I find it ironic that a mug sits on my desk touting the word “breathe.” I purchased it last fall at a conference under the same name. Breathe; a three-day respite from the daily struggles of mental illness. Three days to exhale the years of holding my breath. Three days to breathe IN the Spirit, the life-giving love of Jesus to strengthen me for the days to come. This mug, a perpetual reminder for me to take a deep breath in the face of adversity as the headlines scream of George Floyd, the latest African-American in a long 400-year line begging to keep the final breath in his lungs as it is forced out in brutal terms, is reminding me on this day to take a different kind of breath. The kind that isn’t so self-focused or isolated.
It seems a no-brainer to say that all human beings are equal. The Bible is clear on this. But we call God’s diverse creation into question when study after study on inequality proves that the system is biased, fearful, and prejudiced towards minorities in everything from neighborhoods, to jobs, to services, to the judicial system. We use words to say, “that isn’t right,” while our behavior passively accepts the injustice. If we allow this to continue, and don’t begin to integrate our actions with our words to stand up against prejudice, then we are perpetuating inequality. Myself included, because I’ve never looked at racism as my problem. “It’s sad what ‘they’ have to deal with but that is not my reality so I can move on and not worry about it.” Wrong. Allowing our fellow citizens to behave immorally against fellow citizens without question makes us caretakers of the system. Passively watching from the sidelines is, in effect, allowing the breath to be taken from people who we silently deem unworthy of equality.
As followers of Jesus, we cannot claim to love God but not his people. We cannot say God is good and select certain people groups to treat as less-than at the same time. Christians are charged to love everyone, right down to their neighbors and their enemies. We have all been raised and trained in the system. We grew up with ugly thinking. Systemic racism is so entrenched in the fabric of our being, it is so normal, that we don’t recognize (or we choose to ignore) the red flags when they are raised until a man is heinously and purposely suffocated right before our eyes in the middle of the street. What an absolute tragedy that we as a society have created and perpetuated such hateful behavior for centuries, and all the while claiming to be a Christian nation.
The mug on my desk, reminding me to breathe differently, calls into question my beliefs, biases, judgments, and behaviors. How am I contributing to racism in my daily life? In my texts, emails, verbal conversations, and social media? What is my contribution to the problem? What do I need to change?