An Open Letter to My People

I’ve been putting this post off for a while now. Partly because I don’t know how to express what’s weighing so heavily on my soul, and partly because I’d rather not be the one to address it. But no one else has, so here I am.

This is a message for my people. The ones I grew up among and love. The ones I can count on, the people who I’ve known my whole life, the ones whose world I feel I understand.

There’s something that is breaking my heart. Slicing it in half and keeping me up in the middle of the night in tears. I’m begging you to hear me out on it, because it’s weighing into the pits of my soul.

I understand where you’re coming from. I grew up with you; I was culturally trained to think like you. We’re American. We believe in our rights, our freedom to express ourselves, and good old hard work. I get that, I understand that. I believe in it too.

But right now, I scroll through my Facebook feed and listen to the discussions among the people I come from, and my heart leaps into my throat because we’re missing something.

We talk about issues like Ferguson and Baltimore and we sneer. We shake our heads in disgust and feel rage in our hearts. They’re acting like animals! we cry. Breaking apart their own cities, and for what? Lazy thugs! Maybe if they wouldn’t get all these hand-outs this wouldn’t happen. How dare they blame us for their own crimes?

We claim to be Little Miniature Christs. Followers who take his principles in radical hand and imitate his every move. Followers of this man who died for the least of the earth, the scum of society. Who said, over and over, that we have to lay down ourselves, our opinions, our pride, our self-righteousness, if we want to follow him. The man who condemned condemnation and embodied a love so fierce he gave up everything for the worst.

And here we stand, exempting ourselves. Casting our verbal stones. Condemning our own countrymen with distaste and disregard, grasping onto an eye for an eye as we shout “they deserve to be punished for this!”

You say it’s not about race, about the color of someone’s skin. And I understand how you feel, and what you’re telling me. But the truth is, we have to admit something to ourselves.

We’ve taken on this American cultural lie that you have to choose one side and then yell at the other for being wrong. That if you don’t think like me, you should go find another country and live there.

We think we’re not cultural, because we might dress differently or listen to different music or bring our neighbor’s kids to Sunday School. But as a people our minds are just like the world. We’re picking sides just like our culture has trained us.

Let me say something, and I’m begging you to hear it.

Jesus doesn’t care if the Baltimore rioters should get a job. He doesn’t care that they live in a country where they could work with their hands instead of live on welfare. He doesn’t care that they have no right to burn down the buildings of their own cities.

He doesn’t care that you disagree with the politics or gun conversations surrounding the Charleston shooting either.

Jesus said, Love as you would like to be loved.
Matthew 22:39, Matthew 7:12, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27

Jesus said, If you call a man a fool you deserve Hell fire.
Matthew 5:21-22

Jesus said, Instead of an eye for an eye, don’t resist. If someone takes from you, give them double what they took.
Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus said, If you give clothes, food, a drink, a kind welcome, or a visit in prison to the very least of society, then you’ve given it to God Himself.
Matthew 25:35-40

Jesus said, If we don’t do those things to the least of society, we have failed to do them for God Himself.
Matthew 25:41-45

What if being Little Christs means laying down our massive pride long enough to see that these people – the ones we judge as the scum of our society – are image bearers of the same God we are?

What if it means that we treat every single person as if they were Christ himself – even the lazy ones, the criminals?

What if we love these neighbors of ours as much as we love ourselves – granting them the dignity to be heard, desiring the best for them, giving them our kindness – instead of yelling over their voices with cruel names and spitting on them in our hearts?

What if we visited and cared for and talked about the people we call animals and criminals and idiots – and treated them like Christ Himself, walking on our Earth?

What if that broken, beaten man in the story of the Good Samaritan is a broken kid with a broken life acting out in broken ways, and we could come to his aid – but we’re passing on by with our noses in the air?

Instead of improving our means to communicate and understand each other, we are creating a vaster chasm between the sides. Every verbal rock we throw is knocking down a portion of common ground, making that gaping hole of mistrust, disbelief, and anger wider.

If we don’t watch out, soon we’ll be so far apart that we won’t even have the materials left to build a bridge.

We Miniature Christs should have started building the bridge a long time ago. We should stand firmly now before our fellow rock-throwers and urge them not to do it. To come use their rocks for building the bridge instead of breaking all the common ground away.

For our country this is an issue of unity. For Christians, this is much weightier. This is an issue of loving our God, of being his ambassadors. We have no right to continue on in hate, when we have been offered infinite love and redemption, no matter our own flaws and mistakes and indecencies.

