An opportunity for grace & compassion

It’s 11:30pm, July 13, 2013. I just finished painting three walls of the dining room of my new house “deep rose”, a dark red color that’s stained my clothes and my hands. My wife and son are sleeping in rooms down the hall. After I finished cleaning the paintbrushes, I sat down to relax a bit before bed, and I saw the news about George Zimmerman’s acquittal on Facebook.

The first thing I saw after the news of the acquittal was outrage, pain, and fear being expressed by my Black family and friends. And within minutes, I saw White people–many of them White Christians–jump in to declare how the jury did the right thing, stand your ground, fear of death, or whatever else.

I pray that one person would read this and reconsider being That White Person. The one who sees the anger, hurt, and pain of their Black friend or neighbor and chooses to respond with defensiveness, disagreement, dismissal. The one who posts status updates about how the law is the law and they can’t understand why people are getting upset. Or, the one who says, “Stop pulling the race card–this is a sin issue, not a race issue.”

Dear White People (and Asian people, and Latin People, and even many non-African-American Black people): There are many days to insist that your voice be heard, that your opinion be considered, that you get a punch in the fight. But today is not that day.

Today is the day to listen. Today is the day to read status updates and posts and even threats of rioting and to stop and ask: Why are my friends, family, neighbors, countrymen doing these things? What are they feeling that is leading them to such strongly emotional responses?

Today is the day for empathy. Perhaps the most important step that we can take towards loving, caring racial solidarity is to stop trying to be heard and start trying to hear, and this is more true today than any day.

Put yourself in the shoes of my friend Kareem, who wrote: “10 years ago, I was a 17 old black boy once. I had an outfit just like trayvon. I’ve been pulled over, questioned & shot at. I feel this 1.” Kareem is a Black man who works in the worst part of Chicago, day in and day out pouring out his life for the Black and non-Black youth in his neighborhood, longing to see them thrive and prosper. Kareem has been pulled over for Driving While Black. Kareem suffers daily from American’s tendencies to see Black men as more threatening than others. Kareem has sons who are going to grow up and one day be 17 and wear hoodies. How does Kareem feel in this setting? Does Kareem need to be lectured about the doctrine of sin, or corrected for “playing the race card”? Kareem needs to be heard, understood, and loved.

Often it’s hard for us to hear about race from people who aren’t from our race. I remember growing up hearing Black people talking about social disparity and racial injustice and never hearing White people talking about the same things, and it was easy for me to assume that the Black people just wanted to stand up for themselves.

So: as a White person who’s been graciously welcomed into an African-American Black family, whose wife is African American and whose son will, at age 17, trigger some of those same negative responses I mentioned Kareem triggering: Please listen to me. I’m not standing up for myself. Nothing in this plea is for my own benefit. Please understand that this, today, right now is an opportunity for us to be bridge builders, loving sisters and brothers, beacons of hope and love.. but it’s also an opportunity to strengthen division, fulfill stereotypes, and act foolishly and out of selfish motives.

Please, today of all days, choose grace and empathy. Choose to listen instead of speak. Choose to love.

Matt

44 comments

  • Great perspective. This situation is so tragic on so many levels. It crosses all boundaries. I, too, have seen the Facebook posts drawn down the racial line. One side expressing outrage and the other declaring justice was served. Really? Justice was served? A life full of hopes and dreams no longer has the opportunity. Outrage? Harder for me to comprehend based upon watching the legal case play out but I do understand the heartbreak and the feeling of injustice. I just want Jesus in this situation. I want Jesus in the middle of the conversation. I cannot help the fact that I was born white. I do have an opinion to share. My opinion is that this is truly a heartbreaking, tragic situation with an equally heartbreaking outcome. I hope I never respond out of bias based upon my race or social status. My desire is for my bias to be firmly rooted by the Bible and the Holy Spirit’s conviction in my heart. Thanks for posting this, Matt.

  • This is the most sensible, loving comment I’ve read all night. Thank you for offering this necessary perspective. Twitter is exploding with rage but it is great to know that some of us are choosing to love and forgive above all, in spite of race, and even in spite of our personal opinions about how this trial should have ended up.
    Blessings to you and yours.

