I write when I cannot take the pain anymore–the pain of trying to contain myself for the comfort of others. I have lived my entire life with pain. I learned early on that it cannot be avoided. In my experience, it is inevitable in this life. Suffering however, is optional. Suffering comes when you do not know what to do with your pain. By God’s grace, I know what to do with mine.
When I feel the life leaving my body, I know I have to act. What acting looks like to people is different. I write. I write because writing saves my life. I write because once the words are out of me I know that means my world is going to change. Once the words are out, there is no taking them back. Yes, I can edit them. I can censor them. I can even delete them. But once they are out, they are forever written on my heart and there is nothing that I can ever do to erase them. For you see, I see writing as a form of confession. I am confessing to myself that what I have written down is the best approximation of what I think and feel at the moment of their expression. That’s why I take what I write very seriously.
Today I am confessing that when I saw the most recent footage of Philando Castile being shot I could feel my life trying to leave my body again. Out of my pain, I began to wonder what the white people who care about me would say if I were shot by a police officer while reaching for my ID. I wonder this every time it happens, but today I am choosing to express it. Furthermore, I wonder what some white Christians would say if it happens and the report said:
UNARMED BLACK MINISTER, HUSBAND, AND FATHER SHOT DEAD BY OFFICERS WHILE PRAYING FOR THEM
And if I ever am shot by a police officer that is exactly what I’d be doing when they shot me because I pray for every single police officer I see. I started this practice as a way to free myself from my own biases toward police officers. Like many black people I have been stopped by the police many times. I have also had police officers say explicitly racist things to me. And, when in the military, I had an officer make an insane confession to me about why he carries a second gun with him after trying to tell me how I was “Different”. After a number of these experiences I came to not trust officers. But my faith compelled me to give this feeling over to God and to use that reaction to police as a reminder that I need to pray more and grow closer to God who I believe loves all people. To me, commitment to follow Jesus means being able to pray for those who might abuse you even as he did for those who did him wrong. That being said, praying doesn’t make it easier to deal with. Shoot. A lot of times it makes it harder. Maybe that is why so few people try it.
Often I don’t even bother trying to explain what it feels like to know that I live in a world where I am conscious that at any moment some person whose main sense of value comes from the lie that they are inherently better than me can decide to express “their rights” on me until my right to live freely is revoked. Not that I feel like I have the right to live freely. How can I? I have never had that experience in this country. I think this acceptance is the one thing that has kept me from breaking under the constant psychological assaults of being black in America. I do not believe that the “unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were ever meant to apply to me. If it was truly accepted by our society that these so called rights are endowed by my Creator then who could threaten them and who would want to? Yet all of my life I have been warned about and experienced the reality that I don’t actually have these rights. At best they are loaned to me by a predatory lender.
The way I view the world, it seems to me that the people who see this as “their country” feel like they can treat people like thieves for the audacity of wanting their rights precisely because they don’t believe those rights were ever meant to extend to them. Likewise, I think people who get hurt by this nation living according to the same character upon which it was built, feel disappointed because they live as if the rights they never had have been taken away. I do not roll like that. I rely on my own experience and my experience tells me that I live in a nation that is hostile to people who look like me.
Now saying this doesn’t mean I walk around thinking that every white person has aggression toward me. It has also been my experience that this isn’t true. I just think that many people take for granted that the America they live in is the same one I live in. And as long as they think that, they will be under the impression that what happened to Philando Castile is a horrible shame at best but not indicative of the actual society that we live in. But I am not saying this to convince anyone that my view is a more accurate one than theirs. Like I said before, I am confessing to myself because I need to move to the next stage in my own development.
When I think about the amount of mental energy I have had to use in order to stay conscious in this world, I sometimes feel like it could power a small city for years. God knows I would rather never think about this stuff. But I’m black so there it is. It’s my cross to bear.
I think the hardest part for me isn’t even the race piece and people’s amazing ability to justify injustice and willing ignorance. What I am having the most difficulty with is the awareness that there are Christians who say that they follow the teachings of someone who himself was unjustly murdered and yet can’t see the injustice among us. I try to be very careful not to judge where people are on their faith journeys, but I am really struggling with the idea that someone can say they follow Jesus and not confess that what happened to Philando Castile was wrong. That takes a special kind of denial skill. When does it stop?
If cases like this one (among the many) and the Rene Lima Marin case don’t affect the heart of a person who calls themselves a Christian, I can only imagine that they are following Christ from quite an incredible distance. I am deciding to not go so far as to say that they are not a Christian. I know what it is like to be told that (mostly by other Christians who judged me for not judging others.). However, I must say that it is head scratch worthy to think about how people can say that they love God and yet go about their day undisturbed when stuff like this happens. Maybe it’s because I can’t.
Even though I wrote this because it hurt too much not too, I also wrote it because the love in my heart tells me that if I allow myself to be vulnerable enough to put my thoughts out here, it will invite others to do the same.
That’s it for now.