Lives that matter

Black lives matter Police lives matter

All lives matter

A person would have to have their head in the sand to not have heard these.  Social media is full of one liners and thoughtful essays, expressing opinions, sharing painful stories, or expressing outrage relating to these statements.

I am particularly fascinated by those who are outraged by the idea anyone would dare to value one particular group over another.  This critique is generally directed towards the Black Lives Matter movement.  From what I can tell all the other “lives matter” statements are simply a reaction to Black Lives Matter.

If I am honest I have to admit that I have occasionally reacted.  Doesn’t my life matter?  I have been reflecting on this lately.  Where is this coming from?  At one level it is a simple gut reaction to anything that would appear to reduce my value, importance, or wisdom.  Quite honestly this has been part of my DNA for as long as I can remember.

I was born into a world where men were men and women fell into two categories.  The first were mothers whose primary responsibility was to look after the home front.  The second were single women who, if they had to work only worked temporarily, were waiting for God’s chosen man to come and rescue them.  Then they could fulfill their home front duties!

I must admit that my perspective on women changed slowly.  Partly because admitting that women were my equal meant more competition in the work place and more importantly it disrupted my understanding of what it was to be a man.  I liked the idea of being the stronger sex, the more intelligent partner, and the leader.

Part of my journey toward gender equality meant admitting that female lives mattered.  They mattered in all the ways that my life mattered – in terms of calling, leadership ability, work life, parenting, education, ministry, and anything else I may have forgotten.  This journey towards equality required changes in my behavior towards, beliefs about, and understanding of gender roles.  Equality also meant mutuality and respect in all areas of life, from the domestic to the professional.

When we admit that a life matters, particularly a life that is different, whether that be race, culture, religion, gender, or orientation, we are saying the other is created in the very image and likeness of God.  We are saying they have worth and value.  We are saying that they are called to lead, even “us.”  We are saying that they have all the rights, responsibilities, and value that I have.

The problem with moving from something particular, like Black lives, to something general (like all lives) or powerful (like police lives) is that we marginalize the truth.  The world I grew up in restricted women to the home by denying and minimizing their created value.  We have denied and minimized the value of Black lives.  This is sin.  As such it must be confronted, particularly by people of faith.  It must be confronted at the individual level.  More importantly it must be confronted at a structural level.

As we journey towards this new world of respect and mutuality the narrative will begin to change.  The negative stereotype of color will begin to fade.  Black lives will matter in ways that are real and measurable.  When a young man gets stopped for speeding, he will know it was because he was speeding, not because of the color of his skin.  We are not there yet, but with intentionality, honest reflection, and confession it is possible for us to get there.

Change

I have been thinking about change lately.  What does it take to do or see things differently? A few weeks ago I was visiting with a pastor.  The conversation turned towards change.  Specifically how does a church change?  Even simple things like changing where someone sits or what time the service begins is almost an impossible task.  If given a choice most want things to stay the same.  After all, change is stressful and the status quo is predictable.

Near the end of our conversation my friend talked about the DNA of institutions, organizations, and churches.  All of these groups are created with a particular DNA, and even if all the founders are no longer around the DNA of the groups continues.  These founding structures, policies, and traditions provide stability.  This stability creates a culture that new members must adjust to.  In churches this manifests publically with a particular style of worship, preaching, and pot-lucks.  At an unspoken level the organizational DNA creates litmus tests for who can and cannot be in leadership.  Again all of this creates stability, predictability, and tradition.

Nothing stays the same forever.  Being able to adapt and change is critical to survival.  Change is one of those things that will happen.  It can be healthy or unhealthy; slow or quick; forced or chosen.  Regardless, change will happen.

How change happens is an issue that impacts all of us.

How do we help churches to open themselves to new traditions and let go of old ways of doing things?  For many in the church the faith traditions that have been developed over time have been valuable, enriching, and formative.  Can we allow something new to emerge that will be valuable, enriching, and formative to a new generation of church goers?

Lately many of us have been confronted with the Black Lives Matter movement.  Some people of privilege respond with “all lives matter.”  I suspect that much of this response exists to lessen the sting of the injustice that this movement is confronting.  Black Lives Matter has never been a about the lack of value in the lives of other people, including the police and my children.  It is a movement that asks us to change, to change how we see and value the lives of our black brothers and sisters.  To value them as much as we value the lives of our own family members and the people called to protect us on a daily basis.

The ability to change, whether that is how we worship or how we view those who are different is what makes us human.  Change is what leads to compassion and empathy.  Change is what can make the world a better place.

I am tired of people of faith who use Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever…” as an excuse not to change their world view.  More of us need to spend time reflecting on what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:9, “For we know only in part…”  As we learn to own this, we will find the courage to change, to make the world a better place.