You Are Not Alone
My heart has been heavy since I’ve been home. My tour ended the day that Alton Sterling lost his life. I had a show that night, and then a sixteen hour drive home from southeast Missouri to Albuquerque which we started right after the show ended. I drove all night long wishing I had something that could describe the kind of desperate heartache / sickness I felt – something to contribute along with the rest who felt the same way. I played catchup at gas stations and the moments when Brandi took the wheel. Then it was Philando Castille. Then it was Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa.
I have started and stopped writing about these things one hundred times during the last five days.
I have everything and nothing to say at once.
I have raged and cried and thrown my phone and cursed and cursed at God and prayed to him and felt nothing and wished that I could feel the weight of everything or something that would make me understand.
I do not understand.
All else has seemed trivial to me in light of this week’s events, and I’ve felt gross at the thought of pushing whatever else I’ve had scheduled for the days that followed, so I haven’t.
Last Friday, I played a show in Urbana, IL, at Audiofeed Music Festival, and joined the crowd to watch the Propaganda set, live. Jason is a person who I've come to see as much as an educator as a performer, at least as I've personally related to his content, and I thought about what he had to say all weekend. That would have been July 1st. There is a section of a poem that he wrote that I’ve had a difficult time getting out of my head, which goes:
“I know it’s a much better decision to shut your mouth when you don’t know what you’re talking about than to validate what everybody already thinks of you.”
Frankly, I read through a thousand timelines since Lecrae published his 4th of July tweet and thought that a lot of people would do well to heed that wisdom, but I rarely feel like I know much of what I’m talking about, either, so I haven’t said much. I don’t know how. This week from hell has acted as a sort of catalyst for me to learn and understand. And why not sooner? Certainly there have been other opportunities to educate myself... I don’t know. Privilege? I’ll own it. I’m still learning what that even means, but it seems ridiculous to deny, and I think we’d all do better to just be broken than to defend a pride that seems to be melting away regardless. I used to think it was cute to be uninformed. My friend and I even had a consistent joke about it.
Levi The Uninformed. Cute.
If I’m honest, there’s a lot of self-loathing attached to my ignorance. To speak is often intimidating. I wrote a little bit about that last year after the Charleston shootings. But I’ve spent enough time wondering whether I should say anything, or whether my voice would be a waste. And people are not a waste, no matter how many are treated / maligned / destroyed as though they were.
I have as much to learn as the next guy with eyelids that I can no longer help but tape open, but if fear of others' perceptions and self-preservation keep me from the longing to weep and empathize with those who weep and are slaughtered before my eyes while I say nothing from my safety then my conviction is worthless and my gospel null. So here I am, processing like I always do when I write, saying a thing.
I know enough to be able to condemn violence and racism and hatred, and to desire to amplify the voices the of the oppressed. And to fear for and honor and respect those who truly are good men and women working to protect others from those injustices. My sister-in-law is in law enforcement. We nearly lost her to bullet wounds last year. I remember sitting in front of the computer when APD released the footage to the media, and just weeping. I can’t bear the thought. To condemn police brutality is not to condemn police. To say that Black Lives Matter is not to say that other lives don’t. To acknowledge white privilege is not to say that every single white person is a racist. But it is certainly to revile deep and abhorrent and unjustifiable problems in our world, whomever they apply themselves to. And this condescending liar in my mind who condemns me with the words, “way to jump on another bandwagon, son...” or “oh, now you’re riled up even though this happens all the time...?” To hell with his voice. The consistent call that I see from others is that reverberating the cries of the broken is helpful, and that solidarity is power, and that love is not weakness.
In a recent New York Times article titled “A Week From Hell,” Charles M. Blow writes:
“I know well that when people speak of love and empathy and honor in the face of violence, it can feel like meeting hard power with soft, like there is inherent weakness in an approach that leans so heavily on things so ephemeral and even clichéd.
But that is simply an illusion fostered by those of little faith.”
I hope that he is right.
I suppose you who receive this will have to deal with the fact that I am on a journey, seeking to understand, and I hope that I can do so with grace and empathy and love. My heart breaks for the sons and daughters who will no longer see their fathers, for the wives and girlfriends who will no longer hold their husbands and their lovers.
I know that earth groans for the day that peace sweeps over its shores.
As do I.
“If red blood runs in your veins and you’re affected by guys getting shot for reaching for their wallets, and you’re not trying to give theological answers and pendants and cliches, then stand with us... publicly. Use your platforms...”
Last week, I hopped on a call with hundreds of other people who were invited to listen in as black leaders in churches, politics, society and entertainment prayed through and spoke to recent events, and how to change. I wrote down a few notes, and that challenge was one of them. Perhaps this is one way for me to use my platform. Perhaps people will distance themselves because I’ve chosen to write it out. That’s got to be okay.
Propaganda – the artist I mentioned earlier – was on that call, and the first thing he said was:
“The beauty of knowing you’re not alone is one of the most encouraging things.”
If there is a single statement that has always driven what I’ve done as an artist, it is: “You are not alone.” And he’s right, there is always beauty in it. That alone is enough for me to process through this if I can come to the end of it and say, “I hear you,” and I will not shut my eyes. God help us.
I have a difficult time feeling as though my lamentations do any good, or contribute to any change. If you find yourself relating, it is a lie. Reject it. The Father loves to hear our cries, as they blend in with his own, and those of the people whom he loves.
“The least of these was Jesus heart.”
Thanks for the closing words, Prop.
P.S. – I linked to this above, but I've listened through the Liturgists' conversation on race in America a couple of times now, and think it's worth the time. Not everyone has to see eye-to-eye on everything in order to learn or garner insight. Agreement is not a prerequisite for treating one another with dignity. My friend remarked that he was convicted by having never read black theologians. I agree. I look forward to doing so. At any rate, there are more resources on that page, as well.
P.P.S. – As for all things LTP, I'll have more announcements coming in the near future. It just felt like an appropriate time to press pause. Thanks for your understanding.
P.P.P.S – (That's a lot of "P"s). As always, I welcome feedback and insight and challenges and discussion, whether publicly via Twitter, this blog comments section. I will admit that I have done a relatively poor job of responding to everyone in the times that I have welcomed your feedback, and I've already admitted to having little but learning to do as it relates to this space, but I promise to have read your responses, and they never go unconsidered. Thank you for interacting with me.
This blog was first sent to my private email list, whom I write to on a weekly basis with thoughts, news, and more. Sometimes those make it to the public forum, sometimes they don't. Click here to sign up.