The Privilege of Apathy

I have been sitting with this blog post title in the notes of my phone since Terence Crutcher was shot and killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma nearly a month ago. I have fervently added thoughts as issues of sexism, racism and skewed political agendas rise to the surface again and again, but I have been too afraid to publicly engage with it, because who am I to do such a thing? But after a week of processing a powerful man’s sexual abuse and engaging in conversations about diversity and fear, my anger is screaming, and I can’t shake the violent discomfort of our need for change.

It is all too easy to become overwhelmed by injustice and all there is to do that we become paralyzed to do anything at all. The temptation to remain quiet and apathetic is alive and breathing and knocking at our door at all hours. Whenever we have the choice to remain indifferent, unaffected, or argue until we’re blue in the face that issues that plague others don’t actually exist, it is a giant neon sign pointing to privilege.

When you are experiencing or have experienced something firsthand you do not get to choose whether or not you are affected by that issue, because you are constantly living in the reality of it. Firsthand experience versus the privilege to ignore or undermine firsthand experience is the difference between living in a neighborhood that is heavy with violence and gang turmoil, and reading a commentary on that neighborhood from the comfort of your suburb twenty miles away and forming an opinion. Your opinion simply lacks the backbone of real, honest engagement with that neighborhood and therefore cannot hold the same weight as the experience of someone who walks the streets everyday.

As someone who has experienced sexual assault, both firsthand and through the stories of way too many humans I care deeply for, when a video of a presidential candidate saying grotesque things about women surfaces, or when a rape victim’s justice is forfeited because of her rapist’s swim times, my anger is real and automatic. I do not get to sit this one out or pretend that rape culture is not a real issue because I know the pain of it intimately.

But there are issues that are hazier for me because my understanding and experience of them are small and limited. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in the fear of police brutality or to be a refugee uprooted from my home country and placed somewhere foreign and often uninviting. After Terence Crutcher was killed, my small, tear-filled prayer from a corner apartment in West Nashville was “Lord, mobilize the church”. As I was driving home Wednesday night after a heated discussion with a friend about racial divide and the state of our election, God reminded me of this prayer and I felt a nudge in my spirit that had me thinking, maybe the point is not to start with a mobilization of the church, but a mobilization of my heart. Maybe the most helpful thing I can do, the best weapon in a fight against apathy, is having a heart that is willing to be introspective and weed out the injustice on a personal level. What if instead of needing to be right or being ok with my own ignorance, I searched my heart and was convinced that prejudice and injustice and privilege exist because they exist within me?

Although policy change and a national awareness are important keys in waking us up and keeping our systems accountable, I believe that change is sustained when our hearts begin to soften towards our own fallibility and people who are different than us. It is what builds community. It is what bridges gaps. It is what allows you to sit down with another human who is different than you and expand your worldview past the media-informed opinion you have of them. The church cannot be mobilized unless people are set in motion and filled with a deep anger for change. And the deep anger for change comes when we form real, authentic relationships with people who are on the front lines of firsthand experience, and their injustice starts to become our injustice. It comes when we put down our commentaries about the neighborhood, drive twenty miles out of our comfortable suburb and step onto the streets we seem to know so much about.

What I am suggesting is that we start putting ourselves in positions where apathy is no longer an option. That we choose to open our hearts, enter into, and listen to understand firsthand experiences. That we volunteer for the front lines of a war that, maybe we didn’t choose or aren’t promoting but is very real to our neighbors and they need our ammo. Like Aaron and Hur did for Moses (Exodus 17:11-12) they need us to hold up their arms that are growing weary so that we might all win the war. As my friend reminded me Wednesday night, “we are not free until we are all free”. Our neighbor’s victory is our victory.

Jesus is not apathetic. Not towards your pain and firsthand experience, and not towards your neighbor’s pain and firsthand experience. If anyone had the deserved right of staying quiet and walking away it was him, but he joyfully gave up his privilege when he was born in human flesh and suffered on a cross to get close to the marginalized and broken hearted. He made our victory his top priority and our injustice his injustice.

May we do the same for our neighbors in need. May we be brave enough to joyfully hand over our privilege of staying silent and enter into the firsthand experiences of those who are different than us. May we never grow comfortable in our apathy.

 

Lord, mobilize my heart. Let revival start with me. Shake me awake. Rid me of my apathy.