don’t catch fire as you rise

Wax dripped onto my fingers as I gripped a candle in the midst of hundreds. I stood in Washington Square two nights ago, catching snatches of the speakers’ declarations, a litany of “Stand up, fight back”s and “This is what America looks like”s and “No ban, no wall”s. The memory of the press of people at my shoulders bolsters me now as I consider the past few days of controversial Executive Orders and the resulting protests.

It is a complicated day to be an American. It gets even more labyrinthine when you are a woman of color and a Christian. I find myself caught between multiple communities, affirming some words, hesitating with others, all the while trying to be consistent in where I stand. I must contend with the condemnations of the Women’s March that I walked in as well as the constant charges from other Christians to “give Trump a chance” and “wait and see.” I understand their reluctance to judge Trump’s actions–it can be perceived as an exercise of grace for a new leader.

Yet Trump has had more than a year-decades in fact-to demonstrate what kind of man he is and what he values. Words reflect the orientation of the heart, and I take his words seriously, as well as those from the constituents he surrounds himself with, many of whom at the worst have ties with nativist, neo-Nazi, and other discriminatory organizations and at the least offensive are unqualified for their positions of influence.

One hand grips this understanding. Then there is this:

Do I believe in a God big enough to transform Donald Trump’s heart, lead him in paths of wisdom and mercy? Yes. The answer will always be yes, as much as it was for Paul, as much as it was for me. When I align with Michelle Obama’s stance that “When they go low, we go high,” I choose to believe in God’s boundless ability to cultivate love in any person and use their life for good purpose–I refuse to doom them to eternal depravity, and it’s not my role anyway. Out of this, I choose to refrain from attacking Trump’s family, from engaging in aggressive actions against those who voted for him. Even if he doesn’t change, I still choose this. Going high means we don’t get to satisfy our desire to hurt others who have hurt us, no matter how justified it may be, and only God can enable that kind of grace.

I want to do the hard thing: acknowledge the imago dei in others AND hold them accountable for their actions–especially when those actions carry so much weight for communities already facing intense marginalization. There is a way to do both, and that path leads to the Cross. “We have the privilege of loving our enemies,” a friend told me yesterday. “And God’s like ‘You weren’t able to do this before. Not without me.'”

I had never thought about it in that way before. I get the privilege of loving my enemies. Before Christ, there was NO reason to do this–it makes no sense, it feels wrong even. Unfair. That is the Gospel though: the unfairness of Jesus’ sacrifice for us because how dare He choose to love the unlovable. How can I stand before God and reject the humanity of another person He created when I have been reborn through this Gospel?

I think it becomes harder to receive this message when others have co-opted it to silence you and soften the edges of horrific realities. I have witnessed too many white Christians appropriating the grace of the Gospel to dispel the pain of their sisters and brothers of color. I went to a Christian college and felt the sting when me and other black students were criticized for “creating more division” and “being too angry” when we talked about the racial problems on our campus. By the time a blatant incident of racism happened and no one at school could ignore it, the chimes of forgive forgive forgive forgive from our white classmates pricked at calluses built over years of dismissal and apathy.

Looking back on that experience, I’ve realized that the barriers became so thick because I felt like we were being asked to extend a hand, extend trust, extend grace, with no assurance that the other students even acknowledged our pain or would take steps to stand by us in the future. Some of us had been burnt too many times to risk it.

I’m sharing this now because I want to emphasize how hard Jesus’ teaching is when he tells us to love our enemies–and it may not even be our enemies! It could be loving our friends and neighbors and co-workers-and even family-who have committed microaggressions against us, who have offended us with their words spoken out of ignorance, who have perpetuated a passive acceptance of the world as it is because they haven’t seen it for the specific challenges we experience–or have been unwilling to. Where we locate the resistant tension in our hearts when we think of these people in our lives, that is where all the implications of “do good to those who hurt you” becomes a serrated truth, cutting deep.

