The grisly video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death shook many of us. It was so wanton, so cruel, so animalistic. A twenty-five year old image bearer of God bled out on the asphalt of a suburban neighborhood, staining the street and the conscience of a nation with those three chilling words, “unarmed black male.” Race was everywhere.
This series is called, “When I Recognized Race.” In my case, it might as well be called “When I Re-recognized Race.” White brothers and sisters such as myself do not have to recognize race on a constant basis. There are events that jar us and wake us up to realities we would rather not think about. When I watched Ahmaud Arbery die at the hands of three white men, I re-recognized race.
I saw race in the scramble of woke whites to hashtag their condemnation of racism. I saw race in the defiance of sleepy whites to even acknowledge racism exists. I saw politicians politicize race and pundits weaponize race and celebrities dumb race down. In a nation that at least once frantically espoused colorblindness, I saw color everywhere. But of all the places I saw race, of course, the most startling place was my own heart. I re-recognized race in the power I held to scroll right past the news and not do a thing about it. I re-recognized my ability to ignore race and racism.
But God is kind and he’s brought dear, diverse friends into my life. Walking with them in the shared trauma and fallout of Ahmaud’s death shook me. Listening to and loving, however imperfectly, black brothers and sisters in Christ made race personal. And spiritual. The one-another’s of Scripture compelled me to move closer and closer to the uncomfortable place that these dear saints felt this in a way I never could. Could I refuse to bear another’s burden and so dismiss the law of Christ?
A startling thing began to happen, but it took these friendships to realize it. The further I got away from a local, racially-charged killing and its wake of a victimized family and a grieving community, the more obscure the thing became – less personal, less spiritual. Ahmaud the man was becoming Ahmaud the hashtag, a dividing line in the sand for a host of issues. The more I listened to worldly noise online, the more confused, frustrated, and paralyzed I felt.
But friendships have a way of changing ideologies into personalities. And as we friends gathered, grieved, and prayed, we moved closer to each other and closer to what had actually happened in Brunswick to a person. We quickly felt the Samaritan’s dilemma. Brunswick is only three hours from my hometown of Columbia, SC. Crossing the road felt like the only option. We couldn’t have known then how life-changing it would be.
Twenty-five of us, black and white, ministry leaders and lay leaders, all believers representing different churches, loaded up on a bus. The Church rode to Brunswick. Along the way we had honest conversations about race, faith, lament, and forgiveness. We asked each other hard questions and heard gut-wrenching answers. I’m always amazed at how meaningful a conversation can be when I’m quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. I’m always amazed too at how deep and vulnerable we can become with each other when we put screens aside, seeing each other face to face.
I fancy myself culturally aware and open-minded. But that can be a handicap of presumption. I can quickly presume to know how friends are feeling, reacting, and processing. But without time and care, I don’t really know. And my presumption, masquerading as wokefulness, keeps me stuck in a sympathy that can’t move to empathy. And while that passes on social media, it can ruin a real relationship.
John Perry, a local pastor and the president of the Brunswick NAACP, graciously arranged our entire time there. Our group gathered at the courthouse with the mayor, a state senator, Ahmaud’s grade school teachers, and Ahmaud’s dad, Marcus. It took about two seconds to realize that everyone in the circle was a Christian. The awkwardness melted. We shared encouragement in Christ, we prayed, we gave a love offering to the family. And then we worshipped. We sang our hearts out—at the center of a grieving city marked by injustice—to a God who heralds a kingdom of justice and mercy and righteousness.
I hope to remember this trip as long as I live. And when I remember the gift of that fellowship, I hope to remember the horrible realities of race and racism that prompted our trip. I hope God reminds me of the unique burdens he’s called us each to bear and the unique burdens he’s called us to bear for each other. May it be a nudge across the road toward one-another-ness once again.
YouTube Video Source URL: https://youtu.be/Jjc8IJkgLD8
- Pray for diverse relationships. Not in a crisis, not in response to something in the new, but now around the dinner table.
- Pray for sympathy that moves to empathy, so-called wokefulness that leads to action.
- Pray for greater love and joy in a God of diversity, justice, and mercy.