My old roommate from college came to my desk at work late last week. He asked what I did for my job and for whom I worked. To me, it felt like he was fishing for information…not because he was curious about me…but that he was looking for something else. Like…a different job, perhaps.
The conversation turned from me to him. He felt like he was being mistreated. Discriminated against. He felt that his dark skin and South African heritage were being used against him by his new manager. He even complained to HR about it, and felt like they weren’t doing anything about it either….probably because of his skin color as well.
I just listened.
His venting then became more bitter. Towards Americans. Towards people who were not of his skin color. Towards white people. How he, still, couldn’t believe how racist white people are after all these years. How, you’d think that America should have changed since the Civil Rights movement. How America was created by slaves, and that Americans should be grateful for them. How recent events with black kids getting shot by cops just shows how racist all of America is.
I just listened. I let him vent. He needed to let it out.
This was all becoming too familiar. This is exactly how he spoke back when we were roommates in college over a decade ago. The bitterness he held back then as an immigrant to America did not leave him. I don’t know why he kept that bitterness for all these years. I don’t know why people choose to hold on such bitter feelings. I don’t know why people keep these rocks of bitterness and spite and carry it in the backpacks of their heart, only to throw those rocks at other people whenever they feel like life mistreats them.
Because he chose to carry these things in his heart during that time, he chose to leave God out of his life as well. He felt that his bitterness was more important. It consumed him back then, to the point that no matter what I told him about coming to church and seeing the goodness in the people around him that I knew were also concerned for him–people that wanted to befriend him–he didn’t want to see it.
It was the same this time, the same bitter feelings, at work, more than a decade later.
And then, he turned “revolutionary idealist” on me. This time, he felt compelled to change the world so that his kids could grow up in a peaceful world. Or perhaps, he felt that the world needed to change…to accomodate him, and his children,to his liking.
That’s a familiar “conversation”, too. This is an argument that America is having within herself. It’s actually one of many arguments. It is being used to divide her people and tear them apart. It’s an effective one because the topic is literally “skin deep”. It has been used to control conversations and perceptions. It is used to shape a culture of shame…and shaming. It’s an easy “rock” to pick up and throw at someone…to hurt them…because you felt hurt.
Then I said something that caused him to pause for a bit.
“It doesn’t matter.”
He contested with me for a bit, trying to get me to see his way.
I can’t judge rightfully because I don’t know the full story. I can’t say you’re right and your manager is wrong because I’m only hearing your side of the story. And it’s the same with what’s happening in America. There are those whose voices speak so loud that it’s hard to ignore them. And they only point the camera to what they want to show….their side of the story that makes their case and proves the point that they want to convince you to believe in.
Those who shout “Racism!” in a room full of “white people” only want to cause commotion and create silence. And that is really to silence you. And by silencing you, they’ve created a kind of peace…but a peace that’s for themselves only.
It doesn’t matter.
Don’t you want your kids to grow up in a peaceful world? Don’t you want to change the world so that it’s not like ours?
They’re already growing up in an un-peaceful world! They’re in it! Right now, I can shield them from the effects of that world at home, but I can’t protect them from its hurts and pains their whole lives. It’s not my job to rubber-bumperize the world and remove all its sharp edges and hard knocks and pains and “ow-ees”. I can’t “make it all go away.” I can’t change a world that has already made up its mind to be hurtful. I can’t change a world that doesn’t care about how you feel…but just cares about itself. That world will do whatever it pleases, and it won’t change its mind just for you, just because you don’t like it. I can’t change how people choose to hurt others because of the hurt they chose to feel inside of them. People choose to be hurt because of whatever reason…whether its race, or gender, or education, or class, or whatever.
It doesn’t matter.
It is my job to teach my kids how to live in such a world, not just let that world poke them and push them around and beat them to the ground and they just passively “take it” as a way to “deal with it.”
I need to teach them how to live in a world that doesn’t care about them…even though they claim to.
I have to teach them about how that world tries to convince you that you’re a victim, that you need to rise up against each other and fight each other over perceived prejudices.
I have to teach them about how the world deceives you in all of this, trying to portray divisions, contentions, hatreds…all within the camera frame, the talking points of conversation, without really showing you the whole picture, the whole context, the whole story….making it look all real and life-like. Intentionally.
I have to teach them that people actually believe those lies, live them, and act up to the point of hurting you…and leaving you, abandoning you.
But I have to teach them how to live in that world…because that world isn’t going to change for them. I can’t change the world to “my liking” just so that it doesn’t hurt them….because that world isn’t going to change just for me. It’s not a Burger King world: “Your way, right away.” Again, I can’t rubber-bumperize the world so that my kids will have a hurt-free, pain-free, whatever-else-free world. Sorry. That world has already made up its mind. And I can’t change people who’ve already made up their mind…no matter how good my argument is.
So I’ll teach my kids to be good in such a world. I’ll teach them to do good, to serve others, to help others out. To be patient when things go wrong. To listen when others won’t. To lift you up when you’re down. There’s a common goodness that all people can relate to…that all people need, hunger, desire. Most importantly, I’ll teach my kids to be anchored to God and do as he guides them to do. I’ll teach them how to listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and to follow the guidance they get through those. I’ll teach them to follow Christ.
And what about when you’re the target of persecution? What if people are pushing you around, poking you, making fun of you, hurting you? What if your kids are the ones bullied and made fun of?
Well, that’s what we need to expect as Christians. Christ didn’t just come to save you from your sins so that you would have peace in this life. Besides, that peace doesn’t come from a war-free, hurt-free, pain-free world either. He didn’t suffer the pains for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to suffer worldly trouble. That peace is a spiritual peace, not a physical, temporal one.
Christ showed us how to live in a world that despises you, that doesn’t care about you, and ultimately wants to get rid of you. He showed us how to live in a world that has already made up its mind to “not want” you. Those who truly wish to “follow Christ” and “walk His ways” must realize that they’ll have to walk the path of persecution, of rejection, of being made fun of, of false accusations, of maltreatment, of being hated just for what you believe, and quite possibly face the test of “Your God, or your life.” And right before his crucifixion, in front of authorities who had charge over His death, Christ said, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.” (John 18:37 KJV) He knew His purpose for being here, and he fulfilled that purpose while keeping his heart, his integrity, with God. He lived his life fufilling that purpose…bit by bit, person by person. And He stood before that angry, uncaring, hating world…blameless.
I know where my protection comes from, and that they can have His protection as well. If it’s my time to go, then so be it. Until then, I will fulfill the purpose I was sent here to do. I will teach my children the same.
It doesn’t matter what the world does.
I can still live at peace with others, with myself, and with God, even when the whole world has gone down.
My old roommate sat quietly. As he stood to leave, he admitted that he had given up God so long ago that it was hard for him to see Him. He was so focused on all the things poking him and pushing him around that all he felt he could do was push back.
I told him I couldn’t change his mind if he’s already made up that mind to ignore God. However, he could change his mind…and heart…on his own. All he has to do is….Look Up, and Listen….because when you look up, it’s easy to ignore the distractions of the world. And when you tune out the noise of the world, it’s easier to listen to God.
I can’t change the world for my children, but for a world blanketed in…and blinded and deafened by…its own darkness, I can change myself…and raise my children…and strengthen those we encourage around us…to be lights anchored in God, for others. It’s truly the only way to have peace and joy in a troubled world.