John said if we don’t love our brother, we can’t say we love God. How many times have we read that? How many? Do our eyes see? Do our ears hear? The reason my heart is ripping in half over this is that we’ve lost the love of our brothers – our own countrymen! – and we’re forgetting that we received free redemption. We’re not only misrepresenting our King Jesus, but we’re not even loving our Father – not the way Jesus described Love.

“We love because he first loved us.
If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar;
for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
1 John 4:19-21 (ESV)

Please hear my plea, my friends. Please open up your heart enough to let this digest.

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28 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My People

  1. I have conflicting thoughts going on in my head. I agree with most of what you say. I think Jesus does care whether you have a job or if you’re living off of welfare. (Has nothing to do with His love for people with or without jobs. He loves ALL equally and passionately) I believe His heart hurts for anyone who is down and out, misused, abused. He died so EVERYONE can be free from bondage.

    It’s hard to love on people that feel it’s their ‘right’ to get all they can from the government and church programs. I’ve tried to be Jesus to some that have that mentality. Told them what Jesus did for us only to be told they believe in God (continue in a willfully sinful lifestyle) and I feel used repeatedly. I know loving on people is an ongoing, time consuming, life style. I fear I don’t do that very well. I will continue to try and be Jesus to the people that God brings across my path.

    I hear your compassion and I hear a heart full of love. Blessings to you as you pursue your passion for Jesus.

    • I hear you. I’ve been with a lot of people who have a “get, get get” mentality. It IS hard to love people, much of the time. And I agree that I may have been too hyperbolic with the “Jesus doesn’t care”, because he does care about our situations. My point was that it doesn’t affect his feelings for them as people or what they do/don’t deserve, and it shouldn’t affect ours.

      It is really difficult to feel used, but it was Jesus who said, “let them take your cloak, also”. It’s a hard, hard thing to learn and I’m taking a real long time to learn it… but if Jesus can love me that immensely and radically, I think it is dramatically important that we learn to love like him. And learn to train others with wisdom and love… May His spirit guide you in those conversations! Thanks for your comment. Prayers & love.

  2. This was so refreshing but oh so challenging, too. I want to love like Jesus loved.
    Thank you for being honest. For saying these things that need to be said.

  3. Thing is, most of “us” have NO idea what it is really like to be black in America, we have never walked a mile in their shoes, we have never lived their lives. Sure, they still have personal responsibility. B
    ut who are we, from our mostly insulated and isolated, reasonably comfortable little lives, to look down our noses and pretend to know all the answers?

  4. I agree with your blog. Sitting on a hill looking down with a sneer is not the solution. However, the opposite extreme of pandering or patronizing with an oh-they-can’t-help-it-because-they’re-black is no better.

    I think we need to be engaged in a loving and an honest way. We do not need to excuse the violence. We do not need to treat anyone like a child incapable of the same restraint of an adult. Jesus could be direct “go and sin no more” yet without the sneer.

    • Thank you for this response, Joel. I agree. This post was specifically to bring an awareness to what we as a people are doing, the lack of understanding and love we’re showing.

      I so want to learn more about bridging the gap and helping train others. As a whole, I think we all have to learn to see and admit our own cultural flaws before we can make a difference, and help “take the speck out” of others eyes.

      • I’m glad to know there are others trying to bridge the gap. I do believe there is some ignorance on my own cultural side and that Jesus would have us start with our own attitudes first.

        My struggle is trying to find the balance. I am critical of my own Mennonite culture and also of black culture. I think both can suffer from a persecution complex, both are influenced heavily by questionable media sources and both could be less self-absorbed. Not that either group is better or worse than the general population.

  5. Btw, the real hard one for me to love right now is Dylann Storm Roof, I want nothing to do with his racist depravity—but the love Jesus reaches out to him to, it reaches out in the forgiveness offered by those who lost loved ones to his heinous crime. If they can love him, why can’t I?

    • For me the way I can love that young man is to see the deep hurt in his eyes,his background of drug abuse,with that I see someone hurting,unloved,wanting desperately to belong somewhere…Growing up in our communities,going to church,the stability we had (and have) growing up …what have we done to deserve the place,time,and the Grace of God that we have in our lives…we have no idea who we would be if we grew up in the home life as this young man…this is a long answer but the way we can love as Jesus loved is to know that without the grace of God anyone is capable of anything.

