Be Still and Know

In the current social unrest, I find myself thinking of all the millions of people who are disadvantaged. These are big problems – problems that I want to focus in on and fix. There are problems like racism that is so embedded in our systems that it brings a whole nation to its knees every time we address it. There are problems like a heroin epidemic that kills so many people that the morgues are overrun with those we have lost. There are problems like a worldwide pandemic that has killed many thousands of people. There are problems like poverty spread all over the world keeping people down. The most terrible thing about all of these is that they have inter-functioning parts.

Each part weaves its vines into another part. One part impacts another. Racism generally causes poverty. Poverty is a strong factor in drug addictions. Pandemics spread the fastest among the poor and those who are least likely to bear the illnesses. Hundreds of thousands of people who are dying every day right in front of us and we can’t even look up from our I-Phones long enough to see them.

We refuse to see the homeless and poor on the street. We refuse to see people while they protest systemic racism. We refuse to help because we believe we don’t have the ability to help and yet we are the ones who can help. We pray for God to send someone to help. We pray for God to send someone to fix the brokenness in this world.

I see them – the protestors, the poor, the homeless, the sick. I see them. My heart hurts. I find myself wishing to do something. Not just something, really, everything. I want to do everything. I want to have all the resources, all the answers, all the availability, all the strength. I don’t. I can’t. Then I hear God say to me “be still”.

He says to be still because I want to do too much. I want to fix it all, in my time, in my way. I become so discouraged because I feel the desire in my heart to strive and go and do. I focus in on all the pain that surrounds me and I cry out to God in pain. I cry out to God and tell him to fix it while I stamp my feet and cross my arms. I hurt.

I again hear God say to me “be still.” Then he says something more. I cry out to God and rail against the system that keeps people with brown skin down simply because he or she has melanin production that I do not. I cry out to God as I don’t understand why one drug crime has more jail or prison time than another. I cry out to God when I see a man murdered in the street. I cry out to God for these people and many more. Then I hear him say, “know that I am God.”

I hear God whisper to my heart when I ask him to send someone to help all these people and to fix the brokenness around me. I hear God say to me – “I am sending you.” That God is sending me seems contradictory to my command to be still. I know I heard him clearly and yet it appears that I am just a crazy person who thinks she hears God.

But I am not a crazy person. God is sending me. God is sending a lot of someones. The someone he is sending is us – you, me, he, she, they. The someone who helps is us. We can’t save the world – but God can.

In 1954, Chief Justice Warren delivered the US Supreme Court opinion in Brown v. Board of Education. In that opinion he talked about how separate but equal legislated the ideal of inferiority in children who are subject to systemic racism. “Such considerations apply with added force to children in grade and high schools.  To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” [1]

Almost fifteen years after this opinion was written, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still marching and protesting to gain the rights embodied in this opinion, when he was executed for standing against systemic racism.  Over sixty years since that opinion was written and people are still protesting to fight for the rights that are embodied in that legal opinion. It has been almost ten years since I read that statement while I was in law school and it has stayed with me.

Is he right? Can this every be undone?

I grew up in the inner city, in predominately black neighborhoods. My neighborhoods had rampant poverty, drug use, and drug abuse. We had mandatory busing as a means of integration because on our side of the river there were people who had brown skin and on the other side of the river there were people with light skin. Almost all of my friends had brown skin. My neighbors had brown skin.

I didn’t notice that we had different skin except what people around me told me to notice. I didn’t understand why my friend had to have her hair hot-combed and I did not. I didn’t understand why I didn’t have to put oil in my hair and she did. We didn’t notice that we had different skin. We didn’t understand any of the cultural differences between us – we just played in the dirt, braided our dolls’ hair, and played kick-ball with all the other kids.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that race mattered to society. It wasn’t until college that learned that there was still a suburban ideology of NIMBY – not in my backyard. That NIMBY was a social construct that would keep people from moving from the inner-city to the suburbs where there was less crime and better education. I didn’t learn until undergrad that there were social structures in the criminal justice system that were brought on by the war on drugs and mandatory sentencing that were skewed on populations that were predominately black and inner city. Even after learning of these I didn’t understand how bad it truly was and is.

The answer is yes. It can be undone, if we undo it.

Our systems still hold many constructs and remnants of the hundreds of years of racism in our country. Justice Warren was correct that the inferiority that those children have felt at the hands of segregation would last on and on and on. But, I don’t think anyone noticed or understood the systemic remnants of racism that we needed to shake off. Or maybe if they did, they shrugged and turned our back on it. But, those children who were segregated as 8 year olds are now 74 years old. They had children and lived in neighborhoods under systems that told them they were less than other people because of something that should not matter. Justice Warren was right – the systems that are in place continue to tell our family, friends, brothers, and sisters that they are inferior. But they are not. 

Race is a social construct. We as humans constructed the idea of racism. We as humans constructed the systems, laws, regulations, and behaviors that have continued the inherent racism in our country and the world over. I think it’s time to deconstruct it – all of it.

The system is broken and it needs fixed, changed, or deconstructed all together. We are the system. We can’t fix systemic racism without fixing ourselves. We can’t change the world but we can change one person – ourselves. We can’t help everyone out of poverty – but we can help the one person we come across who needs our help. We can change how we act when we see our brothers and sisters in pain. We can change how we react when we see a person murdered or pulled over or accosted because they have brown skin. We can change our reaction when we’re in an elevator. We can change our reaction when we get new neighbors.

We can change what we think when we hear “black lives matter”. It’s not that you don’t matter, it’s not that other people don’t matter. It’s that these are people who are suffering and we should recognize that they are suffering and it should move us to action. An entire portion of our population is crying out and they are being ignored. Over 60 years later, people are still being ignored.

The reaction we should have is “yes, you do.” Because the person who is on the other side of that “black lives matter” statement is a human, who is beautiful, who contributes to the greater good, who lives and loves, who God created to make this world a better place. The person on the other side of that statement matters.

At the end of the day, when I feel my heart break for my friends, and I cry out to God, I will be still and know that God is the I AM. He will strengthen us. He will guide us to the right actions, places, and people. He will provide what we need to love and help the people who are being harmed by these problems the around the world. With these provisions, I will know that I can change some small part of the craziness that is this world. I know that I can change me. I know that I can help you. I know that I can love you. I know I can say to the people who are repressed and oppressed and murdered in the streets – you matter, I see you, I stand with you. If we all did that, we could very well change the world.


[1] Brown v. Board of Education, 74 S.Ct. 686, 347 U.S. 483, 494, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954).

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