Words are my thing. As a preacher, words are my trade. I have been called by God to speak truth in love to all kinds of situations; to apply biblical teaching from its context to ours; to address the wonderful words of life to sometimes our less than wonderful circumstances. I take that seriously. I do my best to not allow my own agenda to get in the way (difficult at times if I am honest) to simply present God’s message. And usually I can find the words, perhaps not eloquently spoken or pleasing to all, but my best honest effort to preach and teach God’s word.
Words—typically I can find them.
Now, however, that is not always the case—particularly on matters of race. As I have witnessed the unfolding of events in our country; the reaction that they are sparking; the politicizing of it all—sometimes I do not know what to say or how to say it. I find myself swept up in diverse, often confrontive voices coming at me from different places. According to who I am speaking with, I can either be not “woke” enough or am part of the problem that is destroying our country. Some say that because of my skin color—as a white man—I have no voice at all and am inherently part of the problem. Some are asking why I am not standing up more for injustice. Others may think I have already said quite enough about it; that I need to move on to something else. I have been asked at times, “whose side are you on?” To which I’ve replied, “I am trying to be on the Lord’s side.” (Judged by the reaction—apparently those aren’t the right words either).
So now, sometimes, maybe ofttimes, I do not know what to say. I find myself struggling for words. Words to express my heartbreak over racial injustice; proper words to engage this struggle that will not trigger someone or disappoint; proper words to speak to everyone of every color struggling with the same feelings; words to do my best to encourage the maintaining of the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace among God’s people during a time that threatens to rip us apart.
I have tried silence; not adding any words to the avalanche of them that already exist on this issue, but my silence is not seen as acceptable. Plus God does call us to speak to injustice, but with the right words–his words–those I am struggling to find.
I find myself wondering—do I speak about my upbringing in the heart of the Mississippi Delta during a time of overt racism and social unrest? Do I mention my experiences in college and beyond in Mississippi as I spent a great deal of time in African-American churches of Christ; and some of the fallout I personally dealt with as a result? Is that self-serving or disingenuous? Is that making it about me and trying to prove that I can relate or have some kind of credibility behind the words? I don’t know.
I look around our church and am thankful for the diversity. It also makes me aware of the diversity of thought—folks of all colors and backgrounds. I have to have words for them all—at least that is how I understand it. Words that will encourage growth, acceptance, understanding, repentance if necessary and most of all, love for all—knowing that not everyone is even at the same place in their spiritual journey.
It is not a new challenge. The more I understand the New Testament context and experience the struggle today, the more I am amazed that they even pulled church off. The divide between Jew and Gentile; slave and free; even male and female in that world was incredible, yet they eventually were able to bridge it—in Christ Jesus—and change an empire as a result. They had the right words—divine words to speak. I am trying my best to speak these same words to our context, but I do realize—I am not Paul or Peter or John and I certainly am not Jesus.
So please pray for me as I seek the right words to address racial injustice; to speak for the disenfranchised and overlooked; to spark growth among us all; to encourage unity; acceptance and love for one another; to help those who are confused; who feel left behind; who feel threatened; to trust all the more in Christ; to lift him up above all; to push us all to seek the kingdom first above everything else.
Sometimes now I just do not know what to say. Sometimes I just want to cry. But I also know God is calling me to find the words. So, I will keep trying—trying to be faithful to God and faithful to his people.