What Does it Take for Me to Wake Up
In the past 2 weeks I’ve been asking myself why it has taken me so long to wake up. To wake up to the racial inequality in my country. To wake up to the effects of gun violence on our children. To wake up to the inherent flaws in our government and economic system. To wake up to the way this world unfairly tilts towards men and not women. We could go on and on.
As I’ve thought about these heavy issues and prayed about it (as in trying to get up to a high mountain and try to see these issues from not just my own point of view), I’ve come to some startling thoughts about myself.
The first realization that has come to me is that in so many ways I don’t want to wake up. I live in a system that has benefited me my whole life…why would I want it to change?!? Look I’m not proud of this fact…indeed I’m appalled by it, but there is truly a part of me that underneath it all thinks this way. I am comfortable. Why change the lazy boy I’m sitting in when it suits ME so well? And even though I can see the decay in the world, and often weep for my brothers and sisters of color, I still don’t get off my butt and join them! Why?!?!? One reason is that I’m privileged and there is a part of me that enjoys that privilege.
The second realization that has come to me is that I think largely because of this privilege I have a very deep trust in my country’s systems. For instance, when I see a police officer, I have a total trust in who they are and what their intent is. Throughout my life, law enforcement has always been my friend. I have at least ten firsthand experiences in my life where the police have helped me out. Never once have I been hand-cuffed, or beaten, or wrongly accused by the police. In fact, one time when my car broke down in Freeman, SD at 10:30 at night. The city police officer came up to me, found out what was going on, and actually drove me all the way home---60 miles! The next afternoon, when I had a buddy drive me back to Freeman to find my car, I pulled up to the police station and there was my car already repaired! The police officer had taken it to a repair shop, and they had fixed it. And get this…no charge! So, when I think of law enforcement…I automatically go to that moment. I trust!
And that goes for my government too. That’s why these last 6 years have been so hard on me, because before 2016 I utterly and naively trusted the system! I was and still am an American who believes in the democratic process. Who has believed that in the end our system of checks and balances will prevail! And sometimes when I look at what has happened to my country in the last 6 years, I still can’t believe it is happening. My eyes are saying, “Wake up, Brook,” but my ethos still wants to go back to The Andy Grifith Show view of this world. What I’ve realized in the last 6 years is that our democracy has always been under attack. It has never been the perfect system, and without defenders of our democratic ideals and pioneers who are constantly working to improve it, I now believe our democracy is and always was in danger.
And this brings me to my third realization. Some of my unwillingness to move and act and wake comes from a false understanding of my religion and understanding about God. I think underneath all of what I’ve been thinking is an understanding of a god (and I am intentionally putting this “god” in lower caps here because I do think it is a “false” understanding of God) who has everything in control. A god who somehow stand above history and herstory and makes everything work out in the end. This understanding of god is kind of the way I used to view life when I was a toddler, when my mother used to go around and clean up all my messes for me. When my mother used to change my diaper. When my mother used to fix all my meals. When I went fishing with my dad and he got all the snags out and undid all my backlashes (does anybody remember those open-faced reels…what a nightmare). This understanding of god is one of fixer and finisher. I inherently want my faith to be simple. I want to be a kid again and sing “The B-I-B-L-E, now that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!
But I’m not a toddler anymore. I am an adult. And as an adult I am forced to recognize the fact that the world isn’t simple, but complex. As an adult I must face the facts that life is not easy, but difficult. As Scott Peck says in the great classic “The Road Less Traveled”:
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
God isn’t a god who stands over my messes and cleans them up. God, instead, is a God who works through history and herstory, speaking in the midst of the storms and conflicts! Not a rescuer as much as a grounding. God gives us the footing to stand firm in our collective beliefs and hopes for a better world and stirs us into action.
And so, my problem may be that I just don’t want to be an adult. I still fall back into being that kid where everything is taken care of for me. And so, every day I must force my privileged self to peel back the patina of “everything’s going to be alright” and stir myself to the reality that I must act, and protest, and work with all my heart to be where God is today. And that means I need to confront and stand up and look my friend in his or her eye and in love not only for him or her but for our world say, “I disagree.” All these things the child in me “hates” to do. But the adult in me says is “absolutely necessary.”
Every morning I have to force myself to look up and put away that childish god, and listen for the deep voice of God calling to me: “Wake up, Brook. Do the difficult work! I need you in this race! It matters! People of color matter! Children matter! People with different sexual orientations matter, you aren’t just a pawn! You have agency! Use it!”
Your friend and pastor, still slow to get out of bed sometimes, still growing up, Brook