When One Part Suffers

A Reflection on Suffering, Racism, Violence, and Hatred

suffering

I write this today with heaviness of heart, confusion, anger, deep sadness, and uncertainty, but also with unshakeable hope that through the grace of God we can be better as a human race.

We are wrapping up a sermon series at our church this weekend on what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. The premise is that “membership” in the church isn’t like membership in a club where your participation is optional and your connection is conditional based on whether or not you show up; being a member in the church is like membership in a living, functional body. It’s like being an arm or a leg or a finger or even a nose hair.

One of the primary themes of that series is the connectedness of the body. In the human body, all the parts of the body play a crucial role in the overall function of the body. The body of Christ, the Church, functions in the same way. All people have a crucial part to play. When one member doesn’t function fully, it affects the whole body.

Speaking about the function of the interconnected body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 12:26 says this: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”

One of the things we’ve asked our people to do during this series is to “pray the headlines.” Look at the headlines in the news and use them as a guide to pray for the community and the world.

The headlines have not been full of good news these days. Bombings. Mass shootings. The killing of unarmed black men. Violence. Hatred. Racism. There is no way to look at the headlines and deny that members of the body are suffering and all of us are affected, because as a body, all of us are connected in some way, shape, or form.

I wish I had all the answers. I wish I knew what to do or what to say, but if I tried to offer a solution today it would only come across as inauthentic and patronizing. Here are several things I know: I know that this is complicated. I know we live in a world that is gripped by fear. I know that if my car broke down on the road, no one would look at me and call 911 reporting that there must be a bomb or see me from a helicopter and assume I was a “bad dude.” I know that it’s undeniably true, as one of my wife’s friends said, “Many people are more upset about a black man taking a knee than about a black man taking a bullet.” I also know that many people have laid down their lives so that people can take a knee in protest in the first place. I know that it is misguided and irresponsible at best that CNN’s top headline during a time such as this is the divorce of a celebrity couple. I know that there are many good people who desire reconciliation. Finally I know so many police officers who got into this line of work to do good and to serve and protect the communities they love.

I know this is a mess, but I know there’s got to be hope on the horizon.

We are living in a time of great fear. Mamas fear sending their babies to the store to get milk for fear that they might be mistaken for someone else or that their motives might be questioned and they may not return. Spouses fear that when they kiss their first responders goodbye before their shift it might be their last kiss. When we’re driven by fear, the results are never good.

This is why the most repeated command in all of Scripture is “do not fear,” and the call of Jesus to his followers is to partner with him in creating a world where there’s no need for fear because it will have been driven out by perfect love. God’s desire for all of creation is explained in the Hebrew word “shalom,” which means “peace, wholeness, prosperity, harmony, goodness.” The thing about shalom, though, is that no one has shalom unless everyone has shalom.

When we’re driven by fear, it means the root problem is what we in the Church call sin, which simply means the world as we know it is damaged, it’s broken, it’s not what it was intended to be. It’s a problem that’s bigger than us as individuals, and therefore it will require a solution that’s bigger than us as well. I know that the God I love is always working for good. Always. And so I believe that as human beings, our best hope for justice and reconciliation and goodness can be found in him.

I don’t have the answers, I don’t claim to have the answers, but I hope in some way, small or large, to be part of the solution. So here are my first steps. They’re not my only steps, but they’re the steps I can wrap my peabrain around right now. So, if you’re like me, wanting to do something and wondering what to do, I invite you to take these steps with me.

1) Pray. The problems of violence, hatred, fear, and racial injustice and inequality are bigger than any of us can figure out on our own. I will be praying for God to intervene in miraculous ways, both through me and in spite of me. Will you pray with me?

2) Listen. My experience in life is limited to who I am. I can only understand what life is like from my perspective. This isn’t self judgment (I can’t do anything to change my race or gender or station in life) or narrow-mindedness, it’s just reality: I will never experience firsthand what it’s like to be different than me. I can’t change me, but I can reach out to people who are different than me to seek to understand what it’s like to be different than me. I will be reaching out to people I know who are different than me to engage in conversation about that, and when I do, I will do so with the intention of listening. 

I know that we are wired and taught from an early age to argue, to make sure we express our opinions, to push back when we disagree with something, to be uncompromising and have resolve in the face of difficulty. (Bless our little hearts, as they say in the south.) What would it look like if we engaged in conversation with the sole purpose of listening and learning? As I reach out and have conversations with people who are different than me, I will do so with the sole intention of opening my ears and my heart and listening deeply and intently to what they have to say. I will say things like “Tell me about your experience” or “How does what we see in the news affect you personally?” And then I’ll listen as openly as I possibly can with no intention of speaking.

3) Respond and Repeat. My hope is that praying and listening will lead to learning. And learning might lead to new ways of seeing the world. And new ways of seeing the world might lead to living differently, which is the call of Jesus on all of us who seek to be his followers. I want to be open to the fact that God is always asking me to change and enabling me to change. Respond and repeat.

My friend Sophia reminded me of these words from Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that seem so appropriate at a time like this:

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta (Nashville) and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” May we all truly feel the suffering of those who suffer today. It may be that in our collective suffering, we can find healing.

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