I can’t breathe, but I’m listening

Dec 29, 2014 by

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My son came home and told me that on his walk from school in our middle-class neighborhood, a police officer slowed down and tailed him and his two friends. His friends — one black, the other white — nervously joked that if they got stopped only one of them would end up dead. It wasn’t my biracial son. It wasn’t the white boy. It was the black child, a boy who has sat around my table too many times to count.

This is so unfair. The world is surely broken when my boy’s first response to me checking my phone for texts at a stoplight is: “Put your phone away, Mama. If a cop sees you, he’ll shoot you.” The child worries for the mama.

This is more than unfair. It’s hell on earth to worry that my son may not be safe and it’s my DNA and a heritage of terror that leaves a mantle of hateful prejudices upon his shoulders. I wish I could fashion a basket and send my babies someplace safer, better, more just, like the Israelite mamas of Hebrew boys, begging the midwives to lie that they had a girl.

We can’t find our rest, so we toss and turn under this blanket of racism.

Somehow I remember we’re called to be peacemakers, agents of shalom, reconcilers. When the quiet racism in our systems and minds causes mamas to once again weep in the streets of America, it’s time to seek God.

I did. I found hope and encouragement and calling reading Exodus last week.

I’ve always loved the story of the burning bush and the God-with-us nature of showing up on earth to commission his servant to act when his people were suffering. I’m inspired by Moses’ humility. I’m amazed at God’s anger when Moses dragged his feet. Injustice angers God and his people made whole is serious business. I’m grateful that while the bush burns, it’s not consumed. God seems to be saying to us sweltering under oppression that we will find respite. I’m grateful we will not be consumed by the fire.

I trust that when I don’t have the right words, God will teach me what to say.

I wonder if the time it takes to listen will be enough to calm anxieties. I wonder if the humility is takes to listen will build the trust necessary to move forward when we’d rather dig in our heels. I wonder if the love spun in the words, “I’m listening and I’m sorry,” can change the very fabric of this world. I think so. I think this is who our God is.

God is asking us to enter this new story of redemption, this new effort of reconciliation, with open minds, generous hearts and few words.

I’m listening, white friends, who don’t know how to respond. I’m sorry you feel overwhelmed. Ask the Lord to direct you to one person of color who needs genuine compassion and listen well.

I’m listening, fellow mamas of color, terrified for our children and isolated in our anger. I’m sorry our children have to learn courage under literal fire. Let’s cry out with confidence that God is sending us the hands of our sisters to hold. Their hearts are full of his love to minster to our fear.

I’m listening, Christians who don’t acknowledge racism. I’m sorry it’s unsettling to look this darkness in the face, but Jesus looked darkness in the face for you. He suffered pain and abuse to express your great value to God.

Can you look darkness in the face by listening to millions of black women when we cry out unsettled by the devaluation of the bodies of our black sons, fathers and brothers? Will you ask God what you should do with such a precious gift?

I’m listening, black boys walking home from the community center, nervously joking about dying at the hands of a police officer. I’m sorry and I wish I could gather you all in my arms. I’ll try to protect you as best as I can.

I’m listening, Lord. I’m sorry for letting my fear, pride and anger drown you out. Let your words burn within me and let it consume the darkness in my soul, leaving me ready to go and do your will, ready to let your wonders transform the world.

Osheta Moore lives in Boston with her husband and three kids. She considers herself an Assembly-of-God-Methodist-Southern-Baptist-a-terian turned Anabaptist. She and her husband are planting a church in Boston, New City. This is a version of a post from her blog, Shalom in the City.


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  • Dale Welty

    I am thankful for every law enforcement officer who puts his
    life on the line daily for our protection. We need more
    parents who teach their children respect for the law and law enforcement officers.
    Dale Welty

    • Stephen Johnson

      If every law enforcement officer was acting in an ethical and unbiased fashion I would agree. They are no better or worse than any other one of God’s children which means that a number of them are mean, crazy, abusive and power hungry. The fact they they do have a certain degree of power will unlock the darker nature in others. I am not in any way saying that this is true for the majority but there is also a pattern of protectionism in many police departments that tacitly grants permission and in some cases promotes and teaches unacceptable behavior.

      Children absolutely need to be aught to respect the law and to respect everyone. The respect however needs to be mutual. Enforcement needs to be fair and just. Respect becomes difficult when you, your friends, or family are viewed and treated differently because of how you dress or what you look like.