I get the privilege of loving others when it feels impossible to do so. That is what Christ enables us to live out in our everyday interactions with others, whether that be on Facebook, in the work room, or at the dinner table. But what does this love look like? Does it look like holding hands and smiling at each other, pretending that our houses aren’t burning behind us? Does it mean we wave off Trump and get over it?

Well…no.

There is grave injustice at work in our country, and there are forces actively spurring the flames of disunity and fear. We shouldn’t diminish the wrongness of that. I am furious, and every time I see another Executive Order, I feel like screaming to the sky “Come, Jesus come!” Our church is in a fractious state, our conversations with neighbors brittle with unspoken grievances. We must stand where are and look around; this is where we are starting. Loving each other within this space of tension and uncertainty and breaches of understanding means that we choose to wrestle with the pain, with the current division and still face the Cross together as we do this.

We call out evil when we see it. We humbly challenge each other to consider experiences we aren’t familiar with (I’ve been learning a lot about the experiences of my low-income white sisters and brothers lately). We mourn the pain of others even as we invite them to enter our own. We speak out when we’ve been sinned against and repent when we sin against others, individually and as a community. We say NO to any laws and actions that harm our neighbors. We resist racism and sexism and xenophobia and persecution of any kind that grieves God’s heart. We acknowledge unbalanced power dynamics in our relationships, in our systems, and we dismantle them, guided by those who have been disempowered. That is love that rises to survey the mess and embraces the incisive truth-telling and white-knuckled dialogues that form the foundations for bridges.

Exposing the pain, exhaling it, tangling and untangling it with another person willing to work through it with you, as equals, is one of the most terrifying and healing choices you can make. I had one of these conversations with a friend, a white woman I love dearly, and I’ll never forget what she told me, or the validating balm it was for my grief and outrage:

I’m sorry that in the great gamble of history, for some reason, people who look like me, people with my color skin, came out on top. I don’t know why that is when it could’ve have easily been the other way around. I’m sorry for the ways me and my people have hurt your community. I’m sorry for the ways I’ve oppressed you or silenced you and your community–especially unintentionally…The greatest injustice is that you were made to feel guilty for doing the things to survive, to feel safe…I don’t have a right to your trust. I have to earn it…Will you forgive me?

I did. And she forgave me for all the times I’ve painted her with a broad-brush, dismissed her as another white person I struggled to trust, failed to empathize with the suffering she has seen and experienced in the South. We’ve had a lot more of these conversations in the past year–and it’s hard. It’s confusing and tense and cathartic and vulnerable. We have found communion within burning wreckage and discovered ways to build a friendship that allows us both to rise without blistering.

In some ways it’s easier and harder to do this with a friend–what about with a stranger? Someone on the Internet? That person at church whose politics make you grit your teeth?The politician who makes himself an dart-board for mockery? Can we pursue this type of radical, counter-cultural, Gospel-seeded love with them too? I am asking myself this question now as I struggle between the reflex to pile insult and indignation and the awareness of how my actions testify to Christ whom I claim dwells in me. There is a difference between the righteous outrage that illuminates wrong and the bitter rancor that can warp our vision. We cannot shame and demean another person and face the Cross at the same time. Neither can we go high and still grip stones to throw.

the inaugurating call

We woke today in different frames of mind. Some celebrate. Some weep. Some lack the words to capture the complicated thoughts twisting inside them. I wonder how history will look back on this day. Will it mark the day as anything memorable? Will this day take up a corner in the national tome, only a blip on a grander scale? Will it signal a great quake or a tiny tremor, unworthy of notice by later generations?

But I don’t live 5 years from now, or 15, or 50. I can’t predict how these coming years will benefit or damage us, and neither can I tell you that this will all blow over when I have no assurance it will.

