I can’t breathe.
Words that have sparked racial tensions into flame across the US. I’m sure you have all seen it. Our news flooded with images of the shocking death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests and rioting that is spreading across the US. People chanting “I can’t breathe” in solidarity with George who died saying those very words. These images tug at our hearts. Even as we sit on the other side of the world it is easy to get caught up in the anger at the systemic racism and brutality that has been a part of the US for so much of its history. As Christians we should be angered when we see lives so callously taken. Life itself is precious. Each person is a unique individual made in the image of God. And so just because all lives matter, we can also cry out that black lives matter when that is the issue on our hearts and minds.
Not just someone else’s problem
There is a sense, however, as we sit here in Australia that we can be tempted to breathe a little easier knowing that this is an American problem. That we are glad to be living in the lucky country where things aren’t that bad. But before we take another breath we should also note that this is Reconciliation Week here in Australia. It should remind us that we have our own history of systemic racism and brutality that is still being played out today. We are not a country immune to racism – from the Cronulla riots to violence against Indian students to anti-Asian taunts through this Corona virus – racism continues to bubble to the surface here in Australia. And right from the start of modern Australia, our first nations people have been the greatest victims of inequality and racism. Since 1991 there have been 432 indigenous Australians who have died in custody. In 2015 David Dungay Jr died in Long Bay prison saying those same three words – I can’t breathe.
As a white male I continue to grow to understand the privilege and opportunity that I have had in my life. It is something I just took for granted and thought was available to all, but I increasingly see that for many the odds are stacked against them from the start. For the past 8 years I have been part of taking young people from our church to Woorabinda, an Aboriginal community in central Queensland. I have continued to be struck by the generosity of the Woorabinda community, despite so many years of under-privilege. There are precious brothers and sisters in Christ there, that in spite of the intergenerational trauma from things like the stolen generation, they welcome us with open arms.
The grace shown us by the people of Woorabinda reminds me of the grace shown to us by God. A God who is committed to reconciliation:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.2 Corinthians 5:18-20
It is amazing grace that we have been shown as God breathed new life into us through the reconciliation he brought about through his son Jesus Christ. Now those of us who have been reconciled are called to be carriers of this message of reconciliation. This message is primarily one of reconciliation between God and us, but it should also cause us to see reconciliation in all settings as a beautiful thing. In fact in Ephesians it also says:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.Ephesians 2:14-16
While this is primarily talking about breaking down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew & Gentile as we are reconciled to God, as Christians it should also mean that we yearn to break down hostile barriers between all races.
Breathe a little easier
As people who have new life breathed into us, we should be appalled that George Floyd’s breath was snuffed out in such a callous way. And we should cry out for justice for him, and for all black lives – both in the USA and in our own backyard. We should also be committed to reconciliation, not just in a few clicks on social media, but in tangible ways in our lives. We should be willing to step outside our comfort zone and step towards those of other races in a posture of love and reconciliation. All the while pointing to greatest act of reconciliation available to all through Jesus. If we are truly committed to both of those acts of reconciliation in real, practical ways – maybe then we can finally breathe a little easier.