September 15, 2016

Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with God

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this verse in recent days.  What does seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God look like in the face of so much injustice in the world today?

Well, let me digress by sharing with you a little tidbit from my own childhood.

As an immigrant child, I was no stranger to being bullied and getting picked on simply because of what I looked like.  Kids pulled my hair, shoved me in the back, yelled out racial slurs, made fun of the way I looked, and called me names like "chink" and "gook".

I remember one specific incident when I was working at my grandfather’s store one summer as a young teenager.  A very unhappy customer pointed his finger in my grandfather’s face and told him to "Go back to where you came from!"  Just writing that still stings.   It’s an awful feeling knowing you're not welcomed, feeling you have no place where you belong, not fitting in and being treated differently just because of the way you look.

The sad reality is you get used to this kind of treatment.  When being bullied and taunted becomes a fairly regular occurrence, you find ways to avoid those crowds, take detours around those streets, tune out those hateful voices.

But at some point, you say enough is enough.  I was a scrawny kid so I learned pretty quickly that retaliating with my fists wasn't the answer.   I learned to use my voice and speak up instead: "I'm not a chink, I'm a gook.  If you're going to be racist, then get your terminology straight!"  [Thanks to comedian, Margaret Cho, for teaching me that line.]  Then I would run like the wind, as fast as my scrawny legs could carry me.  Sometimes that worked.  :)  Sometimes it didn't.  :(

I remember telling a friend not too long ago how I was bullied as a kid, and she was in complete disbelief that this kind of blatant racism actually exists in this country.  Yes, it absolutely does.  But what I endured is nothing compared to the injustice people of color experience on a far more frequent basis and with far deadlier consequences.

So when I see an athlete kneeling down during the national anthem in peaceful protest to bring awareness to social injustice, I get it even though I may not agree with the method.  It takes courage to go against the grain and to stand up (or kneel down in this case) for something you believe in.  Taking a stand against injustice is never going to make you popular, and with absolute certainty, it will come with great ridicule.

[Colin Kaerpernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneeling during the national anthem.]

I've read the articles and posts on this very heated issue.  Worse, I've read the comments.  Hatred spewing off the pages.

"Show some respect!  If you don't like the way things are in this country, then leave!"   
"Stop your whining, you're a disgrace to our country.  Get out!"  
"Let's line them up [athletes who kneel during the national anthem] and shoot them."

Wow.  Really?  His actions aren't a display of disrespect for the veterans who have fought for our freedom.  He's exercising the very freedom our military fight so bravely for, to peacefully protest and speak his mind.  That's the very beauty of America!  Ask the North Koreans.  Except they wouldn't be able to tell you what they feel or think without the fear of being executed.  They are basically forced to pay homage and respect to a dictator who thinks he's god.   Is America really coming to that?  Salute or die?  Are we to live in fear that expressing our beliefs could get us shot and killed?  It's a very alarming prospect.

This man is saying enough is enough.  He's trying to bring awareness to an important issue with the hope it will help spur on change in the system.  A system that is clearly broken.  When a privileged white kid charged with rape gets a slap on the hand while a young black man is sentenced to years in prison, there's a flaw.  Whatever your beliefs and wherever you stand on the issues, you can’t refute the fact that there is much room for improvement in the criminal justice system, in our healthcare system, in our education system.  Voicing your concern and trying to shed light on issues in this country doesn’t make you unpatriotic.  Trying to bring about positive change in those areas makes you exactly the opposite.

I do understand the critics who say pointing to the problem without offering real solutions or working towards one isn't an answer.  Some have argued Kaepernick's actions have only perpetuated the issue, causing more bitterness and a greater divide.  But how can we work towards a solution when a vast majority of the population doesn't even consider it a problem because it doesn't personally affect us?  Or worse yet, we know there's a problem but we turn our heads the other way.

I know for most of us, it’s easy to take sides, to judge and point fingers when we haven’t walked in the other person’s shoes.  In this case, I can't imagine how difficult and how frightening it is for both the police officers and the general black population.  How hard it must be for the good, honest police officers who risk their lives everyday to uphold and enforce the law, to protect the citizens in their community, to have to make split-second decisions that could mean life or death.   And on the other hand, how hard it must be as a minority in this country just trying to go about life, knowing people will make split-second decisions based on preconceived misconceptions about who you are solely on the premise of what you look like.

Healing and reconciliation can only begin when we step outside of ourselves and take the time to try to understand one another.  When I hear stories and see images of police and the black community, and communities as a whole, coming together, taking the time to LISTEN to each other, and WORK TOGETHER to get to the root of the problem and work towards a solution, it gives me hope.

[Sgt. Bret Barnum and 12-year-old Devonte Hart share a hug during a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, OR.]

And maybe, just maybe, this is what humbling ourselves, seeking justice, and loving mercy look like.

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