I am present in this moment, and in this moment, I feel grief. Those who boycott the inauguration or speak out against the man coming into office are being told to “get over it.” Through some eyes, to be critical is to denounce our democratic system or exacerbate the divisiveness in our nation. I acknowledge that there is always this danger of demonizing others or lapsing into a sense of self-righteousness when results don’t turn out in the way you expected or desired. I realize that our system as is elected this man, and I support a peaceful transfer of power. I choose not to ignore that reality. Donald Trump is our President.

He is my President, but I will not normalize his words or other actions. I will not affirm the contempt and vilification he has thrown upon my Latinx family, immigrants and daughters and sons of immigrants. I will not say it is okay when he compares Black Lives Matter activists to terrorists and supports further aggressive police measures to “keep order,” even when it may lead to more dead black bodies on the street. I will not get over his dismissal of my LGBTQA friends as they struggled  to be seen, his neglect of my indigenous neighbors when they have fought so hard to gain notice of the abuses they face. I will not stand alongside his consistent demoralization of my sisters of all colors.

John Piper shared a message today that acknowledges the challenges of living under an unqualified leader. I resonate with the words he opens with:

Today we will inaugurate a man to the presidency of the United States who is morally unqualified to be there. This is important to say just now because not to see it and feel it will add to the collapsing vision of leadership that enabled him to be nominated and elected.

Not only that, but if we do not see and feel the nature and weight of this sorrow, we will not know how to pray for his presidency or speak as sojourners and exiles whose pattern of life is defined in heaven, not by the mood of the culture.

I appreciate the attention he gives to the “weight of this sorrow,” the difficulty of knowing how to respond to this presidency when it has aggravated so many existing divisions and grievances. Yet his later point that followers of God have been able to flourish under problematic political regimes echoes the words of my father, who reminded me that, “God allows the rise and fall of good and bad kings.” We see this to be true in the Old Testament when the Israelites experienced slavery, conquest, exile under pharaohs and kings. We see this to be true in the New Testament when the growing numbers of Christ followers were threatened by torture, execution, public humiliation under the law of Roman rulers. We may not understand why, but bad kings are allowed to take power, even as they ultimately fall under the sovereignty of God.

Now, no President can be cataloged as wholly good or bad, but we can acknowledge that with the rise of some leaders comes higher stakes for certain communities. I urge you now to consider who bears the cost of the inauguration today. Who is feeling fear today–who is grieving?

I will not dismiss these concerns as petty or over-sensitive when their weight drags me to the margins where we should all rightfully be. Yes, there has been a measure of bitterness and pettiness on multiple sides, but these do not diminish the legitimate concerns many carry in regards to this incoming administration. People worry about their healthcare, the education of their children, their citizenship status, their ability to walk to the store and not have to see racist or homophobic slurs scrawled on the walls.

I can engage these anxieties yet still point to the eternal reality that Jesus is Lord and, as he declared in John 16:33: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Whatever our circumstances are, He transcends them, and He equips us to navigate the difficult periods where we have few clear answers. I lean on that strength now and answer to him as Master.

Jesus is Lord, and we have work to do.

If you voted for Trump, defend and lift up your neighbor, similar and different from yourself.

If you did not vote for Trump, defend and lift up your neighbor, similar and different from yourself.

None of us can claim exemption from the type of empathetic listening, humble heart-wrestling, and perseverant bridge-building the years ahead require of us. We entered the election already divided in so many ways. Do not call for unity unless you are truly willing to answer to what it will ask of you, because as someone once told me, “Be careful of what you pray for, because God will surely answer.”

If you truly seek to be one united family, it will cost you your assumptions. It will cost you your pride. It will cost you your comfort. It will cost you homogeneity and familiarity. It will cost you the satisfaction of hurting those who hurt you. Much must be cast down for a new foundation to be built.

