Thursday, July 19, 2007

a dream that must come true

[as i finished up this blog entry, i was painfully aware of how personal it is and of how offensive or divisive it could be. not everyone — not even all christians — will agree with me. i'm willing to dialogue about that and consider the thoughtful objections of others, and i hope you are. let's talk.]

as chronicled in an earlier post, our recent road trip took us through atlanta in late june, where we made a visit to the martin luther king jr. historic site. i had been once before and thought that it would be an important, thought-provoking place for our family to explore together. i was not disappointed.

it was a day of mixed emotions and deep reflection for me. i was inspired by the courage of those who had risked their jobs, their reputations, their lives and those of their families, in the pursuit of justice (though admittedly a bit uneasy with the family part). i was challenged by their commitment to non-violence in the face of savage opposition, which reminded me of Jesus who when reviled did not revile in return, nor did he exercise his considerable power to destroy his enemies but instead, laid down his life for them. could i do what they did? i had my doubts — my first inclination is to make as few waves as possible and to look after what's best for me and my family — and felt ashamed of my selfishness and fear. where is the valor that comes from faith in a God who loves the world and does the impossible? i grieved at the recollection of the awful things that one group of people inflicted on another because of race and the desire to preserve their own privileged position; if anyone has reservations about the reality of sin and evil, do an internet search of 'lynching' and get back to me. i wondered about my family's experience of those times; i was born in the early 60s and my family is from the american south. how did we respond when churches were being bombed and children were being murdered, when race riots were exploding and cities were spontaneously combusting?

i found myself in tears at many of the exhibits. the site has a variety of displays with photos, newspaper articles, and video running on television screens — images and audio of the angry, hateful words of white bigots, of the memories of blacks who endured those years, of race riots and calls (both black and white) to racial warfare, of dr. king himself, his resonant voice making impassioned pleas for equality, racial justice, and non-violence on one monitor, and denouncing the u.s. government and calling for a massive redistribution of wealth on another. the one made my soul soar; the other made me squirm uncomfortably. my brain and heart were overloading; race relations, economics, military power, national security, and foreign policy — all one giant web of interconnected issues. i'm not sure i even view that constellation in a coherent way, much less a christian one.

i realized how conflicted i felt when i went to the display where they invite visitors to leave a note of reflection. i read the words of others — sobered, thankful, questioning — and i was full of thoughts. but i just couldn't write anything down. i was all over the emotional map, and my words seemed feeble and inadequate. i was appalled and revulsed by the history of the country that i love. i was grateful for the fortitude and sacrifice of those people, from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, who put their lives on the line in the hope of change. i was embarrassed by my ignorance and self-centeredness. i was amazed by how far we've come as a nation — america is certainly a different place than it was even fifty years ago — but disheartened by the on-going power of racialization and prejudice (both personal and systemic), the wide disparities they produce in opportunities and outcomes, and the reluctance of majority culture americans to recognize them. that discouragement is exacerbated by the fact that some on the underside seem unwilling to step up, resigned to their plight, while others revel in cultural elements that perpetuate many of these problems. to quote aunt ruby from tyler perry's regrettable movie version of madea's family reunion — "is this what we paid for?"

and when i look at american society and government in 2007, i wonder if our generation has the courage and determination to tackle such problems. to be honest, it looks doubtful. substantive debate on real issues is hard to come by. politicians are reduced to sound bites and talking points derived from focus groups; do any of these people have real principles or convictions of their own anymore? and i think we have to accept some of the responsibility for their shallowness; do we have the patience to think critically about intractable social problems, the willingness to face hard choices, and the courage to make great sacrifices anymore?

inspiration. vision. fear. doubt. grief. disgust. hope. discouragement. impossibly complicated problems. heroic sacrifices.

to me, an american with southern roots, a man of chinese descent with a black wife and biracial children, these are not abstract issues. they are personal and real. and as a follower of Jesus, i know that he intends a better world than this one. the word of God says he's planning on it — a world where people are not confined by race or gender, where they have the freedom and resources to exercise their God-given gifts to his glory and to bear his image in the world without the debilitating effects of sin. what will it mean for me — for all of us who have committed ourselves to him— to follow him there?

doesn't God have anything to say about the great problems of our day? surely he does! shouldn't the church be leading the way — in repentance, in love and service, in public policy, in moral vision, in personal sacrifice?

there is neither
jew nor greek,
slave nor free,
male nor female.
we are all one in Christ Jesus.
galatians 3:28

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then i will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 chronicles 7:14

then i saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. and i saw the holy city, new jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. and i heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
revelation 21:1-4

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a great biblical allusion! I can't wait until that day...