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Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Isaac Adams, who serves as an editor at The Front Porch. You can keep up with Isaac on twitter @isickadams.

Amidst abounding blog posts, memes, articles, and tweets,
Amidst burning buildings and peaceful protesters’ stomping feet,
Amidst Heaven’s citizens: some outraged, some satisfied, some in ignorance complete,
We’re confused about how we think we should feel, and how we feel we should think,
When black bodies only further into the ground sink; And Lady justice?
She ain’t do so much as blink.[1]

Let me make it clear: I have no exhaustive sociological analysis or physiological remedy for the convoluted, emotional, and deep-seated milieu surrounding Mike Brown and most recently Eric Garner. What I do have is a heavy heart, a Bible, a brain, a mouth, and the Spirit of the living God residing in me by the Father’s grace, and this was bought at the heaviest of costs: his Son’s blood.

And all of that informs the other thing that I do have: a suggestion (see my others here). I suggest that we use our imaginations as the means for genuinely empathizing with those who mourn; this mourning isn’t an option, but a command (Rom. 12:15). I’m not calling for a faux, Lennon type of happy-go-lucky imagination but one that’s Spirit-empowered. Here’s how I came to this thought and what I mean by it.

A Great Gift Most Everyone Enjoys

As I sit here on my couch, looking at my new Christmas tree, I’m reminded that this time of year is when most folks are keenly attuned to what they’ll give and more eager for what they’ll receive. And what do we use to scheme up that good gift we might give? What do we use to daydream about that even better gift we might get? We use the gift so many of us have from God: our imaginations. We imagine how that new coat might feel, or how that new computer might aid our work; we imagine our joy abounding. This isn’t necessarily wrong by any means, but of course, like most gifts, we easily turn our imaginations inward in selfishness.

But what if we used this God-given gift of imagination to try and think of what it might be like to be someone else. It may sound child-like, but it’s not childish. God’s Word encourages the former and after all, isn’t this what we did as children? We imagined what it would be like to be like Mike, to be the astronaut or the gymnast or the president. Of course, you never knew what it was like to be your hero. But that didn’t stop you from mentally taking their shoes and trying them on. And this imagining was a lengthy meditation some times, wasn’t it? Time was no factor, as we’d twirl our imagined hopes around before falling asleep, drifting off into dreams that could lift our imaginations to new heights.

A Great Gift Most Anyone Can Employ

But what if we used our imaginations also for new depths? What if we used them not simply for our own joys but to dwell on those perceived differences we have with others? And this for the joy of the church! What if this God-given gift was exactly what we could use to begin to walk in someone else’s shoes, to meditate on what it may be like to be “them” so we might have some genuine, grace-fueled mediation between “us” and “them.” Just imagine what some imagination could do.

If all this sounds ethereal, let’s get real practical and connect head to heart, so that our hands might move in love. Try to imagine the following:

  • Imagine how you might feel when a person you pay to protect you kills your spouse. And they walk away, for the time being, free. That’s but one-way Mrs. Garner, now a single-mother of six, is feeling.
  • Imagine looking to your [biological] brothers and sisters and thinking, “Dad was killed on YouTube, and his killer won’t go to trial.” That’s but one thought of Eric’s surviving children.
  • Imagine what you might say to your 8-year-old boy who asks, “Who stops the police when they do something bad, daddy?” These are a clip of conversations black fathers are having.
  • Imagine being white and every cop who surrounds you is black. The cops pulling up in their car to your once-peaceful scene? They’re black, too. You’re the only guy who is white. One of the cops just descended on you. Two of them. Three of them now pin you down. Imagine that. You wouldn’t think twice about if race were a factor?
  • Imagine saying, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” only to have your face further pressed into the unforgiving sidewalk. These are the cries of a man who sought mercy.
  • Imagine having not only seen the slaying of 12-year-old Tamir Rice but the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till; seeing not only Eric Garner’s neck wrung, but Rodney King’s face smashed. Might you be even just a little bit weary of the police? A little discouraged?
  • Imagine what it would be like to forgive the killer of your child. And imagine how happy the Lord may be still to welcome this killer into his kingdom if he repents and believes, but how difficult that might be for you to comprehend.
  • Imagine being accused of hyperbolic speech or being dismissed with a “of course you think that,” or a “you’re being too political,” because you express outrage at an outrageous situation.
  • Imagine what it’s like when that last reporter leaves your town and the national attention has turned away. But the whole in your family always haunts you.
  • Imagine being that beaten Samaritan (a despised race) and left for dead. You see a priest and other religious folk walk right past you. That’s how those who feel emotionally trodden feel when Christians mentally walk past them, talking about what now seem to be trivial matters, not noticing that some of their black counterparts are breaking under the weight of these issues.
  • Now, imagine what it would be like to be all of that, and not even getting a, “Wow — I am sorry for how you are feeling; I can’t imagine what this must be like. I’m trying. How can I help?” from your white counterpart.

It’s not too much to ask for a little thinking on the part of Christians. This is but one way a redeemed conscience connects a redeemed heart to feel with those who feel and then to do something, too. But one cannot act right if he’s not first thought right. And make no mistake — the Scriptures command our right thinking (Rom. 12:3; Col. 3:2). There’s many more verses to choose from but at a time like this, none other than this text may be more poignant to the connection between our faith in the Lord, our joy, our unity, and our minds:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:2-7 ESV, emphasis added)

The Fergusons of the world are opportunities for Christians to image Christ by trying to take on the likeness of others for the sake of a Holy Spirit-wrought, Christ bought, comforting love and unity. But it takes a little imagination to get started. We must do more than imagine, but we cannot do less. You can do this, and imagine the cost if you don’t imagine at all.

 

[1]A poem I wrote entitled, “Poor, Brown, Eric”


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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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