My indigenous sisters and brothers, you have work to do. This work includes allowing God to bring you rest and comfort. Let Jesus reach those deep wounds in your communities and bring healing. Confront the forces that try to shrink you, make you feel forgotten or abandoned. Our Heavenly Father loves you so much, and He hears your cries. Continue to protest the injustices done against you, and know you do not stand alone. Nurture your children and remind them of the beauty and strength and resilience seeded in your stories. Please share your stories. I need to hear them, need to be convicted by your words, and I submit to you now. Challenge the rest of us past silences towards action. Lead us as we untangle our country’s sins and reconcile our peoples.

My black sisters and brothers, we have work to do. Many of you have already been engaged in the rebuilding of your communities. You have reached out to our poor, empowered our children and reminded them of how exceptional and worthy they are. You have engineered more just local and national policies. You have been relentless in making visible what has been invisible to privileged others for too long in our country. Continue that work and do not grow weary of doing good. Pray for our country and allow God to use you in the transformation of our churches, our workplaces, our homes, our streets. When you are tired, rest and know that your anger and sadness are warranted. But do not allow our Enemy to manipulate that anger into resentment and condemnation towards our white brothers and sisters. As believers, we don’t get to write them off and stop talking to them. We are called to draw close, to love, to share, to seek to understand, and to hold them accountable. This is hard work, and other voices may take advantage of our compassion and demand more from us. Some may label us appeasers and warn us that by choosing to love people who have the potential to hurt us, we are weak. But that is not the mercy we have been shown by the Cross, and it is out of the grace given to us that we keep striving to bring the unified Kingdom of Heaven to our soil.

My white sisters and brothers, you have work to do. Many look at the statistics of white evangelicals who voted for Trump and doubt the relevance of the church in its lack of social justice literacy. Some of us people of color have wondered how many of you in the safety of your homes espouse Trump’s beliefs, depicted powerfully in this comic. The hesitation and lack of trust this engenders has hurt our ability to commune together as one family. Now is an opportunity to approach those confused and hurting with gentle hands and compassionate hearts. Listen without seeking to defend your identity as a good person. Ask God what your role is to be in the lives of those oppressed right now, whether that means protesting, deepening friendships, reading books outside your comfort zone, joining efforts that address injustice, or teaching other white people from what you are learning. But do not be silent; do not be still. Out of the grace that has been shown to you, extend that now to those you may not understand right now. I assume nothing of who or what you voted for, but I invite you now to communicate with your choices, your actions how Christians love within the tension, within the adversity, within the existing divisions. Solidarity involves sacrifice. This is a grueling journey, and there are times when you will feel chastised and guilty for being white or hurt and frustrated when you are dismissed as a hater or ignorant when you just want to help others.  You are joining with others who have been in this struggle for far longer, and there will be clashes, but hold firm. You have much to gain when your sisters and brothers of color are finally treated as equals and we eat together at one table. Stake your identity in Christ and not the reputation you can craft and preserve. He loves you, and he will show you the way forward.

My Asian sisters and brothers, you have work to do. Our country may try to whiten you and widen the divide between our communities, but do not submit to that temptation. You are not foreign; you are family. Take ownership of that truth and share your stories. Bring light to the things I don’t see as a black woman. Know that God shaped you and cherishes you. I invite you now to step up and actively join conversations concerning justice–it’s for all of us, and the problems of the most vulnerable of us are ALL of our problems. You have a unique point of view, and we all need to hear it. Please let others’ lives matter to you in the personal made political. Declare that black lives matter to you and practice that. Protect immigrants, whether they speak Spanish or Quechua or Cantonese or Malayan. Our struggles become woven in one thread, and we petition God on behalf of our community, knowing He has created us to belong to each other. Out of the grace you have been shown, reach out to those outside your walls and may your love make them tremble.