    • Hi Lucia, thanks so much for your encouragement. Blessings to you as well, and may we each be a part of bringing peace and love to the places where there is currently rage.

  • Well, Matt tweeted me this link, so i guess he’s kinda expecting a response…here goes.

    On one level, you’re 100% right. I should have mourned with those who mourn. I would have handled that tweet differently. Kareem and I have been friends for sometime now (not just social networking friends, but actual hang-out-in-real-life friends), and I certainly hope he looks past my thick-skulled tweet from tonight.

    But, I don’t think it was too soon for what I had to say. You’re from a partially black family. I’m from a partially Asian one. Laotian, to be specific.

    My relatives lived through the Communist takeover. And when the Communists were in charge, people started disappearing. Regular citizens, for sure…but the Hmong in particular (a tribe of ethnically Chinese descent that can be found throughout Southeast Asia). A bloodlust took over, and 1.5 million Hmong tribespeople were wiped out.

    The same bloodlust drove Kristalnaught. And the Rwandan genocide. And a lot of other other horrific acts of the 20th and 21st centuries.

    And I saw that bloodlust all over Twitter tonight.

    Zimmerman, at best, certainly could have prevented Martin’s death (by not getting out of the car). In a truly just world, should be be walking free tonight? Clearly not.

    But I’d rather live in a place where a guilty man can go free, than in a place where a man’s will (in the case of southeast Asia, Pol Pot) becomes the law.

    You had a strong emotion tonight, and expressed it, because part of your family is black. I had a strong emotion, and expressed it, because my family comes from a place where reckless hate and blame led to genocide.

    I don’t know that either of us are clearly right, or clearly wrong, in how we handled the verdict. But we obviously made the decisions we did because we see the world, partially, through a filter based on the experiences of those we love.

    • Seth Hurd, I’ve heard your name before. I’ve been in Christian circles for most of my life, and ran Communications for Inter-Varsity Canada for a while, so I went and read a couple of your recent blog posts. The one about carrying a gun was fascinating to me.

      But I think you’ve lost your faith in the God who saves. Maybe you think we are only saved by the invisible God in invisible ways, that your Christianity is ultimately spiritual and God’s power on the cross saved souls but not lives. But did not his power raise the dead? God affirms the goodness of creation, the body he chose to beget in Jesus, and the Jews knew (what we moderns have seemed to forgotten) about how there really is no division between mind and body, spiritual and physical realities. Their God saved them from battles or allowed them to be captured. What they did with their bodies was incredibly important, and so was what they did with their thoughts.

      God loved us so he died for us. You state that you love your daughter so you’ll kill for her. Death is not the ultimate enemy, for God has overcome it. Evil is. I read in high school about Corrie Ten Boom, a young Christian woman who hid Jews but refused to sin in order to do it. She didn’t lie when the SS came to her door and asked where the Jews were, because she trusted that obedience to God was better than trying to enact goodness based on her limited wisdom and knowledge of good and evil. The guards laughed when she said they were under the table, and moved on.

      Where is your faith in the God who saves? The God who is good even if you are chopped up horror-movie style? Is it not more important to side with Him, than to cling to this life with such desperateness we are willing to disobey him?

      That’s my perspective. If it’s my time to die, so be it. I have peace, and I trust God enough that when my loved ones die, I will not sin to keep them from entering the next part of their everlasting life.

    • Hey Seth,
      I mentioned this on Twitter, but I wasn’t expecting a response–I just saw you tweeting a lot of opinions at Kareem and hoped this might help you see it in another perspective.

      I understand how your partially Laotian family and the history there have influenced your opinions and experiences. I in no way wanted to criticize your statements. You’re right that our families and experiences have influenced our opinions, and that’s one of the important reasons why I mentioned my family in this post: I wanted to be clear that I do have emotional ties here. Great point there.

      Here’s the thing: some people may have needed, in the moment, to be encouraged to not riot. But Kareem was not one of them, and you know that. Therefore, I hope(d) for you and the others responding to his tweets to understand: When he says “I feel this one”, he’s not looking to start an intellectual discussion about democracies or Pol Pot. He’s sharing his pain, and the appropriate response for us is to empathize and show love.

