.
For that reason I am choosing to carry this response in my heart. I said it yesterday but it needs to be more than a statement in a sermon. I am carrying it at the surface of my heart so that it overflows easily onto the heart of anyone who wonders if they matter -- whether black, brown, blue, or all. And I would encourage you to do the same, saying it generously, as if spilling forth from a heart overflowing with the love of God:
"Your life matters."
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.