Lord I Need You: A White Christian Activist’s Prayer

Charlottesville. My heart is broken. Shattered. I’m consumed. It’s grief.
I’m easily angered. I’m crying when no one is looking. I’m reminded of being a teen listening to Sinead O’Connor’s “Black Boys On Mopeds” and crying. I was crying because I knew the plight of my black neighbors. But I also knew the plight of my parents. My sister. Myself. Oppression comes in many forms.

But not all of these forms are socially sanctioned for generations.
I don’t know that kind of oppression.

In the insert to the Sinead album was a pic that said “God’s Place Is The World, But The World Is Not God’s Place.” That’s how I’m feeling today. If I’m honest, I feel that way everyday. But definitely today. See, I know how the grief cycle works. Professionally, but also personally. I don’t recall a time when I haven’t been grieving something. Because that’s the path of the wounded healer. That is the path of those of us for whom life keeps happening quicker than healing does. And that is the experience of every person of color that I’ve ever had a real conversation with. And a force that causes so much continual suffering for so many children of God has a name: EVIL.

God, I beg you. Please heal the evil in me and in all of us. All of humanity. We are sick. We are broken. God, I repent for I believe that the Kingdom is at hand. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done. Because this isn’t it.

I am so angry. The moral arc of the universe may bend towards justice but it’s bent from the sheer weight of time and casualty. And that shit is operating at a 5 degree angle most of the time. But anger is not a pure emotion. It is always the “lacing in the drink.” Sorrow is the root of my anger. Though I know this, I still often drink from the cup of anger and ask that the cup of suffering, the cup of sacrifice, pass from me.

God, heal me from my tendency to take refuge in anger as a way to cope. It is ineffective. It is destructive. It is not your way. God, give me the courage to break instead. Not to just break down, but to also break open. For this is who you are and who I long to be. This is the way of the Cross.

I am angry at the idols built in the name of God. I despise and rebuke the white Jesus and the white God idols in so many of our buildings and so many of our minds. I despise and rebuke the self-interest of much of white Christianity and safe the distance that it so often keeps from the suffering of others so much of the time.

God, heal us from the idolatry that has been instituted in your name. But God, please also heal me. For what I see in others, I don’t just see, I recognize. Because what I see “out there” also lives in here. Please walk me through the dark corners of my own heart, to take ownership of my own sinfulness, and to take refuge in you and seek healing in you daily while working for change in this world.

Carl Jung famously said: “What you resist not only persists but it grows larger.” Possibly the craziest paradox of this world is that the darkness in us and around us must be embraced in order to be transformed and healed. I know this, teach this, preach this. And I suck at it. Tremendously. I fail daily.

God, you have shown us how you embrace our brokenness and deficiency in the life and teachings of Jesus. You have taught us how to, in turn, offer this to others around us. God, your ways are mysterious. But they’re also difficult. Simple, but difficult. The degree to which I get this right and am of any use whatsoever is the degree to which you infiltrate me. I beg you for that. Although I’ll grumble and groan the whole way, I invite and it and I need it.

My friend and pastor, Eddie, reminded our congregation a few weeks ago that, of all species, only humans are capable of disgust and just what a damaging emotion disgust is. How it separates, divides, objectifies. How it justifies.

God, make me an instrument of your peace. God, in my disgust, I am disgusting. Please make me more like my brother, Eddie. Please make me more like you. I don’t want to be this way. I often spike my hurt with my ugliness. Help me to keep the two separate. Help me to trust your prompting over the accusations of passivity or centrism, whether the source of these accusations be internal or external. Those voices are not your voice.

Dualistic thinking is killing us. Standing in the middle is difficult. There are accusations on both sides of any dualistic argument. But there is a big difference in staying out of things and standing in the gap. Staying out of things is a privileged position. Standing in the gap is the path of Jesus. Not of religion, not of Christianity, but of Jesus. It’s also in the Buddhist teaching of the Middle Way. It’s in the language of the Christian mystics and the Biblical prophets. It is embodied in the lives of the saints. It is at the heart of the Perennial Tradition. In analytical psychology we speak of holding the tension of the opposites. It was the way of our spiritual ancestors in the struggle for freedom and equality. It’s the Golden Rule. And, most important to me: It’s the character of Jesus.