      Again, this post isn’t about you or about Kareem, but I wanted to clarify why I had asked you to take a look at it: Not because you were tweeting your thoughts about our responses to guilty men going free, but only because you chose to talk about it in response to Kareem’s sharing of hurt. I hope that’s clear, and thank you for your quick, clearheaded, and respectful response.

      Thanks!

    • Thanks, Ian. I loved your post and clearly we were thinking a lot of the same things here. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thank you so much for expressing this so well, Matt. I greatly appreciate it.

  • The primary tragedy is of course Martin’s death, regardless of who was really at fault, which information I doubt we will ever really know.

    I intentionally avoided the Zimmerman trial (I read about the verdict here first!), because I sensed that even before the trial had begun, that it was destined to become something of a show trial. Both Zimmerman and Martin have been used to further the development of narratives, and that is a real injustice.

    Unfortunately, our culture as a whole (across whichever lines you wish to draw) no longer loves the truth. Without a love for truth, there can be no authentic charity or justice. I wish I could refine my comments a bit more, but I’ve gotta run.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. This certainly was a show–unfortunately, a highly public trial means the verdict sends a highly public message. But, as you said, it’s clearly a tragedy no matter what.

  • As a young black man who has 2 sons, ages 10 and 5, I can appreciate the empathy in your post. Frankly speaking, I was not surprised by the verdict and i chose not to get upset. The verdict itself, and the responses to it, just told me that i have to spend more time teaching and explaining to my sons about life, how not to be naive and how to become the best version of themselves. This won’t take away all problems, but it can take away some. In a perfect world, I’d love for everyone to come together as one. But unfortunately we are not there yet.

    Thank you for the post. 🙂

    • Hi Samuel,
      I can’t say I was surprised, but I was disappointed. My grandmother-in-law had reassured us for weeks that Zimmerman would get off free, and we pushed back on her certainty at times. But as the trial progressed it just seemd to become more and more certain.

      But yes–that’s the deal. That the hope we all have, secretly or openly, that our sons *won’t* have to hear “the speech” or learn about “The Black Male Code”.. this just point a nice huge dent into that already-battered hope.

      Thanks for sharing and for your encouragement.

  • Thank you Matt. Thoughtful and insightful. May love of neighbor mark our character as we learn to respect others with different ‘lenses’ and as you call forth – may we cry with those who are weeping because we love them and are hurting with them.

    • Thanks, Bruce. As you can tell from the “bridge builder” language, you’ve had no small influence on my development in this area. I’m ready to read that book on White identity whenever you write it. 😉

  • This is great. Agreed. And I have been listening.

    This whole thing has been on my mind a lot. The interesting thing here is that most of the discussion is on social media and both sides are saying things they might not say to each other in person, and people are likely to be more transparent because it’s less actual confrontation. Some of the most extreme opinions are from people who would never even have a chance to have a discussion, meaningful or not, with someone like the other party if it wasn’t for social media. I am trying to decide how bad that is and how good. I guess it is good because 1. People are having the discussion with others they normally would not. 2. People are actually seeing what others think. It’s bad because it goes nowhere. How many times have you seen two people argue on facebook and at the end of the thread someone goes, “you know what I change my mind you have a good point”. Saying that is even comical.

    So what now? Since most of the dialogue is on social media. To “listen” looks exactly how it looks as if you just ignored. What do you do?

    I’m not shocked by what I see on facebook. It’s kind of like being married. When your wife is REALLY mad and flips out about you for example not hanging your towel up, the last thing you do is look at the facts and defend yourself. She is obviously hurt and lashing out about something else, little experiences here and there, a build up of ways she has been or has felt wronged in an unfair way, don’t be so stupid as to think she would really lose it over something like that without bothering to look at all of the fact or evidence, it doesn’t matter and that is not the point. It’s not my job to tell her she is overreacting, she doesn’t feel loved and needs to feel loved and valued. That analogy is not perfect so don’t look into it TOO hard, but all of that to say I get the outlandish and even threatening comments on facebook, and that they need to be responded to with nothing but grace right now.

