racism

The Spider-Verse

We watched Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse for the 10th or 20th time last night. It is an animated film. Technically speaking, that’s all it is. As my wife would say, it’s a cartoon. She’s wrong, though, it’s much more than that. It is an hour and 57 minutes that rearranges the notion of what is possible in film, story, technology. Historically, there have been movies that mark a clear before and after. An easy example was Pulp Fiction. Before its release, cinema followed certain accepted structures. After, those walls had been bulldozed and filmmakers, writers, actors were all free to run and chase their imaginations into spaces previously thought nonexistent.

This creative explosion happens in every area of humanity; athletics, architecture, music, education, even religion. I remember many instances that blew my rational mind, profoundly changing my tiny idea of what God could and would do in any circumstance. I’ve seen people transform seemingly in front of my eyes, organizations metamorphose into the butterflies we all needed but whose creators couldn’t have conceived.

These seismic shifts invite us to dream, to exorcise the despair that says what was will always be, that believes “it is what it is,” that lost the childlike hope of faith.

Then there are other moments that confirm that our wildest dreams of what is possible were not misplaced. Against all evidence to the contrary, our fantastical visions are validated and that gives us the strength to take one more step into the darkness. 

Yesterday was one of those for me. 2 young women, aged 19 and 20 (!!!), organized a protest to respond to this abhorrent racism that we all see and feel all around us right now. It’s a divisive topic and I can’t even begin to figure out why. Life is the most sacred gift we have, why would we not want to protect that for all of God’s children? Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. And it’s painfully obvious our silence hasn’t fixed anything, as if it ever could. Why would we not gather to express our collective pain?

Because it won’t work, or it’ll turn violent, or whatever. There are so many ‘because’s, so many ‘why not’s. When I asked my boys if they wanted to go, they were afraid of the riots on tv, the burned out stores and city street chaos. I guess it’s fear that mostly keeps any of us from challenging what has always been. We’re often scared to leave unfulfilling jobs, abusive relationships, unhealthy pattern because the unknown can be more terrifying than the now that is dismantling us. 

We went anyway, because we follow Jesus and that requires us to believe we’re all brothers and sisters , and that tomorrow can be different from today. That everything matters and we can…no, that we are called to bring, to make, peace. 

There were many colors and a sacred energy that what we were doing was vital to the healing of our world. It did not turn violent. Of course, there were reports of some regrettable behavior, which will happen when people get together, but no violence. There was kindness and kinship in our shared goal. Maybe it won’t work, but it certainly won’t work if we all stay home.

Now. Here’s what I have to tell you. We are not wrong. Our faith is justified, what we imagine possible, is. We can make a difference, we can change the world. It won’t be in our silence and it won’t be in violence. It will be in presence and love, and like yesterday afternoon, it will be amazing.

George Floyd & Hawk Nelson

Before we begin, I want to say something. Police officers murdered George Floyd. I’m sitting with this, broken-hearted, and would like to write something on it. It’s a revolting act of racism, and the frequency of things like this illustrate that it isn’t isolated. It isn’t the act of 1 or 3 officers in a certain situation. It isn’t a single town, a single police department. It’s a virus that has spread through all of us, in every town, in every country – a virus we’ve chosen to ignore for way too long. To loosely paraphrase Eugene Debs, while there is a knee on anyone’s neck, we all can’t breathe. No more.

Here’s an unrelated thing. (That’s a joke, nothing is unrelated.)

Jon Steingard, lead singer of Christian band Hawk Nelson, stated yesterday that he no longer believes in God. In a looooooong Instagram post he confessed his conversion (or de-version?). Maybe Instagram is the perfect place for that sort of thing. If it isn’t, then where is? Anyway. He detailed an upbringing spent in the church (dad was a pastor), his marriage to a nice Christian girl (her dad was a pastor, too), singing and songwriting for a band that may or may not be any good (they’re at least popular enough that his recent un-faithing made national news), into the circumstances that led him to ask the questions that would drive him away from God.

He asked BIG picture questions like if God is all loving and all powerful, why is there evil in the world? Can He not fix it, and if He doesn’t want to, WHY NOT? Then more specific about what is in the Bible: Why did God allow the horrible things to happen to Job? Why would He command Abraham to kill his son? Why did Jesus have to die? (As you know, there are verses, paragraphs, chapters that are very problematic.) Then, about the Bible itself: Is it “simply a book written by people as flawed and imperfect as I am?”

These are real questions. I know them well, I’ve asked them.

The thing is that the church has historically run from any and all forms of doubt, been terrified of questions, especially ones like these. But for some of us, they absolutely need to be asked. There is no other option. We need the space to walk in the wilderness with a God big enough to withstand the uncertainty. (Like most of my reservations with God, faith, The Church and the church – they were rarely with God Himself. I wanted a God Who was big enough, and He was already there, waiting for me to ask. And exactly as in the Bible, He was often the only One completely comfortable with all of the questions and doubts. I didn’t say I got answers, but He never said I would.)

And we need others humble enough to set aside their need for control and withstand it, too.

What happens over and over is that we all worship our comfort and understanding so much that anything that might shake it even the slightest bit is squashed. We pretend these questions don’t exist and violently shame anyone who might not assent to the facade until they do, or until they walk away.

It’s exactly the same with this kind of institutional racism, wishing it away, fingers crossed. Because to open our eyes to the death of George Floyd (and the system in which it exists) and see what is actually there…well, it’s unconscionable and requires action, demands revolution.

As far as any of the questions, most I still can’t answer. But I have to keep asking. We all have to keep asking. Maybe if we asked earlier, Hawk Nelson would still have its lead singer and George Floyd might still be alive.