The profound pain of our times holds the possibilities for profound change – both systemic and personal.
A significant part of what we are witnessing in the calls for justice for George Floyd comes from the broken hearts and lives of our sisters and brothers in the human family who have experienced generations of physical, verbal, economic and political violence.
To say “they” should have spoken up, gotten better organized or become part of the political system more intentionally betrays a resistance to understanding what some in our human family describe as privilege.
An old saying comes to mind: “He was born on third base and thought he had hit a triple.”
This has been used to describe a person who was born rich and clueless and could not understand why others could not just pull themselves up through hard work in this land of opportunity.
The truth is white people in the United States were born with advantages that others were not.
The truth is our black, Hispanic, American Indian, LGBTQ, low-income and underserved family members and others have been involved. They have told their stories and have a right to be heard.
If life is to become more like what God intends, these voices must be heard.
Indeed, there is an urgency in their being heard, for their experiences reflect issues that must be addressed – symptoms of unjust systems and structures that are deep and hard to change because they are part of the foundations of our nation.
The deep, hard problems we face are of human making and, over time, have taken on a life of their own.
They are what the apostle Paul named as the principalities and powers – those hidden, steering currents of the most powerful, combined with the tendencies toward inertia and evil that develop in every human system as forms of self-protection, control and, finally, dehumanization.
My hopeful prayer is that we are living in days that have arrived like a wave of moral 9/11, washing through our land with an opportunity to direct energy toward dealing with the system.
Changing the system is the more difficult work of restoring relationships, but it must be done no matter the humility and heartbreak that may be required of those who have benefited by systems they did not create but from which they have profited.
The profound pain of our times holds the possibilities for change that is personal too. Listening and embracing the pain of others can break human hearts, which are so very resistant to the transformative power of the gospel.
The Scriptures call that resistance sin, not a word I think anyone hears with fondness. In the Bible, sin is always a description of the conditions of relationships.
The antidote toward recovery is based in the broken heart of the crucified God and is lined out for human beings in terms of humility, surrender, repentance and forgiveness.
Leaders who want to dominate and bully demonstrate their lack of experience with the one who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Philippians 2:7) to be killed by the systems of state and religion.
So, we can call on our leaders to live up to the ways of leading and loving like Jesus.
First, we can start with ourselves by praying for the change we need in attitude, in lifestyle, in courage, in priorities, in facing the sins of all the “-isms” that separate human beings from one another and God.
We can listen to friends in pain. We can stop assuming we have the answers to questions we have yet to understand.
Robert Guffey is pastor of Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia.