Monday, August 28, 2017

Grace, Race, & Love.

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There are a lot of people we are supposed to be loving. 

And if I'm honest, sometimes it is overwhelming. 

We are supposed to love our neighbor, our enemy. We are supposed to love our kids. And our jobs. We are to love widows and orphans and the least of these. We are expected to 
love our spouses, our God, our houses, our food. 

We love chocolate and the Bachelor and Kylie lip gloss and an Uber driver who makes us smile. We love our new suitcase and our electric toothbrush and our coffee thermos. We love Starbucks and Amazon Prime and Joanna Gaines and our favorite jeans. 

And sometimes, we love well. But sometimes, we slap "love" on the wrong things. 

For as much as I want to love well and love wholly, I know I don't have the capacity to love it all. Perhaps it's because our language doesn't give us the privilege of having more than one word for love. Greek gives us four. Though it's obvious that I love my toothbrush and my husband quite differently, the outward perception is one I can't control when I attach love to both of them. 

Because though we are quite good at spouting off all the things and places and people and souls that we love, we often fall short in being as vocal about the things we do not. Primarily, maybe, because we've been taught that the opposite of love is hate. And when people take a platform of opposites—whether good or bad, morally or personally, it welcomes retribution and retaliation from both the boy next door and the hands at the helm of the Internet. 
I can try my best to give loving soul food to the things, the places, the people, the platforms that I care about. I can try to advocate and appreciate and support and sustain all the causes that ring true and sit well in my soul. 

But I'm isolated. And privileged. And if I'm honest with the critics, I'm also naive. 

My priority platforms might not look the same as yours. Sometimes the things that sit the most comfortably are not the ones we should be sitting on.

I lived in rural West Virginia for almost four years during medical school. My cadaver lab study group contained white, black, brown, and yellow skin. One of us was restricted from rotating in certain towns because of safety issues. I should have to tell you which one of us it was, but given the recent headlines I don't think you have to gamble on your guess. 

And now, seven years outside of my time in training, I live in a small dusty town in the Pacific Northwest. We have no black friends--not because we don't want them, but because an overwhelming majority of our community is white. Our blonde haired, blue eyed son will enter kindergarten this year with most of his class looking just like him. My 3-year-old daughter picks the dolls and princesses and Barbies that look most like what she sees in the mirror. Maybe it's because she prefers pink sparkle dresses to yellow or because, even as children, we naturally reject that which is foreign. 

Or maybe it is both. 

As the headlines rolled in this month, I was left feeling both dejected and discouraged. Yes, we are better than that. Yes, we--as a nation, a people, a humble collection of ever sinful-souls can LOVE better than that. And yes, I thought we had moved past this too. 
But we haven't. And history tells us that until we approach LOVING differently, we probably never will. 

A surprisingly wide body of research tells us that unless we teach and talk and intertwine race with intention for children, our future will continue to look the same. We, as a people, will continue to love what is most like us. We will skirt around important issues because they sit uncomfortably. And we will look in a mirror as a not-guilty party thinking naively that we are not part of the problem because we are inactive in seeking solution. And until we realize the cadence of our conversations is rooted in contempt, our hearts won’t recognize the need for change. Because that better than mentality is the very thing that ruins relationships, drives couples to divorce, and singes seams of friendship.

We will continue to buy blonde haired baby dolls over those with black curls because it is comfortable. We will cook the cuisine we grew up with because it is familiar. We will watch the movies that make us laugh instead of ones that push us to the edges of our seats and the valley’s of our Hearts because we don’t like feeling uneasy. We will judge the elderly at the crosswalk, the Food Stamp user at the grocery checkout, the teenage pregnancy at the food bank, the troubled kid in Juvi again—because although we might spout mercy or donate money or be humbled to give a sweet morsel of grace, we cannot love them well until we accept that we are ill-informed of their struggle.

I don’t have time to fold our laundry most weeks. The baseboards are dusty, walls are smudged with fingerprints, and a stack of books sits unread on my nightstand. Most nights after the kids are finally asleep, my love-tank has been drained of every sunshiny drop. I cannot find the time in my week to sync my phone, muchless become a Big Sister to a Little in need or push the waves of racial change in my corner of community. On a good day, I close my eyes feeling like I loved my own kids through their tantrums and fits and ingratitude well. And on a bad one, I find myself ignoring the responsibility I have to love people well—whether or not liking them makes me uncomfortable. I do not have access to a diverse audience. I am not exposed to the Big City lights or days in the Inner City life. My children have never voluntarily skipped a meal. I have not needed Food Stamps or spent time in detention. The only time I’ve been called to court was to testify on behalf of a patient. We do not own a black baby doll. And aside from doctoring and motherhood, I don’t have a platform I feel lead to preach from. I am privileged. And I recognize that I cannot know the struggle of those that are hurting or hating or hunted not because I don’t possess the capacity to love them well, but possibly because I don’t know the way to love them right.

If my uninformed contempt can kill my marriage, imagine what its effects are when multiplicity is applied. And if my admitted naivety takes me to the first step of realization, imagine the power wielded in simply looking in the mirror of our souls. By responding with blanket statements about all lives having value, we are speaking truth but foolishly ignoring the motive behind the rally-cry.

Our son starts Kindergarten soon. His school supplies are stocked, backpack is ready, and heart is inevitably going to change, molded by a moral-filled battle of nature versus nuture.  I will set aside my laundry, my task list, my baseboards and bend low to listen to his little struggles not only for comfort, but so that he knows my presence when the big ones come. I will reach down deep in my empty love-tank to reach and teach and treasure when he needs just a bit more direction or discipline. The dinner table will hopefully not only be filled with conversations of good deeds and reflections on positive learning, but directed dialogue on differences. If I—if we—can find the boldness to approach our culture and differences with the tenderness our children deserve we might look in the mirror to find that we all deserve the same. And that person staring back at us might just be the one who is finally able to get love right.

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