As we begin the New Year I have been considering what it means for me to be a reconciler. The work of reconciliation is not to be under-estimated. Far more than inspiring people to reach across aisles and hold hands for an hour, the work of leading reconciliation is taxing- mentally, emotionally and often physically. Reflecting on this work has led me to the conclusion that racial reconciliation cannot be achieved without first establishing racial justice. It is this establishment of justice that proves so costly to anyone leading the charge towards reconciliation.
There are many in the church who want to form superficial friendships, learn how to avoid being offensive, invoke racial colorblindness and call it reconciliation. Far fewer people want to establish justice because justice requires the sacrifice of power, truthfully confessing sin, altering leadership roles, moving marginalized voices to the center, giving and extending grace, mercy, love. The work of justice must run deeper than emotion to be sustainable, but there are so many emotions to wade through to get to the heart of justice.
Given this reality, racial justice is difficult to establish, difficult to paint as desirable! It is so much work to show that our system of racial privilege is not just taxing on people of color, but that it destroys the humanity of all participants. History is so clear on the lengths to which the seduction of systemic power and privilege will erode the fabric of our humanity. And yet we cling so tightly to the seduction. The work of reconciliation is in letting go. Because of this I used to begin the work of reconciliation by prying hands open, one finger at a time. Used to begin with any glimmer of superficial interest. Used to answer every question. Take any offense.
Over time I have come to learn that this way is simply too much for me. I have come to a place where I will not condemn. Will not force. Will not sacrifice my emotional health in the hopes of igniting a passion for reconciliation. I now invite. I invite into a new way, a way of justice, a way toward reconciliation. This year I am owning this position. I will invite. You will decide.
I am finding great inspiration in a poem by Kate Rushin called The Bridge Poem. You can (and should) read the poem in its entirety HERE, but following are a few of my favorite lines:
"… I’m sick of mediating with your worst self
On behalf of your better selves
I am sick
Of having to remind you
Before you suffocate
Your own fool self
Stretch or drown
Evolve or die
The bridge I must be
Is the bridge to my own power…"
Lifegiving. Lifegiving because I am still owning these words.
I am learning that I need to interact with more than the "worst self" of those who need absolution from the guilt and shame of a racist past (or present). I am learning that everyone must own their journey, their education, their growth. "Evolve or die" The choice belongs to each person, but I am not responsible for that choice. I am learning that it is only when I become "the bridge to my own power" that I am truly of use in this work of reconciliation.
We can walk together.
We can walk together.
But this year I am refusing to be your bridge.