    Where do you go from here? Today is for listening but tomorrow?

    • Hey Matt,
      Thanks, man. Good thoughts about how social media enhances folks’ openness, in good and bad ways.

      I think “listening” as I’m advocating it and “listening” as “just don’t say anything on social media” are certainly not the same thing. Maybe the distinction is passive vs. active listening? One means “don’t say anything” and the other means “seek out opportunities to hear and comprehend”? That might just be a made up distinction in my mind, but that’s what I want to do: to reach out to the people in my life who can help me understand, to learn from them and to let them know I hear them and value their emotions and thoughts.

      Your marriage example is better than you expected, actually, in that it can help answer your question. What do you do with your wife in that setting? Whether or not you believe that her feelings line up with your rational estimation of the situation, you recognize that the most important response is to make sure she knows she’s heard, understood, and valued. That’s your primary response.

      But you’re only being so much of a good listener if you listen just enough to make her happy for now and don’t continue the conversation with her later. So, the brief, lame, cop-out, but (hopefully) totally right answer: What we should do next shouldn’t come from me. It should come the listening process.

  • I would certainly have to agree with Lucia,..that this was the most sensible and loving post I have read all night! WELL Said! Perfect in every way. I already reposted this on FB. I hope MILLIONS See it and LISTEN……

    • Thanks, Ann, I really appreciate you saying that and sharing the post.

  • very well expressed. i personally did not keep up with the specifics of the trial. but i do know an innocent child was killed for nothing. in response to matt about where we go from here… we allow healing to occur.. and we continue to remember we are not of the world though we live in the world. 100% justice can never come from humans.. but the word says to submit to the authorities etc..
    So as far as I am concerned, no one can really change the verdict.. no one can bring trayvon back…no one can predict the future.
    so definitely praying is the way to lean not on our own understanding.. because he is sure to direct our paths. he will give us wisdom on where to go from here…
    how to love those around us.. and not instigate further divisions. he will show us what it looks like to pray that godly sorrow will lead to repentance… throughout the nation… in the hidden places of all our hearts.

    thank you for sharing.

    this was definitely worthwhile!

    • Thanks Otonye. I would add one thing to your next steps: We can also pray for the wisdom to know how to change our society to be a little bit more just, a little bit more welcoming to the people it currently shuns, a little more in line with the Kingdom of God. 🙂

  • Good stuff, Matteo. I think some of the best advice we can give most people in America is “Shut up.” Social media makes it seem like we need to voice our opinion about every issue, but like you said, sometimes we just need to listen.
    “Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

  • Thanks for the encouragement to respond in a loving and Christ-like manner. I particularly resonate with your message that there is a time and place to express certain opinions. I am not against free speech nor people’s rights to hold opinions, even when that person has the audacity to disagree with me. But sometimes the most loving thing to do is hold that thought or comment for a better time, place or audience. As I age and hopefully gain wisdom, that is a lesson that seems to come to me more and more.

    I love you Matt and am proud of you.

  • Your post was given to me by my InterVarsity Supervisor and I’m glad I took the time to read it. I have been limiting my conversations about this since the verdict because I didn’t know what to think and I knew that I had too many unhelpful emotions for most people to hear. This post helped me to see what it looks like to be Christ-like in these types of situations. Living in Atlanta, GA has forced me to dig deeper into dealing with issues of race, but particularly the perpetuated black & white race relations. I was initially offended by an African-American friend’s posting about this trial because he commented that his white friends weren’t commenting so it seemed like they didn’t care. But its not that I don’t care, its that I come from a different place, and I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know what to do with the feelings I had about the case….or most black/white issues…because I don’t feel that there is really space or compassion for my voice. …but what I’m realizing today is that it doesn’t matter what I think or how I feel, or that I wish that the things were different… I can’t get stuck there and never find empathy or compassion. To be honest, I haven’t wanted to understand, I’ve simply wanted things to be different. I’ve wanted not to be grouped into the “white people don’t care” group. …but what I long for most should point me to Jesus, to the one who would have compassion first…to the one who longs for the same and even more beautiful restoration and healing than I can imagine. I understand now that I shouldn’t focus on my thought & opinions of the subject, but on Jesus, on “what would Jesus do?”. On “what does the gospel demand of me in this moment?” On being a part of the change I wish to see. Compassion…instead of opinion. Listening…instead of silence or speaking.

