Desperately Seeking Forgiveness: A Conversation on Race, Culture, and Christ

{By Lisha Epperson} 

 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says The Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” -Revelation 1:8

 

It’s hot in NYC. The first week of consistently high temperatures heralds the news – “summer is here.” It’s mad hot, fighting hot, uncomfortable. In the hood they’d say it’s the kind of heat that makes you wanna slap yo mama. It’s hot. The national climate of racial tension is pushing us. We’re all on the verge. But who needs another reason to be irritable?

 

I want to feel hopeful. But I haven’t. This is a little bit of where my heart has wandered and what has helped.

 

On Sunday my pastor reminded me to trust God with my lamentation but to be sure to move on to the solid rock of the word. God wants to do us good and make us happy. Stick to the truths that do not change. God is in control.

 

I keep forgetting that part – come back to what is true.

 

In my lamentation I see a 21-year-old boy so filled with hate he’d plan and execute the murder of 9 innocent people in church. In my lamentation I wonder about the world that nurtures that particular brand of evil. I wonder how we keep turning the other cheek and pressing forward to a place of forgiveness – confident in the promise of a heavenly by and by. All the talk of this world not being our home has left us walking around like aliens – standing in line asking for handouts in a country soaked in the blood of our ancestors.

 

It makes me wonder about weakness. Happy clappy people are all well and good but is it possible to become complacent in our desire to get our praise on? Are we moving backwards? Because all I hear right now is praise for the “docile, forgiving Negro.”

 

That….makes me mad.

 

New Picture

 

Over a conversation about books and business, an acquaintance and I got into a discussion about the troubled times we live in. She addressed it from a spiritual angle and wondered over discernment. Going so far as to question how evil could sit in our presence unrecognized. How we could feed the enemy without knowing it. She went on to admonish that Christians should never put their guard down. I know we’ve been played like this before, but the suggestion that I be on my post, armed every day, all day, in my own home made me tired. It made me give hospitality the side eye with speculations about trust and worry I’d never again, make a new friend.

 

We’re so trusting. People like Rachel Dolezal feel comfortable enough to walk up into our culture and claim it as their own. Hmmm. Things are changing but they aren’t changing fast enough. I’m with Dr. King, enough with courage. I feel cautious. But it doesn’t feel good. For the first time, following Martin feels frightening. Caution means I don’t trust. And if we’re there again. Sigh.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made it plain in 1963. “We have to be concerned about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which produced the murderers.” That was 52 years ago, in response to the Birmingham church bombings.

 

Sadly I don’t see changes in the system, the everyday system that would make a different world possible. It’s in the little things. It’s how I’m the only mother of color on the playground with my children during the day. We can talk about the socio-economic implications that make stay at home life an improbable dream for many women, but more likely, it’s that there are women of color on the playground. They’re all working – taking care of white children. It’s how many of my white friends, Christian and otherwise, quietly admit the existence of racist family members. And how most white parents of little white girls haven’t purchased a black doll for their daughters. Most black families I know have laid out the cash to be inclusive. It’s the little things that shape the culture.

 

Between plating up dinner for 6 and pulling together clothes for the a.m. rush I thought about what I said last week. We are believers. We have faith. We stand up. But those words have weighed on me. Because the truth is I wonder if those are the words of the mule. Could they be the words of century’s old training to be the mule? The mule will forgive you. Have we, have I responded yet again, to an outright attack on our humanity with the only thing this world expects and is willing to receive from us? Forgiveness?

 

Always with the rolling over, the invitation to ride again, to do us wrong.

 

Is there room at the table to discuss anger, rage, and denial – all within a context of Christian forgiveness? I’m not sure we’re being authentic if we don’t address those feelings. Can we talk about unforgivable sins and the unbelievable grace that covers them? Because that’s what I’m mediating on – the road between sin and grace. Forgiveness is beautiful but we’ve got a long way to go.

 

To be clear this is public forgiveness we’re talking about – it’s step one in moving forward. It’s self-preservation at its finest and (in this case) white people or anyone else trying to manipulate the story needs to know the forgiveness process doesn’t have anything to do with them.

 

I think that’s the piece that’s missing. And I don’t want the holy work of forgiveness to be lost in the middle of a conversation about appropriate and expected responses to a grief that, for the families is not yet private.

 

Forgiveness is not a one-time event. Forgiveness is a choice we have to make – sometimes daily. Forgiveness is hard. Is there space for Christians to say, “I know I’m supposed to forgive but it’s hard? There’s been no apology, no repentance, and no atonement. I’m still grieving.” Am I allowed to say the words out of obedience to God? This, in full acknowledgment that my feelings will have to catch up with my faith – that saying it means I’m trying and I believe God will honor that.

 

Is there not space for the truth? – That forgiveness is soul-hard heart work that only a sovereign God can do. It’s spiritual. And it’s a multi-layered process. Forgiveness takes time.

 

I’m not there yet, (that’s between God and me).

 

Hero

Famine and hunger

Disease in the land,

The hatred the killing, taking lives from your hand

Creation waits through the darkness we pray

Tell me where is the hero to come and save the day – Kirk Franklin 

 

 

We’ve got to get this right. There are futures to be had. And from the vantage point of midlife I can say I’m frustrated. Racial reconciliation feels like a myth – an urban legend I dug up in a Snopes article only to find – it’s all been a hoax.

