Till The Conflict Is O’er

There are two kinds of hymns that I sometimes struggle with singing. First, there’s the sunshine hymns. I don’t know, they’re just too perky for me. I can be happy, but I’m never that cheery.

Second, I struggle with the warlike hymns. Onward, Christian Soldiers? Hope of Israel? We Are All Enlisted? Let Us All Press On? Who’s On The Lord’s Side? I could keep going. Sure, they’re usually fun, rousing melodies, perfect for a little shot of energy that’s pretty badly needed most Sundays….

It’s just that, I have a hard time identifying with all the battle talk in church. I mean, I get it, we’re supposed to be God’s army, waging war against evil. But does that have to involve swords and shields and images of violence? Do we have to keep talking about enemies and foes to be vanquished? Jesus wasn’t afraid to get angry now and then, but he never dressed up in riot gear or shouted battle cries with a weapon in the air to get people excited and on his side. It just isn’t natural for me to look around and see other people as my enemy. I’m used to seeing people who need loving. Some are easier for me to love than others, but that’s the goal. Where are these enemies I’m supposed to be fighting?

Oh, wait! I found them. It took a few decades, but I found them. For the last two years, evil has just been presenting itself so clearly. Suddenly, I do feel enlisted. I do feel like I need a metaphorical sword and shield to keep myself and others safe. I do feel compelled to fight against evil. I find myself in all these uncomfortable situations, and the little voice in my head whispers, “Well, which side are you on anyway? Are you willing to stand up for what’s right, or not?”

So here we are! Finally! All those years of polishing that “whole armor of God,” training to build up my strength of character, my heart’s endurance, my moral fiber. All that time fine-tuning my spiritual eyes and ears, so that I’d be able to recognize God’s voice as well as the enemy if and when he/she/they/it decided to show up… At last, it’s show time! Gird up our loins, and fresh courage take! Let’s do this!

But… wait a minute…. where did everyone go?? Why isn’t every halfway decent person I know all-in on Americans vs. The Nazis/KKK/White Supremacists/Nationalists? All the bad guys came crawling out of their holes at once to say “neener neener, come and get me,” and this is the time to drop our swords and weigh the pros and cons of the many sides?? How did we fall so deeply asleep at the wheel, that we have to even think about which side we’re on?

Of course there are plenty of people responding exactly the way you’re supposed to when Satan’s squad comes to trash the neighborhood. And I’ve never been more pleased by the LDS Church’s response to anything–they explicitly condemned both the white supremacy agenda and pursuit of “white culture,” with sassy quotation marks and everything! Get ’em, Church! Wield that righteous sword!

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But I have to wonder about everyone hanging out on the sidelines, telling us to calm down, take a step back, and stop making such a big deal about white supremacy. Telling us that most people are good. Telling us that slavery was a long time ago. Worst of all, the people who still think this is nothing more than politics and are posting stupid memes about liberal snowflakes. THIS IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN POLITICS. You can be a good conservative, and be part of the resistance against racists and fascists. In fact, to be a good conservative, I feel like you’d kind of have to….

I realize that almost nobody I know is actively pro-Nazi. However, people seem to think that Charlottesville just kind of happened in a vacuum, and that it in no way reflects our society or presidential administration. (Oops! Someone let the Nazis out of their cages! We’ll just ship them back home in a time machine and get back to living our lives as good people.) Others have adopted this helpless “haters gonna hate” mentality, and don’t see any point in discussing the matter further. (Let’s just hold the door for each other and buy a Starbucks for the car behind us at the drive-through and wait for love to conquer all. Kumbaya….) The most self-centered people of all went straight to the defensive approach the day after Charlottesville, the same way they did in the weeks following the election. (Hey, just because I’ve aligned myself on the same team as the racists, and I never use my voice to condemn the racists or hold “my president” accountable for his words and actions, doesn’t mean I’m a racist! Don’t call me that! It hurts my feelings!) (Pro-tip: If you don’t like people calling you racist, redirect some of your energy into fighting racism. The White House isn’t going to listen to me, a card carrying Democrat, but your conservative voice carries weight! Use it!)

