To heal racial tension, start doing work we have neglected

I have been aching the past few days. I am sure you have been as well. I have felt sick and nauseated. I have been both angry and sad. I have had quite a bit to say but then have been driven to a mournful silence.

I had a conversation with a black friend of mine who told me how she’s scared for her own family and for what kind of future is in store for her two little boys. It was hard to hear. I haven’t walked a day in the shoes of a black man. I don’t know what it is like on a day-to-day basis to be a person of color. But I know that my heart breaks when people die and when they feel as if they are being targeted unjustly.

I saw the reports come across my Twitter feed of a peaceful protest in Dallas that was turned upside-down by individuals who believed that white police must pay for the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others. My heart breaks for the public servants who were wrongfully slain and their mourning families.

There has to be a better way.

Violence will always lead to more violence. Hatred will always produce more hatred. And while it is incredibly difficult to find anything good through all of this, it seems as if there are more people beginning to realize that something needs to change and they want to know where to even begin.

I believe there are many things followers of Jesus can do to walk alongside those who are grieving and hurting, while at the same time working toward forgiveness and reconciliation as peacemakers.

Too often, our words quickly become angry, heated, non-loving diatribes with only one purpose — to win the argument and make the other person look bad. Our minds are made up and our ears are closed off to learning, understanding and discovering truth from another perspective or angle. It is like two massive tectonic plates that continue to grind and push with immense force and ferocity … with the unfortunate consequence being wreckage and devastation.

We are not better for it, nor is anyone else in the world.

If we are going to move forward in any meaningful way, then we all have to get better at having conversations with each other. We have to get better at walking alongside each other in grace and love, while earnestly seeking the heart and truth of God in Christ together.

We are all going to have to get off of our righteous high-horses, while learning how to be humble in spirit. And at the end of the day, it may mean that we decide to disagree with one another, but we will do it standing united in Christ and do it bonded together by our mutual pursuit of grace and love toward each other.

I believe that beginning in a posture of repentance and humility will prepare us for how we help mend and heal individuals and communities from the bottom up. This movement does not begin at the top with politicians or other figureheads taking a top-down approach at reformation. It begins with us, each individual, in our daily lives, in our relationships, and in our conversations with one another.

The change we seek, for the transformation of individuals and communities, can only happen at the grassroots, relational level. And it is that approach that looks more like Jesus than an approach that trusts in a president or presidential candidate to make it happen. Also, we cannot rely on man-made institutions for the healing and transformation of individuals and communities. This kind of change can only come from God, and we have neglected our responsibility in sharing that with people.

Jesus did not preoccupy himself with top-down, structural, governmental or political reform. His time was spent listening to others, conversing with them, eating with them, and sharing stories and parables of what it looks like to embody the Kingdom of God in our lives presently, and inviting them into that reality.

He met, not just with his friends, but also societal outcasts and sinners. The change that Jesus affected was at a personal, relational level. He knew it was only through relationships that people would change at the heart level. Change from the top-down may change behavior, but it doesn’t change people’s hearts because it feels forced or coerced and it leads to antipathy and resentment.

We are the hands and feet of Christ. The government is not. Donald Trump is not. Hillary Clinton is not. And whether they say they are Christians or not is utterly and spectacularly inconsequential. As we have outsourced our purpose as the church to the government and politicians, we have failed our country and our communities.

So the answer to the question of “what can we do?” is simple.

Quit complaining about the government and politicians and how they have let us down, and start meeting your neighbors, begin having meals together, meet together with people who are not like you, get to know individuals of other races and ethnicities, get to know people of other lifestyles and belief systems, do more listening than talking, begin working toward forgiveness and reconciliation in your relationships and then with others, work together to give a voice to the voiceless and stand on the side of those who are outcasts and those who are oppressed or marginalized, and then begin teaching your kids or the next generation how to walk in these ways as well.

For this is the only way we will save ourselves from ourselves, when we quit depending on politicians and institutions and begin doing the work we have tragically neglected.

Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website