***Writer’s Note – I’ve been wicked nervous to post this blog. As I confess, later I like to stay away from this topic. What follows is my wrestling match with a multi-layered, complex, sensitive issue. I may not have everything right but what I know for sure is God loves everyone, and as Christians, we need to express/share that love – no matter the awkwardness or complexness of a situation.
Everybody wanna hear the real version of life- then don’t get so sensitive when I say something a little bit raw – NF
I was in Oakland, California, with several college students a few weeks ago. We went there to work alongside some amazing people who are working hard to bring a diverse city together. Oakland is a huge city filled with tons of different people from all over the world.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that there is a lot currently happening in our country. While visiting Oakland, I heard many stories first hand around the topic of diversity and ‘reconciliation.’ I heard stories of pain and struggle. Stories of successes. Stories of fear. And yes, even anger.
I’m not typically a processor yet this trip has left me with a lot to think about and wrestle with. After taking several days to think it through, I’m happy to announce……..
I’m still wrestling with it!
I figured I’d invite you into my raw thoughts and emotions. As a goal-oriented, fix-it person, not having answers bugs me. Maybe not having answers is the point……
So there I am in Oakland, I haven’t slept well for 4 nights, and I’ve been walking around the city or working every day. So I’m pretty tired.
That night we have a panel of leaders from the city to discuss with us their work and answer some questions for us as it relates to working with/helping people who are different than us. I’m looking forward to it because I love hearing people’s stories and I think it will be great for our students.
Among many topics that were discussed, one of them was “What can we do to help people who are a different race than us? Or have a different culture?”. My ears perked up at this question because I wanted to see what these four leaders had to say.
Each one of them had the same exact answer – We need people, more importantly, the church to validate our struggle.
I’ll be honest I was expecting at least one person to say something like, “Contact your congressperson and tell them ____” Or, “Join a local protest” Or, some other action step. Instead what they simply said was, “validate that we are struggling.”
As soon as we had the time I pulled one of my good friends aside. She moved to the USA from the Dominican Republic and is super amazing. She’s obviously had a different experience in America than me, but she knows my heart so I know I can bounce ideas off of her. I immediately ask, “do you agree with them? Do you agree the best thing we could do is validate people’s struggle”?
I’ll never forget her answer, she said, “Nate it’s not that people don’t need other stuff, and it’s not that we think we have all the answers. Most people are open to discussions after you validate them as a person and the problems they are facing. Maybe you disagree with the solutions being offered, but that’s not the main point. The main point is that people need to know you stand with them”.
Here I am sitting in Oakland, and 5 strong Christians, one of whom I’d consider a great friend, are telling me the #1 most important thing they need is – validation.
As I think about this from a faith perspective that is where I felt the most convicted. How are we not validating people and their struggles? Is it because we don’t like the solutions they are providing? Is it because we are comfortable in our own lives that we don’t care? Is it because we don’t want to be uncomfortable? We want to avoid awkwardness? Confrontation?
Here is what I know – if I say Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Build a Wall, Don’t Build a Wall, Love Trumps Hate, Make America Great Again, Not My President, Women have rights, etc. Each one of those will bring up an emotional response for a lot of people. Depending on who you are, where you are, and how you view the world the response will vary.
If I post on Facebook, “People need to understand how important a movement like #BlackLivesMatter is.” Some people will sing my praise at how I’m standing up for a great cause, while others will view it in a negative light for a multitude of reasons. Either way, people will assume my thoughts and the thoughts of those who praise my status or criticize it.
Here’s where we keep it 100
You know what happens when you ASSume right? ….. Welp! There’s a lot of (you know what) going around.
I always assumed minorities knew I cared. I figured that as long as I wasn’t saying anything mean or offensive and I was looking for ways to serve people regardless of color, that people would know I had their back. I assumed that people knew my heart was trying to be aligned with Jesus and his love for all people.
Here’s the thing, I see both sides of a lot of arguments. I have friends who are cops and friends who are black. I have friends who are immigrants and friends whose family has lived in America for generations. I have friends who are liberal and friends who are conservative. I deeply love all of them, yet I see them at odds with each other all the time. So instead of trying to voice my opinions or speak out against issues of oppression, I keep quiet because I don’t want to run the risk of offending people that I deeply care about.