I, too, see a better way. But it’s not my way. It’s God’s way. I can’t formulate the right sales pitch, I’m not a salesman. I can’t preach the right sermon, I’m not a pastor. I can’t come up with the right combination of words to heal, I’m not a shaman. But, in a way, being fully human in our suffering is persuasive, pastoral, and healing. There is power in shared suffering, in universality, in fully embracing a broken humanity. That is the power of the Cross. That is taking up our cross. Sometimes “My God, My God Why Have You Forsaken Me” is the most profoundly appropriate thing one could say.

God, heal me from the idols of approval and praise. God, make me immune to all criticism unless it is from you and leads me towards restoration of my true self, your other children, and your world.

I’m exhausted. A few months ago I hit a wall. In the past year I have been blessed with opportunities to do social justice work at a level I’ve always dreamed of. I worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Kellogg Foundation, The Human Rights Campaign, The Isom Center, and the Winter Institute, with administration at Ole Miss, as well as with the college ministry within my church, various camps, and other places. I co-lead two town halls dedicated to racial justice and moderated another town hall related to human rights. I presented alongside some big names and heroes. I fought discriminatory legislation in the State and Federal courts. But I also crashed. In addition to teaching social work classes and trying to embody the heart of that tradition and the heart of my faith tradition, I was also counseling the marginalized and fighting injustice at every opportunity. I was “doing good and being good.” But I also ran out of steam. I crashed. I couldn’t be fully present in class, I couldn’t fully be anywhere. I can remember having the opportunity to do work that I’d always felt led to, called to, and had been anticipating, but I just couldn’t fully be there. I remember co-leading a several month long racial reconciliation group that was one of the most beautiful and constructive things I’ve ever been blessed to be a part of. But I also remember being there at the end of a 14 hour day and feeling a mixture of numbness and reactivity. And driving home half awake. I was at the end of myself. Honestly, I’m still disoriented. Still recovering. Going against the grain is like swimming upstream. It’s exhausting. Luckily, I always seem to most powerfully encounter Jesus when I am at the end of myself.

God, please remind me of your presence when I become disoriented. Please keep me aware that you are always with me, that I am simply forgetful when I am stressed. God, I invite you into my stress and disorientation. God, please keep reminding me that it’s not about me. This is your work. God, remind me continually to keep my eyes on the prize. And to honor the Sabbath and keep it Holy.

At the end of the day, I’m just walking towards Jesus. But, to escape total romanticization, I must confess that I’m also working out my own shit. That’s just what we do. No stance is pure. But that’s not a bad thing as long as we acknowledge it.  It’s just simply part of the work. But one thing is for sure: Blabbing on Facebook is not activism. At best, it’s grandstanding, at worst it is a thin veil for covert emotional violence. This much I know from experience: If you’ve burned more calories typing, complaining, or pointing fingers than taking action, it’s probably not activism. If you’re more “tired of it” than tired from working on it, it’s probably not activism. It’s probably ego and the irrationality that comes with being triggered, no matter how rightfully so. Emotions are important, but also intoxicating. May they make us constructive, not destructive. I confess that I am frequently emotionally intoxicated.

God, please make me acutely aware of my desire to be “right” instead of righteous. And, Lord knows, please keep me from ever falling under the illusion that I am righteous. Make me aware of my desire to be smart, insightful, “enlightened” or otherwise awesome. God, give me the support to endure fully seeing my own ridiculousness without falling into despair and humiliation.

We should listen to the “snowflakes” of the world. They are sometimes like thermometers or meteorologists. The “sensitive” among us are often in tune and sense oncoming social phenomena just as birds sense oncoming weather phenomena. The same toxic masculinity that shuts down a 5 year old boy’s tears or “toughens up” an empathic teenage boy is the same toxic masculinity that fuels violence. We need the softness of the boy, of the girl, of the feminine in our world. When we are not allowed to become as little children we become fractured adults.

We live in a world of opposites, of shadows. People tell you who they are through their actions. But it’s the opposite of their actions that are hidden. Look for it. The “superior” feel inferior. The “tough” are weak. The “unloving” are in need of love and healing. What a person does to others is a secondary act. The violence started within and is projected outwards. This doesn’t justify it one bit. But the best way to fight is to know your opponent well. As C.G. Jung put it: “When we work with our own darkness we can more adequately work with the darkness of others.” Jesus speaks of particles in our eyes pointing to both our common humanity and our common inhumanity.