 

I’ve lived through my hopeful youth and believed for a better day – Afros and dashikis and screams of black power. I’ve watched my people press through the weight and wrongs of systematic injustice. I’ve seen them rise to positions of power and live the community building dream of “for us, by us.” And now, I’ve lived long enough to see the same struggles that birthed those movements cycle back around. I’m raising my children in the same climate I was born into. Unrest, Injustice. Tension, Anger. Protest.

 

I don’t know what to do about it beyond laying it at the throne. Again.

 

I don’t think we get answers for this one, not in this life time. I know love wins. But I wish love was powerful enough to atone for all that’s wrong. Isn’t that what Jesus died for? All those years ago on a cross? I know love wins but I wish it would save the day–right now. I wish love would save the day.

 

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View More: http://kimdeloachphoto.pass.us/allumeheadshotsLisha Epperson is a hopeful romantic, lover of Jesus and most things antique. A happy wife and now mother of 5, she shares a warrior song about her 14 year walk through infertility and the semi-sweet miracle of adoption. Lisha works out a life of faith with fear, trembling, and a fair measure of grace in New York City. Follow her blog at http://www.lishaepperson.com, and here for Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

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8 Comments on “Desperately Seeking Forgiveness: A Conversation on Race, Culture, and Christ

  1. Pingback: On Finding Forgiveness : a guest post for Outside The City Gate

  2. Thank you for these words, Lisha. Thank you for being honest and for being kind in your honesty. I’m so sorry for your pain. I appreciate your explanation of forgiveness as being a multi-layered process. I think I’m just beginning to understand it that way. I’ve felt like an egregious sinner many times because I haven’t been able to forgive someone to the point of forgetting…or even failing to snarl, a little, when telling the old story. I remember learning (the hard way) that not everyone goes through the stages of grief in a straight line, also that sometimes there is looping back to a stage one’s already experienced. It’s all so complicated and heavy. Thankful for black dolls and ongoing conversations. With love.

    • My goodness Brandee, the looping back and the line of forgiveness – never straight. I’m working through this and know I’m not alone. Forgiveness is a dance. I’m still learning to the steps. Love you for sitting with me in this. I really appreciate it.

  3. Lisha, I think you’ve captured well the situation we’re facing…..here we are again. I’m old enough (62) to remember walking to a memorial for the year that MLKing was assasinated. I remember growing up white in the 50’s without any black children in my So Calif neighborhood….then things improved and mellowed out and there was acceptance and then. Well, here we are again. Still.
    Now I live in Seattle, which is a melting pot if there ever was one. Yes, there are people of color and every country on the planet right here in my own backyard and I welcome that. But the segregation still exists in peoples’ hearts.
    The simple truth is we are are here again/still because of sin–our inability, everyone’s inability, to walk in perfect love and acceptance of all people at all times because they bear the image of their Creator.
    There will always be injustice, poverty, war and evil in this dark world, regardless of the age.
    The ONLY hope we can hold out is that of making our Jesus look good so that others are drawn to His beauty and forgiveness for ALL our sins.
    Not just this one–the murder of 9 black people–but the daily sins that separate us over and over again from our God.
    There IS forgiveness, there is freedom, there is joy and it’s all found in coming back to the cross.
    God help us to glory in that and carry each other there, one heartfelt conversation at a time.

    • If we’re here again…and we are I have to BELEIVE there’s a reason. God must want us to do the holy work of being honest with each other, of loving each other beyond our understanding. Motivated by love and a deep respect for justice, my parents and so many others fought for the life I now live. I’ll do as much for my children. Love will win, and YES! Let’s make Jesus look good.

  4. I applaud your courage to speak these truths, to ask these hard questions when the brutality of hatred has revealed it’s presence again. I can only say, many decades ago, I did give my young daughter a beautiful brown skinned baby doll. My little one, who lovingly named all her dolls, blessed this one as “baby Essie”.

  5. I am saddened and want to apologize for the color of my skin because it is a color that hates, that kills, that denies, that keeps this thing going over and over again before our eyes in this country. But it is not my job to be ashamed of the color of my skin because God made me this way. I am ashamed and sorely saddened for the way so many hold the hatred for other colors, beliefs, ideals, … and I, too, want love to make it right…right NOW! I seem unable to move and become a movement of today, such as the one that you, Lisha, marched in and fought for in the 60s and 70s. I sit still with my mouth open appalled at what I see and hear. I am sorry that we are here AGAIN! I had hopes that this world would be way past this point by now.
    God, we lay this troubled world at Your feet and ask You to take it all into Your hands, shaping it like clay. You are the Potter. We are the clay and we need remolding so very much. In the Name of Your Son Who died on the Cross for just this very thing over 2000 years ago…I pray. Amen.

  6. Lisha .. I appreciate your heart here. I understand. I really do. And I am thankful every time I am reminded to go back to the Truth. All injustice, all hate, all sin bears the mark of the enemy. Truly we are in this together. Sometimes the pain gets the better of us. But we can walk through it together. We are overconers because Jesus overcame.

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