By Sadie Kainu
In the midst of one national crisis, arises another. The tragedy of George Floyd has left our country devastated and divided once again. And while there is much I could say on the subject itself- the heart ache for an entire community, the rage towards such severe disregard for human life, or the deep sense of overwhelm that surrounds us- I want to address a particular issue that sits between all of it.
First, we must set the stage: tensions are high and no one seems to have a fair footing. People are sharing thoughts, fears, opinions, and grievances on every platform and every home, and it looks as if no two people feel exactly the same about this situation. This feels like chaos, but in all honestly, I’m not convinced that it’s a bad thing to be hearing so many voices. We’re all distinct people with vastly different life experiences. We’re created to be unique, so why would we all perfectly agree? In fact, I would argue that our world is in desperate need of a whole array of diverse perspectives in a cultural moment like this one. Life is too big and too complicated for any one person to get it all right. We’re limited in our vision of the world, but each new perspective helps complete the picture.
The catch is this, in order for those varied opinions to make a difference, we have to transition from debate to dialogue.
And friends, this is on us white folk, not people of color. They’ve been asking for a seat at the table forever and we’ve ignored them. They’ve written books, hosted conferences, created ministries; they’ve become lawyers, politicians, teachers, and consultants; they’ve sang songs, wrote verses, shared art; they’ve knelt, and wept, and prayed; asked questions, built relationships, and invested in communities. They took risk, after risk, after risk, to open up a dialogue that desperately needs to happen. But we’ve chosen not to enter the conversation because, bottom line, we didn’t have to.
But praise God, it’s not too late! The tragedy of George Floyd’s death is not new, but it is now. We’ve, once again, been given an open door to talk about systemic racism and it’s deep roots in American history. Not pick a side, not state your case, just to talk. And I’m here to tell you, it matters when you do! Whatever your perspective is, it matters. You actually have the power to hurt or heal with your words. There’s so much more I could say on this subject, but (for now) I will leave you with this insight from Proverbs:
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.Proverbs 12:18 NIV
Now, you may be thinking to yourself “that’s nice, Sadie, but how? Like, in real life, how do I talk to people without starting another fight? Is it even worth it?” Fair. In your every day life, racial discussions may feel irrelevant, or maybe you don’t feel like you have enough information. Maybe you’re someone with the best intentions but you feel stuck in a loop of damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don’t. I hear you, I see you, and I want to encourage you. But it’s going to require something of you. So, my question to you is: are you willing to give it a shot?
Yes? Good. I hoped so.
To transition from debate to dialogue, we must address something I have decided to call “The In-Between.” The In-Between is the culmination of attitudes, assumptions, biases, fears, pains, and priorities nestled between our words. The things we feel in our soul and experience in our bodies as we process new and old information. The In-Between is a culmination of all the things we don’t say. We may not fully understand it, but understand this: the In-Between is a good place. For all it’s pain and broken mess, it is also beautiful and authentic. It’s where things like passion and peace come from, and it is a vital piece to what makes us human.
You have a rich and complex In-Between and you have a spiritual enemy who doesn’t want you to see it. If you cannot recognize what’s hidden in your own In-Between, then you run the risk of being driven by something you do not understand and therefore cannot control. This lack of control is what drives us into debate. It keeps us in an endless loop, stuck between feverishly trying to be heard and the disappointment of being misunderstood and even villainized. Your enemy wants to keep you stuck in that loop forever.
So this is what is required of you: get out of the loop. Start first by listening to yourself. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Notice when the topic makes you tired. Remember the situations that made you angry. Grieve the circumstance that left you wounded. Name the people that have influenced you and specify what they have taught you. (Jesus is a pretty great resource if you get stuck.)
You have something important to bring to the table, but your influence will only come when you understand what that something is. You have to know what sits between your words.
I believe two things will happen when you learn about your own In-Between. One, you will become a better listener. You’ve learned to listen to yourself, and now you have space and humility to listen to others. And two, you will start to see others’ In-Betweens. You will be able to discern who is speaking with wisdom and humility, and who is speaking from misplaced pain or arrogance. It is these skills, listening and discernment, that equip us to transform the conversations around us from debate to dialogue.
And as you begin to dialogue, remember this: no one has THE answer. At best, we are limited in our understanding; at worse, misinformed. We desperately need to bring our all perspectives together, to both give and take, to learn from one another. In this, we can learn how to stand firm and still grow. Different does not have to mean divided, but it will if you’re not listening. So take some time today to listen to yourself. Get to know your In-Between. And when you’re ready, let’s talk.