Racism: The Elephant in the Room (Part 3 of 3)
This is my third of three posts on the issue of racism and discrimination that I’ve written. Again, I’m not an expert on this subject. But I’m no dummy either. I don’t have an agenda. Really, I don’t.
I’m not trying to point fingers, accuse anyone, or make anyone feel bad. I’m just sorting my thoughts out. If I write something that you disagree with, please give me the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I didn’t write it the right way.
I’m open for dialogue and discussion, but I really don’t want to engage in an angry debate with anyone. I don’t have time for that.
In Part 1, I applied Jesus’ teaching about the Good Samaritan to the issues of prejudice, discrimination, and racism.
In Part 2, I talked about the four lessons we can learn from the early church from how they handled a problem with racial discrimination.
In this third (and hopefully, final) article on racism and discrimination, I want to try to wrap this discussion up in a portable and transferable way.
What does God want from us?
I want to start with this question: What does God really want from me?
Racism. Prejudice. Angry protests. Hate groups. People getting run over and killed in the streets. Fear. Distrust. Name-calling. What does God want me from me right now?
I know that I should be doing something. But I just don’t know what.
If you asked yourself that question, you’re not alone.
It’s similar to what the people asked God in Micah 6:7,
With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Deep right? As a follower of Jesus, what does He want me to do right now? Should I march in a protest? Hold a candlelight vigil? Engage in debates with strangers on Facebook? Be silent? Fast and pray? Send money? What does God want from me?
Well, the Bible tells us plainly. Micah 6:8 says,
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
Boom. Ask you shall receive. You wanted to know what God wanted from you. There you go. He only wants three things: your head, your heart, and your hands.
1) A Head of Humility.
Micah says that God wants us to “walk humbly.” God wants us to have a humble perspective. What does that me? What is humility?
Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus is the model of humility because He didn’t think about Himself first. But He put the needs of others before His own. Being humble is giving more esteem and value to others above yourself.
God wants us to have a humble attitude and perspective about ourselves. That’s what it means to have the “mind of Christ.”
When we live with a humble perspective about ourselves, we don’t demand others to think like us or do it our way. Humble people listen and value the perspective of others. And they value the other’s perspective above their own.
My new friend, Dr. Alexander Jun, helped me understand the importance of having a humble perspective by telling me a parable. He was quoting someone else, but I forgot who that was so I’m going to give him the credit for this helpful parable.
This is my paraphrase of the parable:
A Giraffe and an Elephant are friends. The Giraffe just finished building his custom dream house. It had everything that a Giraffe can want. High ceilings and doorways and narrow hallways. The Giraffe was very proud of his new home. So he wanted to invite his friend over for a visit.
When Elephant showed up at the door, Giraffe happily greeted him and invited him in. But the door was too narrow for the Elephant to enter. Not a problem. Giraffe wanted to accommodate his friend, so he took the door off its hinges so Elephant can enter.
Giraffe then said, “Look around. Make yourself at home. I’ll go and grab us some snacks and be right back.”
Elephant was pleased at Giraffe’s hospitality. He proceeded to walk down the narrow hallway, unintentionally knocking all of Giraffe’s pictures off the wall and leaving scuff marks on the new paint. When Elephant got to the living room, he remembered that Giraffe told him to “make yourself at home.” Elephant sat down on the Giraffe’s sofa and broke it.
When Giraffe came back with the snacks, he was horrified and angry with Elephant. Giraffe said, “What are you doing? You knocked my pictures off the wall, scruffed up my paint, and break my sofa. Is this how you treat your home?”
Elephant felt embarrassed. He said, “I’m sorry Giraffe. I didn’t mean to ruin your house. You said to make myself at home. I’m just not comfortable here.”
Giraffe became defensive, and said, “What’s wrong with my house? Is is not good enough for you?”
Elephant tries to explain, “No, that’s not what I’m saying. It’s just that your house isn’t really suited for… someone … like me.”
Now Giraffe saw what Elephant meant. He knew how to solve this problem.
He said, “Elephant, I know what we can do. I’m going to help you go on a diet so you can lose some weight and get thinner. Then I’m going to pay for some dance lessons so you can learn how to be lighter on your feet.”
Elephant feels insulted and leaves. Giraffe is upset. He was generous and accommodating to his overweight and clumsy friend. Giraffe decides, “I’m never going to invite that ungrateful Elephant over again.”
I love that story, because it’s seemingly so innocent. It’s a cute story about a misunderstanding between two animals. That’s where this story is subversive because it’s really about how we judge and misunderstand each other. We can’t help but see the world from our eyes. It’s our worldview. Giraffes can’t help but see the world from their unique viewpoint. Neither can we.