  6. Your point that Christians should live/love non-judgmentally like the founder of the faith is very good. Most white folks don’t really understand the racial feelings that subjugated minority people have. One way to initially get this perspective is to literally walk through a community of a different racial and ethnic people than one’s own race and ethnicity. I might add that it is not only Christians who can demonstrate such love. Ghandi demonstrated authentic love as a Hindu, Jesus did it as a Jew, Humanitarians also deeply love others, and there are Muslims that also deeply care about others, etc. I also have had concerns about how pacifist, non-resistant Conservative, Fundamental, Mennonites have moved to a “just war” type of mentality since 9/11 and the negative critique they have expressed over the racial tensions that exist in this American culture. I am also pleased with this type of blog and those who validate the Charleston, SC response of unity among multiple denominations, religions, and even some non-religious humanitarian who join together to address the negative racism that exists, not just against African Americans, but against any racial, ethnic group that is misunderstood and disenfranchised.

    • If we want change as a nation, we absolutely must learn to work together in all these areas, even if we theologically disagree. I too love seeing the response in SC.
      This post, though, was specifically meant as a reminder to the Church that we must live out what Jesus said and did, if we choose to be his followers.

  7. You have written here what I have been thinking for some time. I wish those who are being so vocal about these situations could go along with me to prison for a day or two. These sinners that are in the news are that sinners just like you and me. The difference is that we have been taught right from wrong and most of us have had a stable home with a Mother and Father figure. Have been taken to church from the time we were in a blanket. Count your blessings folks and don’t stomp the person who is already down into the dirt. I’m not standing up for what was done to whites or blacks but have a hard time with ” our people” being so vocal with their ideas. Reach out to those around you who are hurting.

  8. Having also grown up in a conservative Mennonite culture, I’ve also seen the bias and stone throwing that concerns you. At 41 years old, I’m in the process of leading my family away from this culture for exactly these reasons. I see a culture that keeps it’s distinctives alive by rejecting anyone who is different. [Ex.”They don’t look like us”, “They don’t wear a covering”, “we believe that they’re Christians, they just can’t be members of OUR church”]
    It’s not just a Mennonite problem. It exists anywhere that Christians place their identity on something other than Jesus Christ and His gospel. Until we start using the same standard for acceptance of other people that Jesus uses, we’re going to continue to see hateful prejudice by people who claim to follow Christ. It doesn’t require acceptance of sin to be like Jesus; it requires loving broken people to be like Jesus. God still hates sin and so should we; but we should hate it in our own lives even more than we hate it in others.
    The gospel has the answers for the issues of people’s lives, but when they don’t see it modeled in the lives of the people who are preaching the gospel; they doubt that it’s true.

    • Amen and amen Floyd. God has been over and over telling me to keep my eyes on Him. My identity is in Jesus alone. How I stray from that so often. Jesus gently reminds me to remember that I am a daughter of the King!

      The words of Kari Jobe’s song are precious. “I want to sit at your feet, drink from the cup in your hand, lean back against You and breath, feel Your heart beat.”

      EVERYTHING we do should come out of being in that place. May all our hearts beat for what Jesus’ heart beats for.

      Blessings to you as you follow Jesus.

  9. So, I mostly agree, but the big question is….

    You talk BIG and so what are you doing to bring JESUS to Ferugson or Baltimore?

    You go. You do. Ministry to the hard hearts of this dying world is soul wrenching. It will jade the sweetest of hearts. Don’t worry about the Pharisees in the old school Mennonites (baptists are just as bad.)

    Let me know how this goes for you. Typing out a nice blog is one thing. Doing it is a whole different ball game. You be the game changer showing the “how too” to the old guard.

    • Reply to Anonymous…. I am someone who knows her very well. She gave up most of her teen years listening to the doorbell ring in her home (often 500 times a week) and loved on people who were seeking aid. I prayed all night for her when she sat with a demon possessed friend holding her hand because others were afraid of the demon. This girl later named her child after a well known terrorist. Although she was not in Baltimore, she has done much more than she has written. There are many who have heard about Christ- only because she was the one (the only one ever) who shared Christ with them.

    • I hear your request, and I don’t take it lightly. Talking to the Pharisees was the least of my priorities, but God said write until I finally listened.

      I long to be a woman of continual action, not just words.

