Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:1-11]
In what ways do you hear a profound hope in these blessings or in what ways do you feel distanced from these blessings?
This question stared me in the face on Sunday morning at church. As the microphone started to make its way around the room, I began to think about how I would answer such a question. People shared their fears, their hopes, and their faith in the future. They gave words of encouragement and shared legitimate questions. My hands were starting to sweat (and my armpits!). I started getting that feeling that maybe God was laying something on my heart. My heart, which was beating about 200 beats per minute. I didn’t have to speak, of course; I wanted to. But what would I say? Everyone seems so eloquent and educated; my thoughts are jumbled in my head. The last person spoke, and then time was up. I missed my chance! Oh well.
Just kidding…well, I really did miss my chance to speak up at church. But I am usually more eloquent with a keyboard, anyway.
Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. This word weighs heavy. What certain thing do I expect or want to happen? And to what? In light of recent events, I am not sure what to hope for. But as I dug deeper into my heart, I realize that I do indeed have hope. I have hope, because my eyes have been opened to the inequality and injustice that happens in our country each day. I have hope that others could begin to see it as well.
I grew up in a Southern, Bible Belt town in North Carolina. I grew up with blinders on, unaware of racial inequality and discrimination. In fact, those words were completely foreign to me. Whose fault is this? I’m not sure who to blame, or if that is necessary. I know families who have spent generation after generation farming in this small town, with the help of both illegal and legal immigrants, poor black families, and perhaps even slaves, if you look back far enough. Hearing racial slurs was not uncommon. I had friends whose “daddy would kill them if they brought home a black boy.” It was confusing, but not racist, right? I honestly did not understand, as ridiculous as that sounds. Sure, I had friends who looked different from me, but not many. We did not walk through life together; those relationships all but ended as the bell rang at school. I would go home, to people that looked like me; I would spend the night with friends who looked like me. I went to a church with only people who looked like me. I remember going to college and actually doing life with people that were different than me for the first time. I began realizing that some things I said in high school weren’t okay to say anymore. I remember catching myself having thoughts and wondering why it felt…convicting, wrong. My “awakening” to racial inequality was gradual, hard, challenging, convicting, invasive, vulnerable, and raw. I did not want to admit that I grew up learning to approach life with racial undertones. I’m not blaming my small town, nor any of the people there. This is the world we live in, and it predates my birth as well as many of my friends. Systemic racism has been engrained in our beings. We are unaware, for the most part; the awareness hurts, it burns, it embarrasses us.
That being said, I have hope. I have hope, because I have been “awakened.” I’m still understanding and learning ways that I have offended and continue to offend those around me who come from different cultural and racial backgrounds. It still embarrasses and challenges me to hear this hard truth, but it is necessary. I have hope because I don’t think this kind of awakening is unattainable. I believe and expect that people will understand the world that we live in as it is, and change it. I have hope that my small, southern town, and all the other towns in our country will seek the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the insulted, the homeless, the Black, the Latino, the Queer, the Muslim, the atheist, the Buddhist, and share the Grace of God that Jesus preached in the Gospels. I hope in this, because I believe that God desires this for His/Her children. I believe that God desires us to know a personal, intimate relationship with Him/Her, and with our brothers and sisters.
Distance: to avoid becoming familiar or involved; remain cool or aloof. I fear distance. I fear what I have already seen; only I fear it will continue to grow. Trump’s Administration is not to blame for the beginning of racism and distance. His administration is not the beginning of our people turning a blind eye to the stranger who is hurting. If that were true, then Jesus would not have needed to preach it continuously. If that were true, then I would not have grown up misunderstanding racism. What Trump’s administration has done, however, is cause an “awakening” in our country. His campaign, election, and inauguration have shown our United States that we can no longer cover up our division. No longer can we avoid the obvious disconnect between races and religions, political parties and affiliations. Yet, somehow, we still are. We want to avoid these conversations and confrontations. We throw away the #BlackLivesMatter movement as reverse-racism, so that we can ignore the pain that caused it to begin. We demand that people “speak American” when they are here; we want them to leave behind their native tongue, slowly erasing their culture as well. We fear the Hijab and the Muslim who wears it, because they may be a terrorist, waiting for the right moment to hijack our planes, coffee shops, and coliseums. The queer community is slowly taking over our Christian nation, ruining God’s perfect design for marriage and mankind. I am afraid that this will strengthen, not weaken. I am afraid that the distance between God’s children will continue to grow; I fear that my friends and family and peers and neighbors will continue to refuse to accept that maybe, just maybe, we have been a part of the oppression. I fear that I am losing friends for my “radical” beliefs, and my “liberal” lifestyle. I fear that I am not “awaken” enough. I fear that we will forgo seeking the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the thirsty, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the insulted, the homeless, the Black, the Latino, the Queer, the Muslim, the atheist, the Buddhist, and share the Grace of God that Jesus preached in the Gospels. I fear this, because I believe that we are forgetting what the Gospel actually means. I fear that we are forgetting to be the Church that God has called us to be.
What will win? What will overcome me? Fear? Hope? Distance? I choose hope. I choose to hope for a future that sheds God’s glory on mankind. I choose to hope that we, the image-bearers of Christ, will champion the movement to accept, embrace, repent to, and love on the marginalized in our country. There is no other option. There is nothing greater that God calls us to do.
I have been wondering what “God’s Plan” for our country is. I have been wondering if God even has a plan at all. Does God get involved in politics? While I do believe that God can see and know everything, I must believe that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat (nor is God a part of the Green Party, believe it or not!). God’s plan doesn’t involve a President. God’s plan involves Royalty; God’s plan involves Glory. God’s plan involves repentance. God’s plan involves image-bearers. God’s plan involves hope; but God’s plan does not involve distance.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. [Romans 8:18-30]