The problem grows when we think our worldview is the only “right” way to see the world. It’s Giraffe trying to “accommodate” Elephant and getting upset when Elephant tries to explain the situation.
It takes humility to try to see the world for the perspective of another. Pridefulness is what is preventing Giraffe from truly understanding that real problem isn’t with Elephant’s weight. The problem is that Elephant doesn’t have a friend with a humble perspective.
2) A Heart of Compassion.
Secondly, Micah says that God wants us to “love mercy.” What does that mean? To love mercy is to have a heart of compassion for people, especially those in need.
I addressed the concept of mercy in my first post in this series. The concept of mercy is interesting. You cannot express mercy to another without having power or authority over them. An ant can’t show mercy to an elephant; neither can a zebra show mercy to a lion.
Mercy is extended from those in power to those without.
But God doesn’t just want us to show mercy. He wants us to “love mercy.” We can easily show mercy without “loving mercy.” God doesn’t just want us to show mercy to others, He wants us to love the whole concept of mercy.
Mercy to the guilty. Grace to the undeserving. Forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation. Do you love those concepts? Do you love mercy? Do you celebrate when your Prodigal brother comes home? Or do you refuse to come into the banquet the Father has thrown.
We like the idea of mercy when were on the receiving end. But we don’t love the idea of mercy when it’s extended to others we consider as undeserving people. Well, no one deserves mercy, do they? We’re all undeserving.
What does God want from you? He wants you to love mercy. He wants you to have a heart of compassion.
3) Hands of Justice.
God does not only want us to walk humbly, and love mercy. He also wants us to “do justice.” God doesn’t only care about what on your mind and what’s in your heart. He also cares about what you do with your hands.
What does it mean to “do justice”? Doing justice refers to doing what is right. It’s fighting against what is wrong. This applies to protecting victims of bullying, standing against inequality, and being the voice for those that can’t speak for themselves. It’s defending the weak and the helpless.
Isaiah 61:1-3 records a prophetic description of what the Messiah would do when He came:
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
This was a promise of what the Messiah would do when He came. He would bring about justice to the oppressed. He would heal the brokenhearted. He would right all the wrongs and make all things new.
The people of Israel awaited for the day their Messiah would come and do justice. And experience what God promised in Joel, “I will restore the years the locusts have eaten.”
At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, He goes into a synagogue, pulls out the Isaiah scroll, reads this section of Scripture and says, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled.”
What was Jesus talking about? Jesus was saying that the Messiah has come to begin to bring about justice to the oppressed. But not long after that, Jesus dies and ascends into heaven, leaving behind a lot of injustice undealt with.
But before Jesus ascends to heaven, He reassures His disciples in John 14:12, by saying,
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
What’s that about? We will do “greater works” than Jesus? Is He crazy? I have seen anyone raised from the dead or walk on water lately. What “greater works” is Jesus talking about?
Well, since Jesus has gone back to heaven, there have been a lot more proclaiming of good news to the poor. I’ve seen a lot of Jesus followers bind up the brokenhearted. There’s multitudes proclaiming freedom to those imprisoned by sin and addictions. Servants of Jesus faithfully proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, comforting those who mourn, and how to trade beauty for ashes every time they teach the Gospel to hungry hearts as the Church gathers each Lord’s Day.
So, yes. We’ve been doing even “greater works” than Jesus. Because now, we have a lot more hands to “do justice” than ever before.
What does God want from us? He doesn’t want us to talk about justice. He wants us to get our hands dirty and get to work. He wants to use our hands to “do justice.” Hands of justice. Not idle hands of indifference. He wants courageous and hardworking hands that “do justice.”
All or Nothing
What does God want from us? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.
Not just one, or two. But all three. Justice, mercy, and humility are a matched set. You can’t separate them. Like Forest and Jenny, “they go together like peas and carrots.”
See what happens when you try to “do justice” without “walking humbly.” You can’t. Try to “walk humbly” without “loving mercy.” Try to “love mercy” without “doing justice.” It’s impossible. Your head effects your heart, which effects what your hands do. It works the opposite way too. Try doing something for a long time and you don’t grow to love it.
Faithfulness in a Racist World
So this is the question that I’m struggling with. How do I, as a follower of Jesus, live in a world full of prejudice, distrust, name-calling, fear, racism, and discrimination?
I really don’t know. So, while I’m trying to figure this out, I’m going to just focus on three things: doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.
That’s a good place to start. That’s my plan. I hope you’ll join me.