Today, I am present to my sense of participation in an impossible game. Addressing racism and biblical justice as a faith leader and woman of color is a place of relational compression. Everything is constantly squeezed, and I can feel the bones and weight of my competing responsibilities creaking and cracking. In the middle my heart and soul, gasp for air. This is the messiest of my missives because my insides are on fire.
Many people of color compete with a phantom, La Llorona – the ravenous spectre of racism that creeps at the edge of our every days. It is a wolf at the perimeter, the thing that will “get you” if you are not hyper vigilant, always alert. It is the central compression, the tendril that extends its fingers close to your core, surrounding your heart. The day you let your guard down, the day you forget, you hear it coming. Your fears are realized before you, and there’s nowhere to run.
I felt the same hopeless choking as I watched my phone, a life escaping this earth by force, terror in slow motion on the big screen of social media. The boogey man, escaping from the cultural gutter and clutching yet another black man by the throat, dragging his dignity back into the sewer.
Racism is a love child between Power and Fear, blowing through the air, searching for the dry tinder of vulnerability and grief.
I can smell it on the wind, I have to fill my lungs, because war is coming for me and I may or may not have been ready. Have I been too comfortable, too trusting, too unaware? My mind screams “Read the room! RUN.”
Today, in the space of this season, I am experiencing a new challenge and difficulty. Something fresh and insidious has emerged. The spectre has a host; he is no longer alone. It is now Karen AND Amy. As conversations have been more complex, more violent, more challenging, a new paradox is occurring in real time trapping faith leaders into impossible spaces.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth, reminding them about their identity as ambassadors of Christ. The reminder that our ministry is reconciliation. For some, this means naming the violating of biblical justice and acknowledging the pain. For others, it means elevating the call of oneness in Christ. This should not be a pendulum. It is a Venn diagram of being.
Our environment’s anger or discomfort should not make us choose. Yet, the Christian community is screaming – by naming that the death of black bodies is a violation of God’s loving Kingdom, I am promoting a message of division. It is impossible. And, I am reminded that prophets were murdered for telling the truth.
I’ve also heard the calling out of injustice as a violation of Matthew 5 – “Blessed are the peacemakers”. A simple study of the Greek root here, “Eirene”, names a corrected truth. The word does mean peace. It also means peace through rest. Peace through prosperity. And, Jesus is not fettered by terminal kindness or conflict aversion. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “What can we actively do to bring rest, prosperity, real peace to the members of our body that are suffering?”
My community of color, my immediate family members, are afraid and angry. I hold my nephews in my arms, I hug my step-father. And the tightness comes, the fear that my arms are not enough to keep the wolves at bay, it is wild and desperate.
Where some have found rekindled spaces of learning and a desire for biblical unity, some of us have found ourselves on the other side of the gate. We are now troublemakers. We have violated the tome that love is making sure everyone is comfortable. Even if we said the hard thing in the kindest way, even when we used our prophetic voices, the decision was made. You have to go. Your disruption is unwanted, I know I am not alone in this, and it is costing me in real time.
At the end of the day, I could settle into some sort of modicum of understanding if I saw that, true to the argument, we are all God’s children. That the message was about God’s enduring love, and even a piece of the gospel could be found anywhere. Instead, it is FaceBook messages saying why they can’t support peaceful protesting or why they hate rioting. Not even a scripture. Just barely biblical rhetoric divorced from a deep understanding of our need for grace.
Listen, for those of us in Christian witness, we know one thing is certain. We all deserved to die for things we actually did do, and think, and said. Let me say it again. We deserve it. But the ministry of reconciliation actually says, “We did deserve it, but Jesus stood in the way for us.”
The breakdown in logic happens when we say someone had a prior record. They may have had it coming. They shouldn’t have been there. That somehow, in some way, even if they didn’t directly deserve it, we can’t be so bothered that it happened. We cannot say that our hearts are completely devoted to the One who loved us, and firmly believe that we get to determine if someone else is worthy of being extravagantly loved, cared for, pursued too
Our own salvation is unjust and undeserved, only made just through Jesus. That should drop us to our knees with weeping when someone else is taken from this earth in a way they did not deserve. Biblical reconciliation is not ignoring injustice. It is saying that God’s response to our unjust behavior was an outpouring of love, challenge, and grace that was extravagant and generous and sacrificial that demands we do the same.
What do you propose then, peacemaker? How will you bring peace to Breonna Taylor’s family? Ahmad’s mom? Is it not your blessing too? If it is not rioting or protesting. If it is not calling out injustice. What is it?
I cannot stomach a practiced gospel where someone struggles to have their inequitable salary revisited because it is too hard or feels unfair, and that is not challenged. I cannot understand a pastor that is too afraid of losing his congregation to engage in this conversation.
Looting, self-righteousness, drama has given many an excuse to drill down on the good, the important, the actual work. The work of building and participating in beloved community. The call to be more proud and pursuant of a lived, biblical Acts community ahead of nationalistic protectionism. The call to sit still and hear pain so we can ask for forgiveness. The call to say that if there is an offense, we are to lay down our offering at the altar and go to the person. No one gets a pass from discomfort. Real discipleship is uncomfortable.
Even now, I feel the ghosts at the edge. Do I need to edit my voice? What will this cost me? Who else will I lose? Compression, tightness. My chest and my heart are starting to hurt. However more importantly, I am still reminded that I can still breathe.
Eliza Cortes Bast is a fierce and honest follower of Jesus. She is a pastor, and denominational executive, dedicated to helping churches think missionally. She lives into her passion by connecting people, advocating for the community, and helping organizations think strategically so they can be healthy, vibrant, and sustainable. Eliza lives in Michigan with her patient and handsome husband EJ, and their two boys. Her loves include her home country Puerto Rico, her interracial marriage, a good steak, salsa dancing, writing, empowering emerging leaders, making the impossible possible, Diet Coke, and mentoring. She is not a big fan of anger without action, generalizations, basketball, and saying you can’t live without coffee. She believes you can, because she believes in you.
Blessings to you, Eliza. You said it beautifully. You convey an experience of compression, of being squeezed, that a white woman like me will never know. I drink up your words, and find them thoughtful and balanced. We all deserve death, but for Christ’s intercession. And yet standing up for justice and the City of God here on this earth is blessed work. Thank you for writing.
Thank you, Eliza, for your bold truth-telling that I know comes at a cost. It is an honor to read your words and be challenged by the call to true peacemaking over false peacekeeping. Blessings to you.
“The call to be more proud and pursuant of a lived, biblical Acts community ahead of nationalistic protectionism. The call to sit still and hear pain so we can ask for forgiveness. The call to say that if there is an offense, we are to lay down our offering at the altar and go to the person. No one gets a pass from discomfort. Real discipleship is uncomfortable.”
C’MON, NOW. SAY THAT!
Don’t you DARE edit. Not now. Your words are too important.
I appreciate you so much. Any prejudice is so squeezing. My pastor says it is when we are being squeezed that the real state of our soul comes out. That statement scared me! How often has my unhappiness squirted out without self-control? More times than I would ever care to admit to anyone. To feel this way every day- and receiving it for no real justified reason, takes a world of self-control. To receive it several times every single day….that is something I can’t comprehend as a white person. I thank you so much for sharing your heart. I see overweight people being treated in that way. Now- as an aging senior- I have felt that more times than I wish to say because I look “OLD” to people and they can use that against you also. It takes a lot of love and understanding to come back with patience and kindness. Those attributes must be new every morning, all day, wherever I go. I cannot be successful with those behaviors unless I stay close to the WORDS of Jesus daily. His WORDS are a cool fountain to my burning soul. He is a river of rejuvenation for me as I try to live in this fallen crushing world today. I cannot do it without him. If anyone does not understand where to go, and what to do then please try the WORDS of Jesus. The words are a healing balm to the soul. Talking to God as my stronghold in times of trouble brings compassion when I need it.
Blessings on you, Eliza. Your honor, courage, strength & passion are a Sacred gifts to our deeply troubled & divided world. I trust the Lord will continue to show you how He wants you to speak into you personal & professional relationships. And He will be glorified in your efforts even as I am blessed to read your heart. Thank you!