Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek it’s own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (CEB)
I grew up in a small town in Western Central Missouri. It was your typical Midwestern small town; local business, an established class hierarchy, strong local government, and predominately white. I went to college in another small Missouri town, at a small liberal arts college that was also predominately white. My junior year of college, a bunch of us white kids got together and took a class on African-American literature. It was, in all seriousness, a life-changing experience. For the first time in my young life, I came face to face with the racial biases and stereotypes that were (and are) endemically part of being a white American. For the first time, I had to confront biases and stereotypes within myself–thoughts and ideas that were (and are) readily accepted by the majority of white Americans.
Confronting my own inner biases and stereotypes was not an easy process, but it changed my way of thinking, of seeing, of being, and of understanding. I wanted to know more. I wanted to grow in cross-cultural understanding. I wanted to change the narrative of my own racial bias. I spent a lot of time in the intervening years deliberately working to cross cultural boundaries. I continued to learn, to see, to understand, and out of that understanding came a deeper capacity to love.
Like many Christians, I love the “love passage” in Corinthians 13. Paul writes about love with such beauty and grace that we just want to say, “Awww…that’s so pretty.” The problem is, if we really unpack the message, it’s not pretty at all. It’s messy, challenging, and requires a lot of serious labor on our part. Look again at what Paul is saying:
Love is patient –it stays the course, even when it seems like change will never come.
Love is kind–it doesn’t resort to hate-filled words and acts of violence.
Love isn’t jealous–it doesn’t feel threatened when others succeed.
Love doesn’t brag, isn’t arrogant, and doesn’t seek it’s own advantage–it focuses on lifting up others.
Love isn’t irritable, nor does it keep a record of past wrongs–it offers grace.
Love isn’t happy with injustice–it seeks to change the narrative.
I believe that, as white Americans, we haven’t really learned to love. Endemic racism seems to permeate all of our institutions. Poverty, lack of quality education, lack of job opportunities, lack of access to quality healthcare, lower wages, and mass incarceration are forms of injustice that perpetuate the power of the white elite.
I recently read a book by Michelle Alexander entitled The New Jim Crow. In this book, Alexander makes the case that our system of mass incarceration is a new form of the racial caste system that has always been a part of American culture. Alexander writes that,
“If we had actually learned to show love, care, compassion, and concern across racial lines during the Civil Rights Movement…mass incarceration would not exist today.”
As white Americans, I think we need to learn to love–not the “Will you be my Valentine” love that card companies manufacture, but the deep, challenging, and messy love Paul writes about and that Jesus commanded. When we truly learn to love, we see injustice, and speak out for change. When we truly learn to love, we challenge stereotypes that are presented as fact. When we truly learn to love, we welcome others–no matter their ethnic, religious, or economic background. When we truly learn to love, we stop feeling threatened by change. When we truly learn to love, we see those who are different from us for what they really are: beloved children of God.
This week, I would challenge you to talk about racism in America. Engage your friends, family members, co-workers, and church members in conversation about racial justice issues in the news, like racism on college campuses.
Seek out information about racial injustice in America.
Do some soul searching to identify stereotypes and biases that you hold (we all have them). Then, work to recognize when those stereotypes and biases are presented to you in news stories, advertisements, and even television shows or movies.
Finally, pray. Pray that we, as a nation, can do a better job of learning to love.
Blessings and Peace,