My Latinx sisters and brothers, we have work to do. Our communities grow, and we are perceived as a threat in too many spaces; like our Asian neighbors, we are are Othered. But we treasure family, and when we accepted Christ, our family expanded to include thousands of all colors and backgrounds. Let us model that value and be unshakable in our desire to see all people welcomed. We get tired too, and it is tempting to isolate ourselves in our hurt and cling to what we fear to lose, whether that be loved ones, homes, languages. Cling to Christ; He will not forsake you. His love knows no boundaries, no walls and we have the privilege of allowing that love to permeate our interactions with others. We represent so much beautiful diversity, and our country needs exposure to that gift. We can act as curanderas at the cracks and bring paz even as we resist policies and crimes that inflict harm upon the marginalized peoples around us. We may be pulled in many directions, we may pass as many things, but we know where we come from, and we are at home in the arms of our Savior. Out of the grace we have been shown, let us welcome the stranger and make them our family, and may we stop any who dare make them feel less than lovable.

My sisters and brothers made Other, you have work to do. The racial binary was not designed for you, and neither did our Founding Fathers consider you when they created the laws of this land. You have come from many shores, and yet have not been assured a place here. I lament that reality with you. You are ethnic, ambiguous, biracial, mixed, unlabeled by human measure, but God designed you with intention. He will use that inherent resistance to fit into categories to break down barriers. He will use you to reflect His kingdom in its diversity and limitlessness. Loosen your hands so your story can be released into the world, and it will be a tide that sifts out what is broken and soothes seething rifts. Let no one silence you; speak out from where you stand. Mentor and lift up those struggling with their identities and remind them of the worth endowed them by Jesus. Draw out the truth from misconceptions and stereotypes, and make the unknown and alien real and personal for those of us who do not yet know you. Out of the grace you have been shown, take your place as ambassadors and bring about the flourishing of all peoples.

Be encouraged today. Jesus has overcome the world, and He has set aside works for us to do, with patience, with faith, with love. I see you, and I pray for you. I pray for our new President, that he is granted wisdom and compassion. And I pray that we all do the hard work of contending with our racism, our sexism, our pride, our prejudice, our silence, our suffering and inaugurate a season of repentance and reflection in this nation. May the world be changed by what we start today, and may we never falter as God guides our steps.

good in him

The black cape billows, cresting in a dark wave as frigid silence fills the main corridor of Tantive IV. Modulated breathing exhales, takes shape into words resonating with portentous bass tones. Darth Vader has arrived. Doom and death arrive with him.

When I was a seven-year old plopped on the couch and wide-eyed while watching Star Wars with my dad, Darth Vader held mythic gravity over my imagination. I was struck by this imposing tower of darkness, masked and seemingly removed from all humanity. Palpable evil clung to his gleaming, samurai-like armor, though I reasoned he was a lot smarter than the hammy villains I wrinkled my nose at in Saturday morning cartoons. Even to a seven year-old, Vader represented something deeper and far more complicated.

Vader was an enigma. As his fists choked the life from hapless ship officers (job turnover on Star Destroyers is pretty quick) and his voice rumbled with orders to capture “those Rebels,” Vader shifted from ruthless to wrathful to reflective. He could sear our hero’s hand in one moment, and then in the next…he would be contemplating the stars, silent beneath that iconic mask. In that moment, I could sense histories unspoken within Vader, a misshapen entity of warring darkness and light now buried deep.

Return of the Jedi and the later prequels justified my childhood convictions by adding narrative layers to Vader’s story, endowing it with an almost-Shakespearean tragic quality. Whether you like the prequels or not (I appreciate them for what they are), they brought the story full circle by giving us the seeds for one of cinema’s most infamous villains enfolded within the origins of a slave boy from Tatooine.

Though the prequel trilogy does not attend to this detail as much as it should, Anakin spending the first nine years of his life as a slave matters. Inured to clinging to what he can call his own because there is little he can claim, Anakin is a boy molded by fear of loss and anger at being denied freedom, the ability to choose the course of his life. Anakin the man is shaped by those same forces, and because he does not have access to any outlet to process them, to heal from the trauma of his past, that tangle of anger and fear festers. A phantom puppet-master waits above, manipulating the man’s wounds to pave his own path to despotic power.

