Land of the Free?

Land of the free_

Fair warning: It’s time to get real (not that we weren’t being real before, but this is a different kinda real).

This was a hard one to publish. Really hard. I’ve actually been terrified of letting some of these thoughts go live ever. But recent events have convicted me say “You know what? It’s time to talk about this.” Because scenes like the one in Charlottesville, VA a few nights ago are not anything I ever thought I would see happen in my lifetime. I thought these were things of a distant past…archaic ways of thinking and viewing other people that we as humans had grown out of. But I’m learning how naive I’ve been in thinking this is actually true. Hang in here with me and I’ll explain.

This is not a new topic occupying my brain-space. It’s something that’s been troubling me for quite some time. I tend to avoid topics that even remotely lend themselves toward “political,” especially this one. It’s something I still don’t know how to make any sense of or engage in a way that’s actually helpful. Maybe it’ll only be adding to the noise. Maybe I’m scared to know what my parents or people at my church will think when they read this post in particular. Maybe I feel like I don’t have permission, or that I’m part of the problem, and therefore don’t really have any credibility to contribute effectively to this conversation. Maybe those things are actually cop-outs because I’m afraid to face the ugliness that’s inside me. Regardless, this is where my heart is at today, and after a lot of fearful prayer and subsequent conviction, I feel led to share it here.

(I told you, real talk. Feel free to stop reading if you’d like. I won’t be offended.)

fireworks

A thought came to me while watching the fireworks on the Fourth of July. The fireworks normally bring back a lot of happy nostalgia for me. I used to love that moment with my family, feeling thankful that we were celebrating something together, reflecting on thoughts of freedom, being grateful for “the men who died” to give us that freedom, for my dad who sacrificed so much. I did, and still do, love wearing red white and blue, taking a dip in the pool, eating burgers and hot dogs. But the fireworks were always my favorite part. There’s something about the light that always draws me in and makes me quiet, even with the loud boom of “the bombs bursting in air.”

But this year, something was different. This year, as I watched the sparkle and heard the oohs and ahs, I kept thinking to myself, not how fortunate we are to be a “free nation”, but how messed up our country is right now…and has actually always been.

And it’s not just our country, but the world. People. Humans. We live in a world right now where racism still lives, and innocent men with their hands in the air get shot simply because the shooter saw the color of their skin and felt afraid. We live in a world where bombs and shootings are meant to send a message at the expense of innocent (?) lives. Every day, someone else, somewhere else, is hurting because of injustice in social norms, passion mutated into fury, faith and religion weaponized into hate and violence. And this is all just scratching the surface. We don’t trust our leaders, or the people given the power and authority to actually do something about any of it. We don’t trust each other. And ultimately, we don’t trust God.

God shed His grace on Thee.

As I continued gazing at the glorious display, I listened to the lyrics of songs I hear every year on this day, and they all felt so…blind. Freedom…for who? Also, the freedom we celebrate comes with so much suffering. Bombs? Men who died? The perilous fight? Is that what bravery is about?

This year, the bombs bursting in air brought to my mind Syria, Paris, Manchester, Boston. And the men who died? Certainly, our military, and I don’t want to minimize the sacrifices that take place there. I grew up with that. But on that little hill that night, in the dazzling glow, I could only think of Philando Castille (and his family, who watched), Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Trayvon Martin, and the countless others who died for what appears to be no reason at all. Side note: Alton and Philando were both killed over a year ago, within a day of each other, in different cities, right after the Fourth of July.

Ain’t that America.

This year I couldn’t celebrate with a true heart. This year, my heart hurt. This year, I kept thinking, America isn’t really as great as we make it sound (*gasp!*). We’ve sensationalized it and we’ve put it on a pedestal and convinced ourselves and even others that God has somehow bestowed His favor upon us. But we are still so messed up. We are just as human and inhumane as anyone else.

no longer stain

I can say with an honest heart that what I really want is to listen more, to learn more, to see more of the reality of my own heart and honestly question: do I see myself in the oppressor’s shoes? Instead of trying to equalize and try to “be unbiased” maybe I look my biases in the face and ask myself, why? Where does that come from? What am I ignoring or not being honest about?

BUT here’s the trap I fall into: I see things like what happened at UVA and think, “Well…at least I’m not like those people.” Here’s the thing, and this is what no one wants to hear: what stirred up the hatred in the hearts of those in Charlottesville is lurking in my own heart. It’s in me too. It’s also in you. We can’t separate ourselves from them, try as we might because it makes us feel better.

God warned Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). He’s been saying this to us since the beginning and is still saying it now. We’re told in Romans that no one is exempt, there is no distinction, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So how, then, could anyone justify racial “supremacy” if this is true? How could we even say that we aren’t as bad as the guys we saw marching like Nazis three days ago in 2017?

The sooner we recognize that what is in “their” hearts is also in ours, the sooner we can start to see real change. It does not change simply with whoever’s eleccted president, or more just law enforcement, or whether or not a statue will be torn down. Our hope is not found in any man or any institution created by men. Because it’s plain as day on the news: we—mankind—are too broken to try and fix ourselves. Left to our own devices, we only destroy ourselves (Galatians 5:13-15).

It starts with hearts. A nationwide, even worldwide, obliteration of the notion that MAN is on the throne. We’re not. The Lord our God is (Revelation 3:21; Revelation 4). By His grace are we even alive and walking today and have the opportunity for redemption…And He is capable of changing our wicked hearts. But only when we’re willing to face the truth, the ugliness that can be found in each and every single one of us, can we even begin to let God in to make real change in this world.

It starts with your heart.

find rest my soul

Guys, the crazy part is, these are not new issues! Maybe now, thanks to social media, they’re just a little more in-your-face. But this is old news putting on new clothes. Racism exists. It didn’t die and resurrect again, it’s always been there. Racial oppression still exists. Radical, hate-filled movements still exist. And sitting idly by “thanking God” that we aren’t like those guys only lets it grow stronger, crouched at our door, waiting to pounce. Wake up. Check your heart. And stay alert.

I certainly don’t think I’m any better or can atone for anything by writing this. I don’t even know what difference it’ll make in the long run. I do know where I tend to put the blinders on, where I make assumptions, ways I behave differently in different situations…and I’m still wrestling with the question “what now?” that comes after. I think ultimately the answer is that I’m a sinner who desperately needs Jesus, but I know there’s more to it, practically speaking. So I’m reading more. I’m paying more attention. I’m keeping my mouth shut and listening intently, trying to understand and take it all in without giving in to the same anger that fuels these fires…like I said, I have a lot to learn.

But most of all I have to remember, this is not the end of the story. There is a God who sees all of this today (Job 28:20-28). He is a God of justice, yes, but also of compassion (Zechariah 7:8-10). He alone atones for all of this and gives us a freedom and a unity no nation can ever promise us (Galatians 4:4-7; Ephesians 2:13-18). He reminds us of where our true citizenship lies (Philippians 3:20-21). And there will come a day where all of it will be made new again, for all who put their faith in Him (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 21:1-5).

So it’s time for real heart-check. Listen more. Learn more. See more of the reality of your own heart and ask yourself: Where do I have the blinders on and what stops me from taking them down? Where am I operating out of fear instead of compassion? What ugly parts am I avoiding or ignoring?

And above all, remember where our hope lies. “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6).

For God’s glory,

–Kayla

 

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