  10. Thank you for this post. It is very honest and spot on. When I was “in” with “your people” I also ached for how others were judged, especially “lazy black people”. The Holy Spirit came over me strongly one very specific time in my life and challenged me to be Christ incarnate to others in some very particular ways. I for a time left the trappings of my Mennonite world and lived on my own in a very needy racially diverse neighborhood. I gathered others around me who also wished to minister. Some folks committed themselves to the cause, others sort of came along. There was one particular family on our street that was extremely needy. We gave and gave and gave to them. It hurt that they took advantage of us but that was only the first stage. They got every government handout available to them. It is now 14 years later and their lives are still rocky but there have been tremendous improvements. Mom is off drugs. Everyone goes to church. We found out first hand how true it is that black people are racially profiled. We told these kids we loved that if there is ever a problem they should call the cops. Once, one of them called the cops because they were observing an incident in a neighborhood store, where the owner was having an altercation with someone inside and he threw a machete out the door, near where the kids were standing. The police arrived on the scene and threw everyone to the ground, including my neighbor kid that had called because he was simply there. His face was bloody and scraped up from the encounter with the sidewalk. Further, the police captain laughed when we complained to him about the incident. Unfortunately, because I am no longer considered a true Mennonite Christian, and I have become “one of them” this perspective matters not one iota along with the list of other encounters that have changed my heart. “Come out from among them and be ye separate” as they say or, “be in the world, not of the world.” Sometimes the devil comes and tricks you into thinking that if you just do these particular things, you are on the right road. The problem is that these particular things are never innately God serving. One must move with the wind of the Holy Spirit in order to be ultimately God serving, because sometimes those particular things have become self serving and Satan serving.

    One of the hard things that has occurred in trying to live out in the incarnation of Christ is that I know exactly how one becomes a “handout queen.” You see one of the good things about Mennonite community is that they so freely support each other. But once you are out–you are really OUT. OUT and on your own hard luck. The unfortunate thing about being out is that until you do ABC and D, you won’t be “in” and even then if you are “in” you are suspect for a very long time. So, if there is a hospital incident or a food shortage. There is and offering or someone has food to spare and willingly donates and of course everyone knows how to plant a garden and do the hog sharing thing. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is not so possible in a concrete jungle. But I digress. You see, I married a black man. A decent, hard working, God fearing black man who is not from the US. So, those are two counts against us. Those are two offenses in our culture that I still am paying for 5 years later. Life started to all fall apart when he was suddenly deported. I was unemployed–just laid off. Judgy Mennonites say, “he was deported because you didn’t do things the right way.” We were living on $1000/month in the heart of winter (a lightbulb or two to save on electricity and 40 degrees in the house to save on Energy bills) just so we could pay the other $1000/month to a lawyer who was working our case. Surely, $25000 in legal fees could have found a way to “do it right.” I followed my husband to his country 6 months later, after I shut down the business that I could not run single-handedly. I became pregnant and came back to US to deliver. Instead of delivering one baby, I delivered 2 with many complications but also continued to work on getting my husband into the country because this had now become a desperate situation. They denied the request and no it wasn’t because he had a criminal history, running background checks is a part of the process. Unemployed, job hunting, sick, paying for all living expenses, caring for 2 infants, I had to pray, when I could, to keep the rage at bay for the injustice I was experiencing. I was strongly urged to apply for medical assistance. And I did as there was no other help available. As I saw the hospital bills roll through 27,000 for the delivery and care for one twin, 26,000 for the other. In my weaker moments, “I said, to hell with them–let them pay!” I am sure I sounded like the ungrateful, single, welfare mom. I can now only imagine what has occurred to the people that truly display a get get get mentality. How much have they paid paid paid for being black/immigrant or whatever?

    This was how God showed me and delivered me from the lies I once believed. I hope God doesn’t have to go to that sort of refiner’s fire with others but maybe he will have to. The alternative is to be left comfortable in your sins. I always wondered why it was so hard for Anabaptists to believe that there could be rampant, approved, systemic injustice in society. After all our for-fathers experienced it.

    • What a tremendous story. I’m so honored to have read it, thank you for sharing here!

      “One must move with the wind of the Holy Spirit in order to be ultimately God serving..” oh yes. Amen!

      I’m so so sorry for the mistreatment – of you and countless others – from people who claim to live like Christ. May you be blessed a million times over for following the Spirit as he leads! Prayers for you, that his joy would run over your whole family. Passing on a virtual hug.

  11. Yeah,Janessa for being sooo brave! Im not totally aware of this situation or the comments made but I know how often I’ve been offended and embarrassed by immigrant jokes,hispanic jokes,d….foreigner jokes posted or emailed by professing Christians.
    I know and you know that living abroad, being a foreigner,being married to a foreigner,there are ALL kinds of people…all Americans cannot be boxed into black or white,good or bad,Christians or atheists
    and foreign people are the same….We should remember what Paul said….Christ died for sinners,of which I am the greatest…we are ALL great at something!Great at being sinners! But we can and should learn to shut our mouths except to express gratitude and praise that His mercy and grace forgive and save us!
    Keep at that great writing gift God gave you,honey! Looking forward to seeing your name published on lotsa books! besos!

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