God, heal me from my tendency to harden, to shut down, to close my eyes and ears and disengage from opportunities to grow, to be useful, to be an instrument of peace and a minister of reconciliation. God, help me to learn from voices other than those of my “tribe” as all people and all tribes are your people and my siblings.

Deep calls out to deep. But dark calls out to dark. The deep, dark unconscious violence and racism in our country has been drawn out of the shadows of denial and it’s roots in unhealthy psychology and a broken spirituality have been exposed. We must take a long, hard look at this. We absolutely must resist. But we need a counterweight of embrace. Otherwise we become defined by what we resist. This is the law of things, both psychologically and spiritually. Many schools, many traditions, many teachers, over many centuries have told us so. As dark as it is, it is also an opportunity to deal with our past, our present, ourselves, and the ongoing inequities that are so often denied and justified. The darkness is pregnant with opportunity for new life to emerge. As citizens, and as humans, we owe this to one another. Those of us who are privileged owe this much to those who disproportionately suffer from discrimination and oppression.

God, give me peace beyond understanding. God, give me a measure of your grace, peace, and compassion to share with a broken world for I just simply don’t have enough in me. I know a few things. I talk a great game. But I am broken, deficient, and insufficient.

At a group meeting at the William Winter Institute the question was asked: “What label causes you to feel most misunderstood?” My answer: “When I say I’m a Christian.” Because that means something different to me than it seems to mean to many people. That title is loaded with assumptions, baggage, and hurtful experiences for many people, myself included. In this past few years I have lost many Christian friends. And I’ve received lots of hate mail from them. When? When I stood with the oppressed. Like the guy that loved my sermons until he realized I was “a liberal.” Or the close friend that told me that I “love black men more than I love my wife.” I’ve been labeled “Mr. White Guilt” by the same police investigator that offered to pick me up and take me to lunch at a restaurant but instead pulled over on the side of the road and gave me a “talking to” because of my stances on race and police violence and then sat alone in the balcony of the first town hall meeting glaring at me. His intent was to intimidate. It worked. He scared the Hell out of me. And I watched as the above mentioned close friend liked this officer’s FB post referring to me as “Mr. White Guilt.” I’ve been told by a “concerned Christian friend” that “my wife is too hot for me to be going gay.” The same man told me I was the most “evil Christian that he knew” and that I was on dangerous ground. And that I was guilty of “caring more about people than about God.” He ended with saying he was doing this “out of love and would pray for me from afar.” In reality, it was because I liked Bernie Sanders and believe in equality for all. And, mostly, because he’s simply an arrogant asshole that I must learn to love, forgive, and embrace anyway. I’ve had many Christian friends turn their backs on me when I was hurting the most and most in need of a shoulder to lean on. I’ve been consistently met with the thought that you can’t care about social justice and be a Christian at the same time. I’ve been called “a bitch” and and “a false prophet deserving of a false Heaven.” I’ve been talked about, gossiped about, lied on. Misunderstood. Mislabeled. Painted into a corner. All by fine Christian friends. That I went to church with.

But you don’t have to read very far into the Gospels to see that Jesus was treated in the same ways by the religious. Religion is part of the problem. If you don’t believe it, stand with the marginalized and see what happens. It’s a big part of why so many of us don’t. Or try and burn out fast.

But none of this is oppression. It’s irritation, or at best, hardship and heartbreak.
I’m not complaining. I’m not a victim. I’m just telling the damn truth.

I attended a meeting yesterday with mostly LGBTQ people many of whom obviously love God and wrestle with how and where to practice their faith in a world that largely treats them as second class citizens. That’s true oppression.

There’s just simply too much pain, division, and destruction in this world. It arises from the human heart and it is spoken into the world with human mouths, carried out with human hands, and spread by human feet. The devil is in the mirror.

The older I get, the more gratitude I have for those who truly love me for who I am. And I aspire to truly love others for who they are in return.
It’s been a long road learning to love myself. And it was when I saw myself through God’s eyes that it happened. I want to see all people through God’s eyes. And this was the first step. For me anyway.

I want to continue working for justice in this world. So I’m not ashamed to say that I need God. As much now as ever. I need the love of Jesus to hold me together. I need the sanity of the Gospel to keep me accountable. I need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to order my steps. I need the embrace of a good, good Father. I need the protection of a Shepherd. I need someone, and not just anyone, to walk me home.

Lord I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without you I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need you, oh, I need you
Every hour I need you
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need you…..