Charlottesville didn’t happen by random chance. The rise in hate crimes, hate speech, and hate groups isn’t happening by random chance. Trump’s election didn’t happen by random chance. It’s all a result of the larger US culture, which is moving in a direction that radicalizes and emboldens white supremacists. Our culture is making white supremacists feel safer than they’ve felt in generations. We can point at different individuals as scapegoats, but it’s a much larger cultural illness that we’re suffering from.

(I didn’t always believe that, by the way. I would listen to people of color talking about how racism is just as alive in America as it’s ever been, and I was trying to understand, but I still thought they were exaggerating just a little bit, minimizing all the progress we’ve made…. I was wrong…. And for the record, I realized I was wrong before Charlottesville happened.)

How do you fix a culture? It’s certainly bigger than any of us. But it’s comprised of all of us. Culture is determined by the words we all say, and the words we leave unsaid. Culture is determined by the values we all choose to act on. Culture is determined by the way we all spend our time, money, and energy. Culture is determined by the circles we all choose to associate and align ourselves with. We create our culture. We decide what we want our culture to be. We’re not helpless here. We’re responsible.

Sure, each of us in nothing more than a tiny droplet in the bucket. But water is nothing more than a collection of droplets. And water has ripples. Every one of our little cultural water droplets has the power to help shape our culture, to revive it, to make America a more humane and welcoming place.

Because guess what…. Ignoring the cultural ill of racism has never made it better. The theory of colorblindness already failed. We have to actually address the problem.

What does that even mean? How do we start?

  • Start small, and start quietly. Before you’re ready to use your voice and create change, you need to educate yourself. There’s a lot of learning and un-learning and re-learning to do. A deeply held conviction that “racism is bad and we’re all equal” isn’t good enough. You need an in-depth understanding of implicit bias and systematic/structural racism, as well as white privilege before you can proceed. This will take time. Start now. This is a period for way more listening, reading, and taking information in, than for bringing your own voice to the conversation. Get out of your own way, and just immerse yourself in learning, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Be a sponge.
  • As you learn to better recognize microaggressions and offensive speech, be an interrupter. (Don’t listen to those who will laugh at you for being “politically correct.” A thinking and feeling person knows that words are powerful, and should be carefully chosen to show respect for others.) Don’t brush things off with “They didn’t mean it like that…” Interrupt the moment. I find that playing dumb and asking the other person to explain themself can be effective.
  • Don’t make it about you. It’s never about you.
  • Remember that your impact is more important than your intent.
  • It’s not about you.
  • Impact over intent. (I can’t repeat those things enough.)
  • Be more concerned about injustice than discomfort. It’s ok to be uncomfortable, and it’s ok to make other people uncomfortable. Growth happens outside our comfort zones.
  • Keep talking about it. And talking about it. All that stuff you’re learning from bullet point number one? Make everyone around you crazy with how much you talk about it. Don’t be afraid. Persist. Yes, even with the people you consider family and friends. Those are your people. That’s where you can have the most impact.
  • Use your social media. And don’t just use it to spread your own voice. Follow activists of color, and share their words. I know, I know, you only signed up for all these social media accounts because you want to see photos of your nieces and nephews and stalk your ex-boyfriend and share recipes. But social media is where culture is most quickly shaped these days. Use those powerful tools.
  • Give what money and resources you can to causes that fight racial injustice. Give to individuals who need it. White people have an astronomically disproportionate share of the wealth in the United States, and it’s not because we’ve worked harder. (Go back to bullet point one. Keep learning.) Give some of that back.
  • Figure out how to be a genuine friend, ally, and support to the people of color in your circles. I’m afraid to even write this here, because I don’t want to encourage token friendships, or burdening PoC with naive efforts to become culturally aware… But figure it out. Figure out how to be a truly “safe” friend.

There are better lists out there about how to fight prejudice and racism and Nazis. I don’t even feel like my list is that great… But I don’t want to spend any more time fixing it. I just want it out there. Because the truth is, I can’t give you a to-do list of how to fight this battle. I can ask you to educate yourself (and then educate yourself some more), and I can encourage you to courageously get involved. You need to figure out what your talents, resources, and circles of influence are. Because that’s where your work is.

Most of us won’t get a shout-out in the history books for our work. And most of us won’t see much in the way of direct results. Don’t expect a cookie for your efforts. Just keep at it. Our culture can’t move in a positive direction any other way.

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