Anakin’s fall bears such harrowing weight because it could have been prevented. As a Jedi, his vulnerability and cravings for affection were largely neglected, and the relationships he did claim (Padme, his mother,  and Obi-Wan) ultimately contributed to his fall because they were not enough to fill the chasmal void inside him. He is a black hole carved out by constricted, sweltering slave years, suctioning in love and affirmation and assurances of security as he teeters between darkness and light. Desperate to save those he loves and throw off the perceived shackles of the Jedi, Anakin makes a choice with galaxy-altering ramifications and finds himself enslaved again–this time to the Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine.

Those of us familiar with the Star Wars ‘verse know what follows. Jedi annihilation. Establishment of a fascist regime. Anti-alien persecution. Or, in layman’s terms: murder, brutality, and oppression. Anakin becomes Vader, and his last tethers to humanity disintegrate more and more with each act of cruelty. This is the villain over which we wait for the heroes to triumph. We rub expectant hands together for the depraved symbol of evil to thud to the ground with resounding finality.

When seven-year old eyes watched Emperor Palpatine’s body ravaged by Force lightning and hurtling into the abyss, thrown to his death by his masked apprentice, I was proved wrong.

Years later, when asked about my favorite scenes in the entire Star Wars saga, I will ramble on and on about my first: Luke watching the binary sunset on Tatooine, yearning etched on his boyish face. The second favorite is Vader’s pyre.

Vader’s pyre is the concluding note to what I think is one of the most profound stories of redemption. After decades of being caged in a mindset engineered by violence, fear, and hatred, Vader unearths a long-entombed hope for freedom, galvanized by the unflagging love of his son. After muted seconds battling between the deformed man he has become and the man he once aspired to be, watching his son tortured before his eyes, Vader chooses again. This time he chooses to overthrow the Master enslaving him–not just the Emperor, but his own fear and self-loathing. Years of depravity shrink away in that monumental moment when Vader embraces the flicker of goodness that his son sees in him and acts on it. Love compels his actions, and it is love that redeems him.

The years of collateral damage, the destroyed worlds and broken lives, do not disappear as if they never happened. They created the scars on his cheeks, are carried in the weight of the suit he depends on to survive. Yet as Luke lifts the mask at last from his father’s head, Anakin breathes the air again. Body slipping into death, he inhales new life, liberated from any man-made shield of twisted wire and cold metal.

When Vader is finally laid to rest in a wreath of fire, the steam and smoke issuing out of his suit, rising with the flames, resembles a spirit released to the air. The Force Theme loosens into space like a distant hymn, and the funeral’s only attendant lets the tears slip down. It’s such a beautiful image to me that encapsulates the Gospel I hold to, that even a fallen figure like Vader can change so profoundly and find freedom. It feels irrational and impossible, yet we can see the evidence of such change when we learn to stop clinging to the Masters that enslave us.

Maybe we’re not tyrannical space overlords with mystical powers, but the choices we make also arise out of what is in our hearts and what we value most. If we value the wrong things or grip too tightly to good things, dismissing the consequences as necessary, our choices can entrench us-and others-in suffering. There is always the danger that our pursuit or preservation of what we value can morph into a destructive fixation without that awareness. If we value our security and self-preservation most, we have found our Master. If we value our possessions and what our relationships can give us above all else, we will grasp for it. If we cling to what we are most afraid to lose, we will inevitably lose much more.

If I yearn for a job, or a romantic relationship, or the security of my friends and co-workers’ praise, or to just be seen as a good person and I make those the axis about which my life turns, when the axis topples, because imperfect things always do, where will I fall? When I see my pursuit for good things riddled with obstacles, what will I compromise, who will I hurt to keep reaching for what I want as mine? And if I get it, will it be enough?

