We Belong to One Another

Saint Louis Arch

Okay, it’s like this:

Deb and Adam have four children: Sam, Julia, TJ, and Sara. They’re 14, 11, 8, and 6 years old, respectively. They’re bright, artistic kids. Parent-teacher conferences are a breeze, and, more often than not, their chores are done by the time Deb and Adam get home from work.

If you ask them which kid is their favorite, they’ll smile and say, of course, “We don’t have a favorite!” They love them equally (or equally-ish, because, if they’re being perfectly honest, Julia is pretty skilled at finding their last nerve, putting on her soccer cleats, and stomping all over it).

They make sure all their kids’ basic needs are met, to the best of their ability, at all times. They’re all well-nourished, they all have a warm bed in which to sleep, and they’re all clothed in relatively weather-appropriate attire.

Now, let’s say TJ gets sick. Really sick. It seems to have come on rather suddenly, but looking back in his records, his doc now sees a pattern emerging that began quite a long time ago. How might Deb and Adam’s parenting shift in light of his illness?

My guess is that their energy and attention will be directed more toward TJ than toward their other three kids. They’re not ignoring their other three kids. They still tuck them in and remind them that they’re worthy and loved. But the parents’ focus, for a season, is on the one who needs them the most right now.

That makes good sense, right? Of course it does.

And this, my friends, is why it’s okay to say, Black lives matter” and just stop right there—with no qualifiers, disclaimers, or additions.

TJ’s life doesn’t matter more than his siblings’ lives, and no one’s saying Black lives matter more than any other lives. Rather, the Black Lives Matter movement is attempting to focus our political and social and ideological attention on the Black community, because that’s the part of our human family who could really use some heavy-duty care right about now.

And let me unwrap this metaphor just a bit more: Our loved one has needed attention for a long, long, long time—all the way back to when he was labeled 3/5 of a human being. Back to the time he was trafficked. Ever since his home was burned down and rocks were thrown through his windows and he was hanged for the color of his skin.

We thought this was resolved back in the 60s. (Well, I did anyway, as a naive, overly optimistic, white, middle-class woman.) But the dormant symptoms of systemic injustice have resurfaced and, as is often the case with a recurring illness, they’ve come back stronger. And so we must re-double our efforts to treat not only the symptoms—but to actually eradicate the underlying sickness.

In so many ways, we’ve not treated the Black community as if their lives do actually matter. And by “we” I don’t mean you and I specifically; this is so much bigger than one person’s treatment of another one person.

Let me say that again:

This is so much bigger than one person’s treatment of another one person.

This isn’t about how many Black friends you have or how you personally treat people. I’m not accusing you of racist behavior. I’m talking about the metastatic maltreatment of human beings at a systemic level.

No, it’s not our fault. But it is our fight. We belong to each other. Mother Teresa said it, and I feel it to my core. And maybe you do, too. But not everyone does. And the system—social, legal, economic, political—surely does not.

***

I wish I could claim this analogy as my own, but I borrowed it from my friend, Pastor Willis Johnson. I’ve sat at Starbucks with Willis for hours at a time, asking him all of my ridiculous and potentially offensive questions and listening to him share his perspective on everything from white privilege to the state of the Church. Just yesterday I was blinking back tears as he talked about our responsibility to care for one another—completely and sacrificially. Willis recently co-founded the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice; you’ll find them on the web and on Facebook. Big things are going to happen through him, his co-conspirators, and the Center. I hope you’ll follow along or, even better, join his efforts. 

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