I’m not a person who can handle being disliked. When I have the slightest sense that someone doesn’t like me I get real anxious. It takes a lot of heart-work for me to be okay with someone in my life not liking me. I also have a very hard time disagreeing with people I love and respect. I want things to be clear, I want us all to be on the same page, and I want everyone to like everyone! As I’m sure you know, that never happens. It’s not that I can’t disagree with people or “stand up for what I believe in.” I can and I do. But I think it’s much easier for me to do so when I’m confident that someone, preferably someone I love and respect, will have my back. Because of all the above, this post is difficult to write.
The world is extremely political right now and it’s impossible to move an inch without rubbing someone the wrong way. Many — if not most — people are polarized on current issues: COVID-19, police brutality, police abolition, and racism. The middle ground isn’t somewhere many people choose to set up camp. Like No Man’s Land, it’s a place you go to die — figuratively speaking, in this case. Who kills you is anybody’s guess.
I want to be on a side. And on one issue I am: I wholeheartedly condemn racism. I’m not “not racist.” I’m antiracist. I repent for racism, rebuke racist behaviour and comments, continually seek education and information, and expose my heart to the work of serving and upholding the vulnerable. I want it to be very clear that I do not in any way condone racism or police brutality. I protest the existence of and demand the destruction of those evils. I advocate for comprehensive reform where needed and genuine repentance. I grieve acutely for those who’ve paid much too high a price for little, if any, reason and I would never mean to rob them of recognition. If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, that should be very evident.
But guys… I feel bad for Derek Chauvin. Please don’t stone me. I feel bad for him the way that I feel bad for Judas and Moses’ Pharaoh. I feel empathy, compassion, and — yes — love for the people who have ruined their lives through actions and attitudes that I neither understand nor excuse. I’m broken for them because the sweetness of grace isn’t something they know well, if at all. I’m completely confident that if repentant Judas stood at the feet of dying Jesus, his Friend and Teacher would smile down at him and unhesitatingly forgive him.
I don’t for a second think there shouldn’t be consequences for Chauvin’s actions. But I believe in restorative justice — for victims and offenders. I believe that brokenness begets brokenness. I believe that something is wrong within for wrongs to come out. I believe that everyone — no matter the depth, degree, or discrimination of their wrongdoings — is equally worthy to be restored to who they were meant to be. (Also known as a reflection of the invisible God, by the way.) I know there are perhaps cases in which this isn’t possible and I know there are important things to consider, such as protection of the vulnerable. Again, I’m not saying that there should be no consequences. I am saying that those consequences should lead to life, not death — even if death was the birthplace of consequence. Like everyone, I long for justice. Justice is part of who God is and is, therefore, part of who I am. But mercy is also part of who God is and the need to give and receive mercy is also part of I am. There is no one without the other.
Before I’m reminded that progress can only be made and justice can only be served when things are actually done and lines are actually drawn, I’d like to assert that there are ways to transform and restore the lives of people who have done objectively bad things. And I’m not just talking about salvation and Jesus. I’m talking about researched, validated, and usable methods for helping those who are hurting and, therefore, hurt others. There are ways to prevent and protect, rather than punish. There are ways to do things better, if we’re willing to offer kindness and love, rather than vengeance and hate. I will concede that not everyone wants redemption or forgiveness; but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop wanting it for them.
I read the story of Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson this week. In the 80’s, 22-year-old white Thompson confidently identified 22-year-old black Cotton as her rapist. Three years later the case was tried again with another suspect who was in Cotton’s prison and another victim who was raped that same night. Thompson — this time seconded by the other victim — again identified Cotton. This time he was given to two life sentences, doubling his original time. Eight years after that, DNA evidence conclusively identified the other prisoner as the rapist. The innocent Cotton served eleven years. And after eleven years of hating the wrong man, Thompson was devastated and ashamed for ruining his life. Two years later, she arranged to meet Cotton in their hometown church. She repented to him and he quietly replied, “I’m not mad at you. I’ve never been mad at you. I just want you to have a good life.” I mean, tell me that doesn’t steal your breath away! The two are now friends and co-authors of Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption. This photo of them is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
I know this isn’t a popular opinion. I know I don’t understand the pain of the Black community or George Floyd’s family. I also know that wrongly accusing someone and taking eleven of their years isn’t the same as killing someone and taking all of their years. I don’t know that, given the unfortunate opportunity, I would respond with this kind of grace or forgiveness. What I’m writing here is what I hope would be my response. Because, guys, I’m not trying to be a good leftist or rightest. I’m not trying to be a good Christian — who the hell even knows what that means these days. I’m trying to follow Jesus. I’m trying to remember that he said considering an act in your heart is the same as committing the act in your life. I’m trying to unconditionally hold out the grace he readily gave to the criminal hanging next to him. I’m trying to be like the man who begged for the forgiveness of his killers — while they killed him.
It’s not comfortable here in No Man’s Land. It’s not comfortable holding space for the complexity of humanity. It’s not comfortable living in the tension of serving and standing, forgiving and fighting. It’s not comfortable trying to figure out when it’s the right time for each of those things. But I feel Jesus in the tension. I think the Upside Down Kingdom is here, in No Man’s Land.
I want clarity, consensus, and community. I want to feel one way and not the other. But I don’t. Even though it doesn’t fit with what I’d much prefer, that’s who I am. I’m a mom who rages at the injustices perpetrated on her children while grieving the pain of their parents. I’m an empath who mourns a crime and wonders what happened to the criminal as a kid. I’m a disciple who would rather be faithful in love than right in judgement. I’m a person who makes mistakes and feels deep shame; a person who never wants to be a source of shame for anyone else.
Someone who I deeply love and respect recently texted me (about something entirely unrelated), “You’re way too understanding sometimes.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment, but it’s possibly the best one I’ve ever received. That’s who I want to be; even, I guess, if that means I’m not understood. So, it’s okay if you misunderstand me. It’s even okay if you don’t like me or you think I’m a fool. I won’t apologize or pack up camp. I’m in No Man’s Land for the long haul.