The Gospel vibrating through the person of Jesus challenges us to leave our man-made Masters behind to discover who we are meant to be through relationship with the only Master who will never abuse us. We become freed to make choices that shape our context for flourishing rather than miring us deeper in regret and fear and doubt. We learn to value the things that endure, all that God gives us in their rightly ordered places so nothing else can hold us captive. Here we love and learn and pursue good things best. We no longer spend nights paralyzed with fear about losing what we care about or worrying about whether we will ever be good enough.

Despite our mistakes and our wrongs committed against others and against ourselves, Jesus endows us the hope of a new life where we do not stand condemned by our pasts.

Our world does not abide by this narrative–this thinking appears naive and foolish, applicable maybe to those “not-so-bad guys” but not “that trash.” Romans 3:23-24 defies this dismissal, heralding an age of grace we crave yet cannot understand because this story emanates from a source who transcends the fabricated systems that govern our morality and inform our perceptions.

The Gospel unmasked in the Bible is for the Vaders of the world. In this story, we can watch a spirit rise from its suited prison and rejoice because we too know what it is to be freed.

 

*This post was inspired by my original musings about Vader on my Tumblr blog

none is good 

I originally wrote this for Tumblr but wanted to share it here:

Trash.

Disgusting.

Shit.

The trio of damnation on any social media site. These words erect a barb-wire fence around the individual who has erred so horrendously that no word or action stemming from them afterwards will be acknowledged. They become no more than an SNL punchline to mock, a post to type layer after layer of scathing comments under until it resembles a stairway descending to hell.

The crimes committed range from as large as misogynistic characterizations in a movie, acts of infidelity, endorsement of policies that would disenfranchise an entire marginalized population to the individual levels of a racist comment on Twitter, a personal interaction reeking of homophobia.

Do not mistake me–these words and actions wield the power to devastate and kill and alienate. People must and should challenge actions that index problematic attitudes and broken systems of power. If we do not, we bear some responsibility for the consequences they will reap for those already disadvantaged by society.

However, when we label a person “trash” in opposition to their words and actions which anger us, we dehumanize them into an object which we can readily abuse and cast away from our community forever. In our minds, they no longer deserve a place amongst us, not even where the dogs sit under the table. I understand this compulsion; when I see a comment on YouTube spiked with sexism, I want to shut that person’s mouth and shove them as far away from me as possible. When I see pictures of another black teen bruised from a hate-crime, I want to rage against all white people. For that moment, I wish I could just purge the world of stupid trash that write and act in such awful ways.

That. Not who. In the midst of my justified anger, grief, and pain, I cease to recognize the person behind that comment, behind that beating as human. By calling them trash, I not only distance that person from their humanity, I also distance myself. I assert myself as morally superior, more knowledgable, more progressive, and in some ways, I’m right. There are opinions and ideologies that are simply better, less oppressive.

In the other ways that matter most, I am utterly wrong.

In my desire to separate myself from all the “trash” that oppresses people in big and small ways, I fail to comprehend that by my own definition of problematic, I belong in the trash heap too. Maybe I didn’t type that ignorant post on Tumblr or exploit immigrants to line my pockets. Maybe I’ve never screamed racist obscenities at a political rally or threatened to deport Muslims from our nation.

Instead, I stay silent and passive instead of speaking up about racism in church. I cling to hateful, petty thoughts about people in my head. I appropriate indigenous symbols and language for my own entertainment. I watch TV instead to avoid spending time with a lonely friend. I still struggle to see black men as beautiful because of my internalized racism. I lie to get what I want. I act out of ignorance and make excuses when I’m called out for it.

The potential to say and do problematic and oppressive things lies in me, and it’s not dormant. While I don’t have the products like Joss Whedon or the power of Donald Trump or the history of a Kim Jong Il, I have the power to hurt people, and that matters. I don’t get an exempt card because I’m “not as bad as that guy.” I don’t get a free pass because I’m a woman of color. I’m accountable for what I do in my sphere of influence and how I treat the people within that sphere. When I do wrong by them, I am trash….

