The recent unrest in Charlotte….what a ridiculous phrase….make that… the recent violence in Charlotte has brought about interesting responses from people, one of which has been the tendency to say “this is not my city!”
First, I was born and raised in Charlotte. Both of my parents, my uncle and my cousin were teachers in the Charlotte Mecklenburg public school system; same system in which I was a student for all 12 years. I went to college in Charlotte, owned a house in Charlotte, lived and worked there until I was 34 years old and still have family and friends living there. So when I say what I’m about to say, I do so with personal and rather extensive knowledge of the place.
No, actually, it IS your city.
Now, I completely understand why people in this and many similar situations respond with that phrase and that feeling! People do not want to think of the place where they live as being violent or racist or narrow minded or hateful and hurtful. But let me ask this: are there human beings living in that city? Yes? Well then, there is violence, racism, narrowmindedness and hateful, hurtful actions. It is your city. It is every city. It is every group of humans.
But there is something else I want to say to all of us… and I do mean US because I’ve been guilty of this, too…. We need to quit the whole “not my…” whatever thing. And here’s why. We say “that is NOT my city” or “my school” or “my country” or whatever because we are embarrassed or ashamed of the behavior and we want people to know that’s not who we, personally, are. I have that feeling when I see narrow-minded and cruel Christians doing insane things to people in the name of Jesus Christ. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, “THAT’S NOT MY CHRISTIANITY! THAT’S NOT MY JESUS!!” But the problem is that saying “it’s not mine” means that we no longer have responsibility to it or for it. We might be trying to say that we had no idea this place harbored such hatred and violence and that we do not, ourselves, hold such things in our heart, but we are actually doing something far more detrimental than that.
If I say “That’s Not MY City”, then I have just divorced myself from both the problem (which I might not be contributing to, but then again I might be whether I realize it or not) and from the solution as well. If it’s not my city, then I have no responsibility for helping those who have been hurt, repairing the damage that has been done, or the rebuilding and healing that must take place. If “it’s not my city” then I don’t really have to care or concern myself with all the difficult issues that surround the violence, rage, pain, and tremendous social dysfunction that has brought us to this place. I’m also lying to myself and everyone else.
Several years before I arrived in the congregation where I serve as pastor, there was a heartbreaking and difficult set of circumstances that ended up painfully dividing and damaging the people. When I got here, many had left because this wasn’t what they wanted or needed in a church. I don’t fault those people for that one bit. However, I asked one of the women who had stayed through it all, enduring a great deal of the difficulty that many others were spared, “why did you stay?” She could have gone somewhere else; there are tons of great churches in town. “Because,” she said, “you don’t abandon people when they are hurting.”
So, I propose that we change the phrase “That’s not MY city” to “This IS OUR City”. This is our city, community, school, town, nation, world. Whatever group is hurting, it is OURS, and even if it is hard to face the bad things, the violent and painful things, and even if we do not know how to fix it, we will not abandon it to hopelessness and despair.
I do not know the answer to all of the struggles we face around our country. They are indeed Legion. But I do know this: This Is Ours. And we just can’t abandon people when they are hurting.
Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil by doing good—Romans 12:21