I need you to stay with me through this post. It’s been stirring for quite some time and the need to write it down has surpassed my desire to be productive around the house this morning. For a lot of you, it will seem weird and irrelevant until the end, which is why I really need you just to trust me on this, and read it all.
As weird as it is, especially to those in my little hometown, I grew up in a pretty cultured lifestyle. My brother and I spent most of our days reading Bible stories and watching musicals. Old musicals at that. I was raised on New King James and Rogers and Hammerstein to put it bluntly. We went to the theatre regularly, took piano lessons and knew every word to “The Sound of Music” before age 5. It’s just kind of part of us these days.
Throughout middle and high school it was apparent very few, if any, of my classmates had experienced what I would term a “wonderful” childhood like mine. Nobody understood my fascination with the arts and therefore, I learned to adapt, and in short, be quiet about the whole thing the older that I got. But there’s a lot you can learn from the theatre. I think more than anything, you learn to feel. And you feel deeply. Empathy is born out of human experience and there is no greater display of human experience than the stage.
In Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific” there is a song that I have repeated in my head over and over and over during the past several weeks. The lyrics are as follows:
“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people who’s eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before its too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
Despite my ancestor’s semi racist roots, simply stemming from an impoverished white family just bred with the times in which they lived, my upbringing-from the time I was 3 or 4 years old-consisted of words like those above. In addition to the Bible, and perhaps without even knowing it, my family ensured that my moral compass was rooted in truth and empathy. And from a very young age, I questioned the treatment of others versus that which I saw in society, in conversation and in my own sinful heart.
I have stayed off of social media this week and I refuse to watch the news. Call it ignoring the world around me-but I call it sanity. And I take great pride in keeping what little sanity I have in check. But last night I got on Facebook and saw the posts about the events that happened in Minneapolis. I didn’t watch the video. I didn’t think I could handle it.
I don’t understand how we as humanity got here. I mean, I do. Read Genesis and you’re sure to exclaim, “Well, there it is”. But how-for the love of all things-can someone claim to love Jesus and hate another human being? How can someone claim to be a Christian and look blatantly into the eyes of another person, with a darker skin tone, and deem that person to have no or diminished worth?
As I continued scrolling through the news articles and posts surrounding the events in Minneapolis, I saw footage of outrage and looting and all sorts of violent protests. For the first time, maybe ever, I wasn’t angered or annoyed at this type of response to an injustice. What swelled inside me, instead, was grief. And I muttered softly but audibly the words “tearing of robes”.
If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, in the Old Testament especially, the Jewish people tore their robes as an outward response to an inward state of grief. The Jewish word for this practice is “Kriah”. What we are witnessing is a country-and worldwide- state of Kriah. People of color are “tearing their robes” in grief. Grief is destructive internally and displays itself in the same way outwardly in many cases. Grief after grief after grief translates to tear after tear after tear. Do you know what happens when a piece of fabric has been ripped over and over and over? The fabric becomes tattered, brittle, thin, and much harder to mend together. As much anguish as the word “Kriah” implies, I don’t even know that it is a strong enough expression for the level of pain that people across our nation are experiencing right now, but it is the closest illustration my mind can comprehend.
Beth Moore put out a Facebook post about the tearing of robes in response to grief and shared the following: “Stitch by stitch. The psalmist’s picture of God binding our wounds is similar. Just as you have to hold the fabric to sew it, He holds us to mend us. He cannot bind our broken hearts without holding our broken hearts.” We cannot heal without being held. The holding together of one another is the beginning of healing.
(Stay with me here and do not take offense. I am not comparing protests to tantrums; I’m illustrating a point as one who spends 24 hours a day with two year olds)
My boys will be two in July. They are in a complicated stage of life in the sense that when they are hurt or upset, they don’t know how to communicate effectively using words. So they express their emotions in other ways-tears, screaming, fighting, etc. Their emotions are so strong they don’t respond to discipline. So I hold them. Sometimes we talk about it after. Sometimes they just need to be held. But there’s great power, I have found, in simply holding one another despite what is “right” or “wrong” at the time. As their mother, it is not my job to prove a point with every single emotion or expression. It’s my job to love them regardless. And as Christians, isn’t that what we were also commanded to do? Our job isn’t to tell someone how to go about “tearing their robes” but to simply hold them in the process and to grieve alongside them. Grief isn’t pretty. It isn’t logical. It’s messy and it doesn’t follow the rules. So before criticizing the looting and the protests and the actions, as surface level “wrong” as that response may be, maybe instead go hold your neighbor and love them. Pray. Weep. Acknowledge that there’s something much deeper that requires empathy and love for this level of “tearing of robes” to take place in the first place.
I’m not claiming to be an expert on this. I have very few friends that are people of color. Not because I exclude myself from friends that are of color, but because I am a white woman living in a white house surrounded by white people. Diversity isn’t rampant in my neck of the woods. I don’t exactly understand how to be happy to be who I am, and mourn because of the actions of my race. To be very honest, I don’t knout how to talk about race to my children. I don’t know how to talk about race in general. I don’t know how to teach my children-in a society where rebel flags still fly and political parties are synonymous with Godliness, that the decent treatment of other people is pivotal to the spread of the Kingdom of God. I don’t know how to teach them that it’s not flesh and blood that we are fighting, but the power of hell, even though our own color of flesh and blood seems so very responsible for all that is happening. I don’t know how to teach them the proper way to observe and acknowledge and celebrate someone is different but not offend by doing so in such a charged culture. I don’t know the right way to navigate all of this as a white, privileged middle class stay at home mom with an English degree and a Tory Birch handbag. I do not know. And for much of my life the not knowing has simply equaled inaction.
But then, I look at my boys. And my lack of understanding turns into determination to do better. I have to try, with everything in me, to ensure that my white son is not the one with his knee on the neck of a black man on the nightly news. I have to try, with everything in me, to raise men that love the Lord with all of their hearts, and their neighbor (Despite their color, orientation, lifestyle choice, disability, etc. ) as they love themselves. I have to try to teach them to love-to hold-and to draw near, when the world draws its fists. I have to try and teach them empathy and truth, just as my parents taught me, albeit likely unknowingly. And honestly? I don’t know if any of my methods in doing so will work. But armed with truth and empathy, I have to at least try. For their sake, and for the sake of the Kingdom, I cannot afford to not try.
I don’t want to be viewed as another white woman fighting for a cause she has no stake in. I don’t want to be deemed as fake or simply going along with a cause because its what’s popular at the time or makes me look like a better person or whatever other labels people want to project on the motives behind this post. I have nobody I am trying to impress with this, but I am actively trying to raise good children. And it would be an absolute tragedy for them to hear their mom talk of the glory of God shown through so many of our differences in the world, and at the same time stay silent when injustice rears its ugly-straight-from-hell head. I will not do it.
The song I mentioned above from “South Pacific” rings more true today than when I was a wide-eyed child watching it in my Aunt Linda’s living room. You have to be carefully taught, indeed.
So may we teach our children to love, unafraid.
To celebrate people with eyes oddly shaped.
To love people whose skin is a different shade.
And advocate for every person God has made.
May we teach our children to love, not hate.
To show God’s glory even in the messes we make
To hold each other every step of the way.
May they be carefully taught- tenderly, lovingly taught.