…or I should be. In an interaction with a rich young man who wanted to assert his superiority in the community, Jesus said this:

Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matt. 19:16b-22)

In the King James Version, Jesus says “None is good,” and he meant it. From the perspective of God, we are all fallen. None of us is kind, loving, respectful, harmonious, and selfless 24/7–we are not perfect, and we fall gravely short of the way God designed us to live. Within this paradigm, the mountains of human morality are soil heaps in comparison to the peaks of His holy standards.

In this divine landscape, so radically foreign and impossibly counterintuitive to our own, Donald Trump and I dwell in the trash dump together. My mind can barely wrap around that idea because it feels so wrong, it rails against everything that feels just. I can rationalize it all I want–that doesn’t make it any less true.

Within Jesus’ message remains this amazing, beautiful thing called grace. Grace represents favor undeserved, unconditional love given when we have broken all conditions. Grace represents forgiveness for wrongs done and a commitment to reconciliation and union. Jesus gifts that grace to us and continues to love us even when we are profoundly unlovable.

We are not Jesus. I watch a racist pundit on the news and feel like punching him in the face. I grit my teeth at a particularly offensive Facebook post. But the miracle is that when I lean into the grace that I have been given so freely, God enables me to extend that grace to others.

What can grace look like? It can be as simple as not immediately shutting down a conversation with someone on the opposite end of an issue even if they speak hurtful words out of ignorance. It can be listening to a person’s pain across partisan lines, across color lines. It can be sharing a meal with a person who has wounded me. It can be the seemingly impossible forgiveness towards the Wall Street tax collectors and politicians who have prostituted themselves for profit.

We demonstrate grace through the way we challenge problematic words and actions, encouraging an elevated dialogue rather than insult-slinging. We show grace by eliminating the word “trash” from our vocabulary, recognizing that we interact with humans just as pervasively broken and divinely created as we are.

Grace rejects the quick path from hurt to hatred to war by advocating for a type of conciliation and hope our world barely grasps and dismisses as weak.

It is then crucial to emphasize what grace is not:

Grace is not appeasement. 

Grace is not accommodation.

Grace is not blindness.

Grace acknowledges grievances, acknowledges loss of trust, loss of credibility, loss of relationship and carves a path towards transformation. It reminds me that the racist pundit on TV has the potential to be an a**hole, but also that he has the capacity to change in fundamental ways. I know he can because Christ has changed my life in endless fundamental ways even as He peered right into the darkest and most disgusting parts of me. I want to contribute to that change in other people and in society. I want to keep challenging what is problematic yet avoid losing myself to bitterness and resentment and rage in the process.

I also feel the legitimate tension of how grace is always seemingly asked of those marginalized towards those who have oppressed them. It can feel like such a heavy burden to be constantly pushed into that position or else deemed unrighteous for being frustrated and angry. We must acknowledge the reality of that experience of being sinned against, and the trauma it causes. A person with privilege must understand the gravity of what they ask for when they demand that people of color and others of targeted identities show grace. It is a divine enabling of forgiveness, not an obligation to ignore the consequences of individual and collective sin.

Extending grace is difficult, especially when our compulsion is to require others to change in the ways we want and show remorse in order for us to forgive them. I still resist the unearned status of grace when all I desire is for the people who have hurt me to repent and atone for it. However, my reflex towards punishment and a list of red-lined conditions is not grace.

There are times where you may need to remove yourself from an abusive and/or toxic conversation or environment. There are times where radical action is needed to hammer home a vital message or cause. There are times where we must challenge those with privilege and power to hear those hurting, but those situations are not mutually exclusive from grace. In God’s framework of grace, there is no damnation, no demonization, only broken people communing in a bruised and bloodied world that God invites us to help make healthy and whole as a community.

None is good. None is wholly irredeemable either. That is the space between trash and human.