The Prophet’s Call for US

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”                 (Amos 5:20-24)

My heart is heavy today even though the sun is shining. On February 23, a Sunday Afternoon,  Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old African American man, was jogging through a Portsmouth, Georgia neighborhood when he was confronted and shot to death by a white man and his son who said he “resembled” a description they had heard about a local robbery suspect. Add his name to tens of thousands of other young black men who have died like this, along with thousands who were lynched from the end of the civil war until the second world war.

I feel drawn myself to cry out for justice, as these men who killed Ahmaud have not yet to my knowledge been arrested. And I know, I know, there may be more to say about what happened, although a video released begs to differ with grim details.

What I’m wrestling with is the way I safely distance myself — “I don’t have guns, I don’t hate, I’m not a racist, my family wasn’t in America when slavery was going on, I would never do something like that…” — But if I’m honest, I feel the harsh words through Amos of God’s anger and disgust as mine to own, as ours to own as white America, and especially as the white Christian community. Excuses won’t do, can’t cut the mustard when what’s just and right is at stake. We need to listen and watch, stop getting defensive, and sit in ashes together. We need to repent of our history, which begins by learning and owning what white people have done and are still doing to black people in this country, and Native Americans before them.

An American  society that’s right and just can begin to breathe only if and when we who are white begin to own our history of “not loving our neighbors as ourselves”, but rather taking advantage of others for our own gain. And what is desperately needed is a white church driven by God’s justice fire that starts strongly advocating for and seeking justice for black people in this country, racially, in terms of incarceration, economics, education….every dimension of our common life needs to be made right and whole, just. This is what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves — to receive the anger, pain, sorrow, and truth that our our black sisters and brothers have for us to hear, and OWN it, and from that place of our own repentance work diligently for what is just and right.

All this is impossible if we deflect the prophet’s words as meant for someone else, or just become defensive so that we don’t have to grapple with the pain of racism’s broad sweep through our history, roaming our suburban streets still. Justice will never come for our African American neighbors until we as the white community and especially the white church in America acknowledge our wrong, “the things we have done and the things we have left undone.”

I pray it might be so. I sit in ashes today, and invite you to join me.

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