    Thank you Jesus for helping me see things differently.

    • Hi Morgan,
      Thanks for your thoughts on this. I really appreciate your honesty, willingness to reconsider how you were approaching the situation, and openness to listening and learning. Thank you *so much* for sharing. 🙂

  • Matt,

    I saw your post through a tweet by James Choung and wanted to toss in my two cents. I am white, have an IV background, and have spent a lot of time in different seasons of life going after racial reconciliation. Not saying that I was an expert or really connected deeply with non-whites (or specifically the Black community) but at least I have tried in some small ways. At one of the first racial rec conversations I had, a Black man told me something that stuck: “you have to own your own pain before you can engage with others.” And I think that’s really true. I’ve seen in my own life that I have to acknowledge and own my stuff (after I actually realize I have stuff) in order to be able to really have any empathy for others. I have tried in the past to just act like I don’t have stuff, or to act like I don’t have racial junk and baggage. But especially as I’ve interacted cross-culturally, I’ve come to realize that I got lots of junk too, not the same junk, but still lots of it. And me not acknowledging my junk just leads to bitterness, self hatred, disconnection, resentment, etc. Not to mention that I would bet the people of color I’m trying to love and empathize with can feel the fakeness and shallowness of it. So, I think that in order for me as a white man to really engage in loving across racial boundaries, I have to connect with myself first. What do I feel? What tensions and emotions are in me? I agree with you that being able to listen and empathize and love is great and we want to do that. But I don’t like you telling non-white people that today is not the day to have an opinion or a voice. That seems to me like enabling white people to keep living with a Messiah/white guilt complex where we think it’s up to us to heal all the racial hurt of everyone else and that our own feelings don’t matter. I think today of all days is a day where we need everyone’s hearts and voices and opinions and perspectives. We need dialogue from all sides. We need everybody in the conversation.

    This issue is pretty live for me, obviously. Hit me up at @dodgerfaninpdx , my public twitter, if you want to dialogue more.

    • Hey Eric,
      Thanks for the response!

      I love your thoughts about self-awareness. I agree; I think both an understanding of our own personal, corporate and familial brokenness, and also of the presence (and worth) of our own cultural, familial, ethnic, and racial identity is a vital key in our participation in cross-cultural conversation and friendships. Thanks!

      You heard me saying that non-white (I think you meant non-Black) people should not have an opinion or a voice today, but that wasn’t my wording or intent. But with your last sentence you got to the core of it–*we need everybody in the conversation.* You and I are on the same page here.

      Here’s the thing: This post is primarily written to the people who A) don’t use the phrase “in the conversation” or have the IV background you do, and B) participate in the conversation by shouting. The response I’ve seen, as I described in the post, from a huge segment of non-Black folks on this issue has been to shout out their litany of opinions and facts about why Black people should stop being so upset; it wasn’t about race! Stop playing the race card! This was the only legally defensible conclusion! Etc. etc.

      So, in this post, I’m not telling White people to not engage in conversation. I’m saying this: A good conversation involves just as much listening as it does speaking. I think we need to learn that, and I think the fact that many of us don’t understand that is particularly evident in the way many non-Black people have responded to hurting Black folks in this conversation.

      I hope that clears it up, and I’d love to talk more if you want. Thanks!

      -matt

  • Thanks, Matt. I don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said in previous comments. Out of all the responses to the Zimmerman verdict, yours is the one that has spoken, moved, and convicted me the most. There really will be better times to express opinions. We can only continue to pray for healing for all the pain and suffering around this incident.

  • I am reminded of the advice to “weep with those who weep” if for no other reason than that the Holy Spirit has enabled you to have some empathy.

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *