I’m sorry. I know my very first blog post ever should probably be about my three-year-old dictator-child’s hilarious antics…..or how God is teaching me that I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me. But I can’t. Because while my life is usually consumed by my love for my husband, children, faith, good food, good stories, and writing, something has been on my mind a lot lately.
Something that actually became the catalyst to me finally figuring out how to create a blog.
When I was in high school—and before I started following Jesus, of course—my mom went out of town and my friends and I decided to throw a party at my house. We made “jungle juice” (if you don’t know you better ask somebody) in a big igloo cooler. We had all the great 90’s jams on deck…TLC, Ja Rule, K-Ci & JoJo, Puff Daddy… We wore our pajamas and called it a “Jammy Jam!” People started showing up and filling up the backyard. Someone brought a keg. I can neither confirm nor deny whether keg stands took place. At one point a friend stripped down to his purple Tommy Hilfiger boxers and ran down the street. I don’t know what that was all about, but it was hilarious. We had the time of our lives.
(Photo credit: Leo-setä on Flickr http://tinyurl.com/p54b9yn)
To this day, I have no idea how the small hole in my living room ceiling got there. I had zero handyman skills to patch it up before my mom got home, and I was not as adept at lying as I thought. My stupid 17-year-old self thought my mom wouldn’t notice. So…..needless to say, I was grounded, but worse, going behind my mom’s back damaged our relationship in a big way.
From a legal standpoint, if the cops had shown up, I would have been in serious trouble. Minors were drinking and Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” on repeat on the CD player was most certainly disturbing the peace. But the cops didn’t show up and my criminal record is as clean as a whistle today……..
In all honesty, I had to think long and hard to choose a story from my Rolodex of wrongdoing to share with you that would not make me look like a seriously horrible person—or incriminate myself in any way.
My whole life people have told me I was sweet and good, kind and caring, but God has seen what is in my thoughts and in my heart. He has seen the petty theft I never got caught for. He has seen the ugly.
My rap sheet, if it was on display, would be a hundred miles long.
My rap sheet, if it was on display, would be a hundred miles long.
As the Baltimore riots begin to dispel, our country remains divided on issues of race and law enforcement. In case you have been living under a rock, the intense protests were incited by the death of an unarmed black man, Freddie Gray, during a 40-minute ride in a police van on April 12, 2015. While the city of Baltimore became under siege by rioters, looters, and fire, I couldn’t help but notice one particular detail about this situation appearing over and over again in my social media feeds and at times on the news: Freddie Gray’s rap sheet.
Freddie Gray indeed had a lengthy arrest record dating back to 2007, mainly for drug possession. While it is understandable that this fact would come up in the media—it is public record after all—or a court case, what was strange to me is that a few Christians were posting this information on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. In my opinion, when believers bring up the rap sheet of any individual, it is problematic for three reasons:
It insinuates that because a person has an arrest record, he or she deserves to be treated inhumanely or even killed. I witnessed this argument come to light in the death of Eric Garner in New York, now famous for the “I Can’t Breathe” movement; in the case of Michael Brown Jr. whose death led to the riots in Ferguson, Missouri; and more recently in the case of Eric Harris in Tulsa Oklahoma who was accidentally shot by a reserve deputy officer during an undercover sting operation. It’s like saying, “Oh he had already been in trouble with the law, so he had it coming to him.”
But when others are being condemned, we are called as Christians to instead follow Jesus Christ’s example. Let’s look at His response to the woman caught in the act of adultery in John chapter 8. The teachers of the law and Pharisees stood the woman in front of Jesus and tried to trap Him by bringing up the law outlined in Leviticus 20:10, which states that “both the man and the woman who have committed adultery must be put to death.” Jesus bent down and began writing something mysterious in the dirt. “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:7).
Slowly but surely, everyone left the scene until it was just Jesus and the woman standing there. He said to her, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And the Lord replied, “Then neither do I condemn you. Now go and leave your life of sin.”
Like Jesus, let us choose compassion and not condemnation.
It demonstrates a lack of compassion. People who knew Freddie Gray personally have lost a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, and a friend. A community is mourning the loss of one of their own. In response to a perceived injustice, many of the rioters in Baltimore are experiencing real pain and frustration from years of mistreatment, poverty, and more. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. condemned violence, but he also said in his 1967 speech, “The Other America”:
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
If you haven’t grown up as a minority, chances are you may not have experienced racism or mistreatment by law enforcement officers. By no means am I saying that all police officers are bad. In fact, I would argue that most police officers are decent individuals who are committed to serving and protecting the people in their communities.
(Photo: Public domain http://tinyurl.com/msy2q4r)
But if you are not a minority, you probably cannot relate to the experiences and feelings of the people in Baltimore. So the best way you can show the heart of Christ, is not to quickly or condescendingly post Freddie Gray’s rap sheet on Facebook—but through empathy…putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, just like Jesus did for us (Isaiah 53:5; Hebrews 4:15). Sometimes a loving, “I can’t imagine how you must feel. What can I do? How can I pray for you?” does wonders in building bridges of love and compassion.
Sometimes a loving, “I can’t imagine how you must feel. What can I do? How can I pray for you?” does wonders in building bridges of love and compassion.
Most important, bringing up someone else’s rap sheet disregards what Christ has done for you. Freddie Gray was by no means an innocent martyr, but which one of us is? Many Scriptures in the Bible echo the fact that you and I have our own, very embarrassing, very long rap sheets (Psalm 53:2-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10). According to 1 John 1:8, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
We have all broken the law in some way or another, whether it’s stealing a candy bar when we were little, telling a “white lie,” fudging the truth on your taxes, thinking lustful thoughts about another person—which Jesus said is the equivalent to adultery—and more! Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Here is the good news: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The person who condemns another has forgotten what Jesus Christ did for them.
God loved you so much that while you were still running around sinning, cheating, stealing, swearing, carousing, He sent His one and only Son to die on the cross and pay the price of your sin. Christians should be the first to lavish this grace upon other people because we know that we have been forgiven much.
The person who condemns another has forgotten what Jesus Christ did for them.
As believers, let’s exercise wisdom when we engage with others about current events, knowing that we are not just talking about issues, politics, and situations, but also about people—because Christ our Lord loved people. He loved the criminals, the outcasts of society, the least of these. He sat down with them and conversed with them and understood their needs and struggles. As His followers, let’s remember that empathy is often the greatest gift we can give to a fellow human being who is hurting. And let’s remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”