I, like so many of us, was very affected with the images coming across the Atlantic of the disturbing acts of violence towards George Floyd, the enormous outflow of lawful protest and expression of public opinion that cries ‘ENOUGH!’ and the uglier side of the resulting riots.
So many of us want to be part of the solution and ‘do’ something– but where do we start?
Throughout history we are familiar with the images of toppling statues that come with a change of regime – Saddam Hussein, Lenin, Ceaucescu… We have recently witnessed the outpouring of people’s anger on the streets of the UK in the pulling down of the statues of various notable people with links with the slave trade or British colonialism.
I fully agree with the challenging of evil actions in our past, but the question I ask myself is ‘where can we focus our energies to bring about a long-lasting change TODAY?’
We cannot change the past. We may review history and learn from our mistakes; we may revise history and insert the stories of overlooked men and women and peoples whose important contributions were left out of the narrative.
I have many heroes and love to read their stories, although I have learned not to expect perfection of even my greatest heroes – because every great man or woman has their dark shadows. We can find questionable decisions or character flaws in all great leaders throughout history: Winston Churchill, King David, Florence Nightingale, Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Peter the Apostle.
The answer to my question of ‘where do we start?’ surely has to land much closer to home – my dark shadows.
Firstly we need some statue maintenance. We all have in our lives a statue that never should have been raised: the statue of fallen Adam. Fallen Adam represents pride, shame, insecurity, hidden actions, discrimination, violence against others, selfishness – the dark stains of dishonour casting shadows on our lives that we want to forget.
We need to raise a new statue in our lives. 1 Corinthians 15:47 tells us we need a new statue – a second Adam. The first (fallen) Adam is earthy, the second Adam (Jesus) is from heaven. Rather than pouring out my hate and anger on the uncomfortable reading of the lives of others, surely I should be attending to my own statue. Let me topple the statue of fallen Adam in my life. Let me examine my attitudes, my selfishness and the uncomfortable reading of my own history, raising instead a new statue of the Risen Jesus: a statue of grace and forgiveness, of second chances, of understanding, of love, compassion and redemption.
Please, let us not waste energy on rewriting history that cannot be changed. Instead can I learn from the past of others, change my present and rewrite the future for our children, so that they do not have to replay the same sad story of mankind?
Secondly we need to choose our battles and our battle language carefully. Proverbs 4:23 instructs us to look after our hearts, ‘Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.’ The heart is a symbol of our emotions and our ‘inner us’. It can refer to our will, our mind, our consciousness, and understanding. Just because we feel the pressure to adopt a certain slogan, or strongly pushed to agree with a certain movement, or display a certain picture or logo, doesn’t mean it is right for us to. What does that movement represent and what is its motivation? Is there a part we can support but other parts we cannot?
If we are not to remain silent then what do we say? It is sad to see how good messages from good people have been twisted or misrepresented or misunderstood, often when anger and bitterness reigns rather than grace and forgiveness.
We have all witnessed the trolling of others who say the wrong thing or express an opinion not in line with the current popular message. The venom we see unleashed, especially on social media, adds to the hurt and division rather than addressing the real issue of our hearts.
We must be careful to whom we speak out, and what platforms we choose to add our voice – guard our hearts so that others do not trample on it or bully us unnecessarily. John 2:24,25 tells us that Jesus, when He was lauded and popular with the people for doing miracles, ‘was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.’ If Jesus guarded His heart so should we.
Let us topple the proud and selfish statues in our lives. We must not keep silent. Speak up when we hear others express racist, discriminatory views, and fight for our children in school if they experience cultures of discrimination and bullying. Choose our battles carefully and express ourselves wisely. Guard our hearts and make sure we express our feelings and agenda, not someone else’s. Be true to ourselves and the values Jesus has placed in our hearts.