Ferguson | I Am the Problem

CCS handsThe heart overflows in the words a person speaks; your words reveal what’s within your heart.

The ancient physician Luke wrote those words… the doctor, the Jesus-follower, the educated disciple who walked with the One who redefined healing.

The heart overflows in the words a person speaks.  Oh, I’ve been that person, the fool, clutching after my spoken words as they dissolve into memories never forgotten. I’ve talked. I’ve asked for forgiveness. I’ve used a tone of voice.  I’ve begged for reconciliation. I’ve even dared to examine my heart to see if Luke’s claim was true. The heart overflows in the words a person speaks. Maybe you’ve been there, too.

But what about silence?  What does it reveal?

Your words reveal what’s within your heart. So then does silence reveal emptiness? Hollow spaces?  Shallow thoughts?  Denial?

I don’t think so.  Not always.

I took a break from social media in the last few weeks of summer, hoping to be as present as possible with my kids and husband.  That whirlwind called Back to School was about to blow through our family, and I needed every possible distraction gone to hold off the storm just a few more days.  I planned to join the conversation again once school started.  I planned to find my seat at the table, however undeserved.

But the last weekend of summer, a black teen was shot by a white police officer, and suddenly the world was talking about St. Louis, Missouri and our suburb called Ferguson. I had more questions than answers. So I started listening.

It’s no secret I’m passionate about racial diversity. And I’ve said this many times, but I’ll say it again: The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.  And the more I realize I don’t know, the more inclined I am to stay silent.  This doesn’t feel like the right approach, but I can’t seem to hear enough, can’t seem to listen enough to truth amidst a cacophony of reactions.  I’m actually thirsting after that which is pure and just and right, like you, and I can’t seem to satisfy the longing.  Are you still thirsty, too?

So I started conversations with individuals.  I spoke to the African American journalist working part-time in my town’s local book shop.  I listened to my black friends… of course their opinions are varied and different from each other’s.  I shared coffee with a white friend who has adopted black kids, who openly anticipates what her kids will face when she’s not holding their hands in public anymore.  I met with another white friend, a former police officer.  I spoke with friends of color — neither African American or Caucasian.

Quite a diverse bunch.

I heard about personal experiences and people they admire and situations they fear.  I heard about white privilege.  I heard about misunderstandings.  I heard about worry over what their sons could face as teens someday. I heard about the brokenness in our country’s history in ways I hadn’t before. And yes, there were present-day stories, too, testifying we have a long, long way to go.

And I am just one person.

I am a mere individual who heard all of that in the past month. The conversation, my goodness, it was roaring all over the world. It was the top headline on broadcasts and news websites.  I can’t imagine the magnitude of all the words spoken in public forums and living rooms and dorms and police stations and churches and locker rooms.  Words about race, questions about how and why history followed the path it did — I was listening, and indeed, people were talking.

And I wanted to believe the intricacies of God’s Great Story will be revealed to us all one day at the dawn of eternity.  But maybe not.

I am overwhelmed at times. I’m surprised as tears fill my eyes at the most random of moments.  And the emotions evoked — there’s frustration and deep sadness and guilt and confusion and regret and anger.

You see, there’s wounds in our nation’s story.

It’s as if the death of one young man ripped off the scars from yesteryear, revealing history’s wounds and fear and silence and ignorance.  And while the world was discovering the brokenness within my own city, I too was aching.  I ached for the hurting.  I ached for the ignorant.  I ached for my children and grandchildren because they will feel very, very small when they try to think of a solution.

I ached for my own self – for my biases, for my misperceptions, for my insecurity and pride, for my fear.

G. K. Chesterton, a prolific writer and thinker of the 20th century, read a question posed by The Times.  “What’s wrong with the world?”, asked the editor, hoping to collect wisdom from ordinary readers.  And Chesterton’s response proves that sometimes less really is more:

Dear Sir,
I am.
Yours,
G.K. Chesterton.

Imagine if we examined our hearts each morning to see if anything we’d judged the day before was raging within our own hearts.  And could you dare to go deeper?  If we didn’t find a storm, could we find quiet, dormant thoughts, hollow space void of virtues, ready to erupt at the next situation?  The pointing finger leads three other fingers pointing back at me.

When I stare at layers and layers of brokenness in the world, I see racism and stereotyping and misunderstanding, but I see a whole lot more.  I see child trafficking, and orphans, and kids who don’t have clean water to drink, and families turned against each other —  passions God has imprinted on friends’ hearts.  And I get really overwhelmed.

I often tell my children the only people they can change is themselves.  We can’t explain why everyone acts the way they do — in the lunchroom, the classroom, the playground.  But we can change ourselves.  We can surrender our own sin and choose a different path.  We can use discernment to keep our mouths shut or advocate for ourselves or ask for forgiveness or choose a different activity.  We can examine our own hearts.

And one conversation at a time, maybe we will make a difference.

I have some friends who lost their husbands to cancer when they were in the prime of raising their young families.  And one friend anticipated how she would survive the days and weeks and months after her husband’s passing.  “I’m going to get up tomorrow, and get out of bed, and put one foot in front of the other.”

The night of her husband’s funeral, that was her plan.  No dreams about the 5K they’d run for colon cancer research.  No dreams about the large groups who would hear her story.  No dreams about the poetry and art and stories her kids would create.  No dreams about how she could change her own corner of the world.

It was just “one foot in front of the other.”

And for us, yes, one conversation at a time after exploring our own hearts, maybe we’ll impact culture.

Photo by Sugarbean Photography

8 thoughts on “Ferguson | I Am the Problem

  1. These are just the words that deserve a platform. THIS is just the kind of heart that just might make a difference. Thank you for sharing this, friend.

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  2. Thank you so much for these wonderful words! I grew up in Ferguson and returned for the first time this August because I wanted to hear from people in the community. I am planning to return Oct 10-13. I live in Boston and have been organizing racial dialogues in the community mostly in churches and it’s been an amazing journey! Thanks again!

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  3. I love reading your words…you’ve so perfectly expressed much of what has been stirring in me these past few weeks. I wanted to turn away from the pain that erupted after the tragedy in Ferguson but God really pressed me to realize I would only be contributing to the hurt. So, I needed to lay down my “self” and be willing to engage in tough conversations, watch the news and listen. Beyond trying to find a way to serve the people of Ferguson, I have not yet discovered all God is calling me to do…in being a voice (and listening ear) that brings healing. But, I have decided not to sit by passively, instead intentionally look for opportunities where God can use me to speak His love in my community and in the world. Thanks for sharing this!!!

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