'Embrace' in a Time of Division | Sojourners

'Embrace' in a Time of Division

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Headlines this week have again been filled with the names of black men shot and killed by police officers, and — in at least one instance — protests have erupted in response. This has sadly become a known routine.

It is apparent that we are failing as a nation to see the image of God in those around us. This failure has become a deadly one.

In his new book, Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World, Leroy Barber tackles this failure head on, writing that we must learn to embrace, rather than disconnect from, “the other” if we are to achieve shalom.

He begins the journey to shalom in Babylon. Babylon, he writes, is a synonym for ungodly depravity and corruption. Yet the people of Israel were called to be there, living in discomfort among those different from themselves.

And that’s OK. God did not call them, and does not call us, to comfort. Instead, God calls us to hard work and hard places. Our deliverance does not come when God releases us from those places of division, but when we lean into them, fully accepting why we are there — not to share God with a godless people, but to learn and act on the essential lesson that we are all God’s people.

God was in hard places long before we were, and God will be there long after we leave.

This is all well and good and true, but the fact remains that a Babylonian existence is a difficult one. So how does one live out this kind of call? Barber suggests committing to “staying put” — cultivating community, and working to increase the environmental sustainability of community. These actions ingrain people into the fabric of a neighborhood, and changes our outlook from “them” to “us.”

Barber gives this advice from first-hand experience. He describes how he and his wife, Donna, heard and answered God’s call to live in the hard places, moving from comfort to discomfort, safety to risk, known to unknown.

His experiences provide an authority and authenticity to Embrace that is essential for Barber’s message. He raised his kids in “Babylon,” which certainly stops short the kinds of arguments I could make about why full immersion into the lives of “the other” just wouldn’t work for me.

But Barber doesn’t come anywhere near placing blame or guilt. Instead, through a mixture of personal stories, Scripture, and gently given how-tos, he lays out a practical plan for living life among “the other” — or at least how to live life outside Babylon in a way that opens us to fully realizing the Imago dei in everyone around us; not just those who look, act, and talk like us.

Toward the end of Embrace, Barber writes about the Black Lives Matter movement, debunking several of the widely held myths about it, such as that those involved in the movement hate white people or police officers. Here Barber uses his platform as a way to bring knowledge of “the other” directly into white readers’ lives without them getting up and taking action.

But Barber also provides ways to work toward the goal of action. The steps are small — visiting an African-American museum, or watching a movie with a predominately black cast — but they are also essential. Few white people will (or can) jump fully into new community, and overcome a lifetime of being subtly imbued with racial bias. Through Embrace, Barber gives those brand new to the idea of racial justice the baby steps it might take to get these readers closer to a giant leap.

As I write this, CNN is on in the background. Two pundits are arguing over Don King’s use of the N-word while introducing Donald Trump at a black church. Just minutes ago, the channel showed footage of a dead man’s daughter shouting, crying, and swearing at a line of police officers who, to her, may as well have been the ones who killed her father.

Our world is hurting, and the wounds are only growing deeper. Every action has become suspect, every face of a “different” hue a potential threat.

Barber writes:

Those who embrace others don’t let stereotypes or even their own experiences predetermine the possibilities for new relationships. They risk getting to know someone even when it might be dangerous. They disregard the misplaced counsel of their close friends who think the idea of engaging others who are different is impossible or foolish. They ignore the racist taunts and name-calling that might come along with taking risks for relationships and for having the ideal that perhaps we can get to a new place. They accept that the world may misunderstand them. They remain anchored to the certain knowledge that God will bless their obedience and will reveal a bit more of himself in the other person they are called to love.

I am ready to be anchored. To see a fuller and deeper revelation of God. I am ready to embrace shalom.