But if we’re keeping it 100 – there are issues in this country. Some people are forgotten about. Some people are treated differently because of their race. There are problems with how we do things. People who I love – more importantly, who God loves – are affected by that.
So what am I supposed to do about that? How can I as a Christian continue to sit in silence when my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are asking to just simply be validated. They don’t feel heard. They feel like people don’t care. They feel like their problems aren’t as important. How can that not break my heart? How can I not enter into uncomfortable conversations?
If while reading this you are thinking, “Yeah but Nate I have so many disagreements with the (fill in the blank) movement. I don’t think (fill in the blank) are justified in their outcry. Or I disagree with the proposed solutions (fill in the blank) are calling for”.
That’s fine. That’s part of what makes America awesome. You can discuss those disagreements, BUT this is what is NOT fine:
People thinking they are second rate, unheard, and not cared for.
It’s easier for me to think about this in a marriage situation. If your spouse comes to you with a problem, she/he is experiencing, and your response is a flippant answer, like ‘yeah that’s not a real problem.’ Your spouse is probably going to be upset. Why? You’re not validating their problem, and they feel like you’re not validating them. Sure, maybe it’s a small problem, maybe it’s a big problem, BUT if you care for your spouse, you care about their problems.
Even if something is uncomfortable, hard to swallow, or you disagree. People need to know they are loved, cared for, and their issues matter. MORE than they need to know how right you are.
If you lead with how you disagree instead of why you care about the person…. It comes off as not caring.
I get it – there are hot-button issues that affect a lot of people. Maybe you have strong, deep, maybe even correct, reasons to disagree with people around you. I promise you that if you start a conversation (even if you are right) with why they are wrong, and why they should change then try to say you care – it doesn’t sound caring.
I think too many people try this approach (including me!). We probably really do care, but we have an opinion too and want to make sure that gets heard. IF that is you, let me say this as blunt as I can – Shut up for a minute. Seriously, just shut up and listen.
Maybe you are right. Maybe you are wrong. But that’s not the point. The point is to go to great lengths to show people who don’t feel like you have their back – That you do. You care. You love. You are sorry they haven’t felt it – but you’re here now – with them.
IF we all did that. Conversations wouldn’t be so heated because there would be unity in the fact that we know we all have each other’s back. When I disagree with you after going to great lengths to show my love and care, you don’t question my motives for disagreeing with you. When I listen and hear your pain, I don’t question if you are telling the truth or your motives for raising awareness to an issue. Why? We both know we’re in this together and want what’s best.
If people don’t think you care for them. The responsibility is not for them to learn that you do. The responsibility is with you to show you care. So, let me say this with the utmost clarity:
White people, there are a lot of minority cultures, races, and people who don’t feel cared for. The responsibility is on you to show that you do. Not on them.
How can I say that and not blink an eye? Cuz I know and follow Jesus, and he modeled that behavior perfectly. Jesus continually modeled behavior of breaking social norms, validating people’s problems, validating people’s value, and listening to understand and care instead of fighting.
If you are a Christian and there is something in you that is resisting what I’m saying, you hate me right now or think I’m insane. I want to just challenge you to think about this one thing.
Aren’t you glad Jesus validated you as a person and cared about your problems (sins)? What did you do to deserve that? Therefore, what right do you have to withhold validating and loving others?
I know it’s rude to say shut up – but that’s what a lot of us need to do. Starting with yours truly. Like I said I’m a fix it guy, so I have a solution to every social justice issue, surprise, surprise, though – I’m not that quick to listen to people’s pain because I already have a solution.
Maybe if the Church were known for listening instead of talking, things would be different in our country. Either way, I know that it starts with each of us as individuals, so I’m committing to listening more instead of fixing. Because the people (that’s all people) who are struggling are valuable to God. If God chose to love me after all the crap I’ve done, then I don’t really have an excuse to not love and listen to those around me.
I challenge you to join me in shutting up and listening more.