An Apology to my Neighbors
Let me be the most clear about this: the internet doesn’t need my words, I just need to say them.
Last Wednesday night I was teaching an online class about abiding, in our dining room. It was my favorite class I’d taught in a while. Somewhere in the middle of it, I heard Nick yell, “OH NO!” through the glass doors that separate our dining and living room. I tried to complete the class without overthinking what might have gone wrong. When I’d signed off and finished my work, I joined him on the couch as we worldlessly watched the first bits of news come in.
Emanuel AME, Mother Emanuel, just 2.9 miles from our house.
Tragedy. Murder. Suspect still on the loose.
We spent the next few hours peering out our windows, checking in with family and neighbors, watching the news, and refreshing twitter incessantly. Nick finally came to bed in the early morning hours of Thursday. We didn’t have a lot of words to express our thoughts, just tears and news updates.
Thursday morning we talked through many things: was it safe for our kids to go to VBS, who would go to which events and vigils, how did we want to handle church on Sunday? I rode my bike to the gym, sobbing with my whole body, as I was exposed to the somber streets of my city. I saw grief, fear, and anger where I normally passed so many neighbors of so many colors nodding and smiling and waving graciously.
Our neighbors had been murdered. And it wasn’t that everything had suddenly changed, it was that the veil had been lifted once again exposing the idols, strongholds, and constructs of our city. I want you to know that Charleston is not consistently voted the #1 place to live in America by accident. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful, it’s got the best of all worlds. Our people are fantastic. And they are not, we are not all racists. Downtown Charleston feels a lot like a fresh new south. But the strongholds are still there. The constructs are there. And I have lived here ignorantly, talking about wanting peace and multi-cultural life – without living a life that seeks peace for all my neighbors.
With Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, McKinney Texas – I sat and watched the news, broken. It seemed so clear to me that SOMETHING WAS NOT RIGHT. I grew up seeing racism in my community and friend groups, I knew it in in subtle forms and heard it in vicious words. I didn’t know that many people in my adult life who flaunted it so clearly, but I believed it was real and that it was undergirding so many of the issues that flashed across my news screen. I thought what I saw happening was wrong. Tragic. Bewildering. But I stayed mostly silent.
Once I tried to tweet something, but I didn't do it wisely, it was an uniformed link with polarizing language. It frustrated someone I cared about it and I backed down. I lived in quiet fear and bought all the lies of why it was ok that I not say something. My voice wasn’t NEEDED, was it? So many other voices knew better. And I was speaking general truth out into the world about God, wouldn’t that ultimately help the larger problem of the darkness that pervaded us? But let’s call it what it was: fear. I was fearful that in trying to say the right thing, I’d say the exact wrong thing. I was fearful that I tried to start, I’d be exposed as exactly what I am: privileged, lacking knowledge about what it means to be black or minority in America, and unwise about how to combat the massive problem of racism in our country and world.
But then my neighbors were murdered. And it should never have taken that. But I won’t go back. I won’t live in fear. I won’t consider my own self-preservation greater than the worth of my brothers and sisters in Christ and my neighbors of all colors.
I am waving my flag and my palms are up. I haven’t seen surges of racism in my heart, but I have let ignorance and passivity run wild and I am so, so sorry. I have cared so much about the injustice that I see, but I’ve stayed quiet and I haven’t lent my voice or my hands to building a solution.
I don’t even know what it looks like. So I’m praying for ambassadors, for people I can listen to who know better. I’m asking Holy Spirit with all that is in me to show me next steps – of love, reconciliation, compassion, healing, rallying, support. I am vowing to cross the street and ask those neighbors how they’re feeling and what I can do. I am calling racism what it is and calling ignorance what it is and calling murder what it is. I am having the hard conversations with my kids and my friends and online followers.
Because my neighbors are worth it. They are worth so much more than that.
I have been ignorant and I am sorry.
I have been quiet and I am sorry.
I have been passive and I am sorry.
As my hands are up in repentance, I’m grateful for the grace that pours out on them from my loving Jesus. I believe He cares about this injustice so much more than I ever could and I believe He WILL lead us to repentance, He WILL lead us to justice, He WILL lead us to change. I believe He has been, long before I woke up to my ability to join this fight. I pray He works miracles in my lifetime and I pray my kids inherit a different Kingdom of God on earth. I pray theirs looks more like His than mine done. I pray their neighbors, of all colors and sizes, feel safer than mine do. I pray that they’ll see my life from here on out and won’t follow in my previous footsteps of passivity and ignorance.
And I’m begging for Him to help. Help my neighbors who are hurting beyond my own imagination. Heal my city and our nation from the inside out. Start with me, show me Your ways, give me your heart.
This post is dedicated to my neighbors: Cynthia Hurd, Senator Clementa C. Pinkney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., Depayne Middletown Doctor, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson.