Three conversations over three days on how to change the world
Over the past three days I’ve had three conversations with three different people asking and answering the same query: the world needs to change, what can we do to move that change in a redemptive direction?
The first conversation didn’t go well. My conversation partner was a generation older than me. He sees and hears the news as full of pessimistic angry voices. He views the ideas of white supremacy and systemic racism as liberal ideas designed to take what he has earned through hard work and give it to people who he views as not being as willing to work as hard. Where would I begin to establish common ground with him? We agreed that what happened to George Floyd was wrong, grievously so. But my conversation partner had heard lots of stories about George Floyd which he suspected I had not heard (he was wrong about that but I didn’t tell him so). “George Floyd was no saint,” he argued. I paused, recalling the conversation I had had with Addison Bevere about that term. Dare I go there? I did.
“Saint. That’s an interesting choice of words. I talked to an author recently about a whole book he wrote about Saints. Did you know that the apostle Paul refers to every Christian as a saint? Give me a second to find the verse” (I googled madly). “Here it is, the opening words of First Corinthians,
1Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
2To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
From there we talked about Paul and Corinth and what it means to be sanctified in Christ. We wondered together about our calling to be saints – together with all those who in every place call upon the name of Jesus. “That’s a lot of saints!” Bob exclaimed at one point. Then we talked about extending grace and peace to all those saints, like Paul extended to those to whom he first wrote – who, we remembered, were a mess. We didn’t ever get back around the formal conversation about race nor the question of how the world needed to change, but the conversation changed Bob’s affect and attitude. Small steps toward change of heart.
The second conversation took place over the phone with a younger person who sees me as a mentor. Her questions were pointed, direct and there was an impatience in her voice I had not heard before. “Things have to change. We can’t live like this. I don’t understand why my parents don’t get it. They don’t see what I see.” I sent up an urgent prayer and plead with God to speak in and through me.
“Hey, let’s take a deep breath and move the camera out to a little bit of a wider angle. Sometimes when you’re so close to something you can’t see much. Can we do that?” I asked. She agreed. “Okay, tell me what you see, what your black friends see and what you think your mom sees differently than you and them.”
After listening to her answers, I asked her to reflect on one more view of things. “What about God? How do you think God sees what’s going on right now? How does God the people involved and what does God expect Christians to be doing in the midst of it all?”
We talked about life – and how life matters to God, each life and every life. We talked about the matter of matter and the incarnation of Jesus and justice and the cross and the Kingdom. We talked about ethnicity and blood and sin and skin and history and -isms and impartiality and hope. It was exhausting and it was good. There is evidence of change in perspective.
The third conversation was with a black friend who is tired. She’s tired of being the person every white Christian she knows thinks of as “safe.” Knowing that telling me so was safe, she railed, “Safe? What do they mean I’m safe? Shelly actually said, ‘I can talk to you because you’re really more white than black. Our friendship is proof I’m not racist. We’re raising our kids together and we go to church together. We read that book together last summer by that black activist.'”
My friend was hurting. She was righteously angry. Our mutual friend Shelly (not her real name) doesn’t see her own blindspots. None of us do. If we want to live in a changed world, we have to change.
Can you change the world? You already are. You change the world through every interaction you have with other people. You change the world through prayer and service and listening and leaning in. You change the world by voting and speaking up and reaching out and giving generously. You change the world by remaining open to seeing your own blindspots and cooperating with the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to sanctify you in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The world is changing and we affect the trajectory of that change by how we change internally and what we press against externally. If you want to see the world bend in the direction of redemption then press the full force of your life against that plow and don’t let up until hard ground is tilled, rocked removed, seeds planted and peace sown. Then trust God to bring unto Himself a harvest of righteousness.