Our discussion group on The Color of Compromise, a book by Jemar Tisby outlining the American church’s broken racial history, ends this week. During this time, we’ve had some incredible and incredibly difficult conversations, and it has occasioned some further reflection on my sermon topic from Sunday, the fruit of the Spirit of patience or, as I defined it, long-suffering.
Of course, the most important example of long-suffering we’ve discussed in the book comes from those who committed themselves to confronting racism in the church and in our nation. Their examples have deepened my understanding of what it means to, like the prophets, work toward righteousness because of a clear and vivid vision of God’s kingdom.
And though it is dwarfed by those lofty long-suffering example, I think all of us in the group have also experienced some long-suffering of our own. If you recall, I defined long-suffering in my sermon as a capacity to remain in present suffering and work redemptively toward a future perfection. We can’t reduce it down to a polite patience that accepts things as they are without getting ruffled. Long-suffering is our capacity to never stop NOT accepting things as they are, because we are so fixed on God’s perfect vision for a world set right. During our discussions, we’ve gotten a lot of needed practice at this virtue.
As we’ve read this book together, there have been a million subtle temptations to ignore our own complicity. A million self-justifications and “yeah, but…” that would allow us to keep everything at a safe distance. But all those little lies (and that’s what they are) mask something deeper: fear, insecurity, stubbornness, pride. Seeing ourselves as a part of this story and understanding how our personal history cannot be easily untangled from a long history of racial sin, makes us feel a little like vampires at sunrise.
I’ve been so proud of the willingness I’ve seen in my brothers and sisters in this group to not look away. Even when it has hurt, they have been willing to tackle subjects and share openly about their own experience. (And I’d like to thank Jed, Amy, and Kevin for creating a space that made it possible for us to be vulnerable.) I think that this group has stretched our collective capacity for long-suffering, making the task of seeing and speaking out about our brokenness a little less daunting.
The operation of grace requires our honest confession. In John 3, Jesus says that the crisis of this world is that the light has come, but people loved the darkness. To let the light of Christ into our hearts, we must first step out of the shadows that hide what we are afraid to show. And that’s tough to do.
Over the last month or so, I have found myself returning again and again to Closer Than Together, an album by The Avett Brothers. Among the many great and prophetic tracks on the album, there’s the song “Tell the Truth to Yourself.” Our present moment demands so much of us that we aren’t sure where to start. We feel overwhelmed and inadequate—we end up paralyzed. I would suggest that this is where we have to begin: by asking the Holy Spirit to help us, as individuals and as the people of God, to tell the truth about ourselves. We must, like Adam and Eve, step out from our hiding places and stand before God in our fallen state. We must resist easy accusations of others and move into the more difficult task of calling out that which is most dark in us, most in need of the blinding but healing light of Christ. As the Avett Brothers sing: “Tell the truth to yourself, and the rest will fall in place.”
Confession isn’t a one-time thing. We will find ourselves faced again and again with the difficult task of telling the truth to ourselves. It is a long-suffering task we do together. But thanks be to God that God meets our honest confession of our sin by speaking over us a bigger and better truth than we can ever understand: that we are loved by him.