Lenten Reflection 3: Edwin N. Swaray
In part 4 of her book, The Night is Long But Light Comes in the Morning, Dr. Catherine Meeks asked a simple but profound question: What’s love got to do with racial healing? For me, this is akin to asking the question, what does the Bible have to do with love? Well, even though the word love is not the most used word in the Bible, I believe love is the primary theme. Love is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible. From scriptures such as do everything in love, and whoever does not love does not know God, to the most profound and greatest act of love, which is when Jesus died to pay for the sins of the world. However, the most famous and powerful passage about love is found in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, it always trusts, it always hopes, and it always perseveres. Love never fails.”
So, as it is inconceivable to talk about the Bible without talking about love, we most definitely cannot talk about racial justice and healing without talking about love. Dr. Meeks noted that there are constant discussions about love and how it is identified as the solution to the ails of the church and society. But she also lamented the lack of clarity about the definition of love. She pondered, what kind of love does it take?
In a 1957 speech at the NAACP Emancipation Day Rally, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, spoke of this kind of love when he wrote, “But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
The quote by Dr. King and the passage in 1 Corinthians 13 challenge us to put aside our biases, prejudices, and the racial socialization that we’ve been exposed to in this society, and to love ALL human beings irrespective of their race. Dr. Howard Thurman used the phrase “Love Ethic” to speak of this kind of love as well. He wrote, “the Love Ethic requires that we see people beyond all of their assets and deficits and that we give whatever we have to give to them without the hope or desire of reciprocity.”
Individuals like Drs. King, Thurman, and Meeks, who have either spent their life doing this work or tragically died doing so, know all too well that in order to possess this kind of love, we as individuals and church leaders MUST acquire the character traits needed for this spiritual task.
As we continue to observe the season of Lent, we must ask God for guidance and strength because this kind of love will disrupt the misconceptions and stereotypes that we have about our neighbors with different skin colors, and it will disrupt the institutional and systemic racial status quo. This kind of love goes beyond the surface and the superficial “Minnesota Nice” behaviors toward a more in-depth and meaningful relationship with people that do not look like us. This kind of love demands that we stop making the untrue, disingenuous, and hurtful statement “I don’t see color” in a country whose stratification is based on the social construction of race. This kind of love demands that we become aware of and gain knowledge about culturally diverse groups in our church and community. This kind of love demands cultural humility—the ability to be open-minded and curious about diverse groups. This kind of love demands honesty, truth-telling, open conversations, and a safe space to begin the healing process. This kind of love leads to metanoia—a transformational change of heart; an enlightened worldview; a change in behavior. And as Dr. Meeks noted, if despite our best efforts we find that the spaces we occupy are unloving, we must leave those spaces without being apologetic about it. She added, “It can be challenging to embrace the discernment process quickly and without a sense of shame and guilt, but when it is clear that existing energy in a space mitigates against life, it is against God, and so it is reasonable to seek a more life-giving space.”
In response to Dr. Meeks' observation that love is the groundwork for racial healing, I invite you to spend this week contemplating the communities and places you spend time, whether that's home, work, volunteer spaces, neighborhood groups, clubs, etc. Prayerfully consider one space at a time, asking, 'is this space life-giving? is this space loving?' Ask God to help you turn your energies towards life-giving spaces and places, nurturing loving relationships.