On Monday morning of this week I was ready to write about the Church being a safe space for all people. I was ready to say the Church needs to be a space where all people feel welcomed and loved. A space where people can bring their true selves and work through their pain and sin together. A space where the atmosphere is filled with love and compassion.
That was Monday morning. By Tuesday morning I was waking up to messages about a young man in our city of Benton Harbor being shot and killed by a police officer. Numerous thoughts of sadness, anger, and confusion raced through my head. I feared we were seeing another example of injustice by the hands of an officer. Later in the day I was at a meeting where the speaker spoke several times about the Church being a safe space. But in light of what had happened that morning, safe space, suddenly had a much more literal meaning than it did on Monday morning.
This piece is not about policing in the black community, or any community for that matter. This is about the Christian calling of creating safe spaces, a calling that we have largely and historically delegated to government officials; Which has left us with the systemic issues we face today. Systemic issues that put everyone, including police officers in unhealthy and difficult positions. My starting point for this writing is not guilt, innocence, or blame. What I have done and witnessed most these past few days is something that Jesus himself did when he walked this Earth. Jesus wept. Jesus was so overcome by emotion when his friend Lazarus died, and was so overwhelmed by the emotions of others that he himself wept. He wept because of the death of his friend but he also wept because he felt the pain that others were carrying.
Pastor Brian and I visited the family that afternoon and not much was said. We spoke briefly about what happened, but mostly we sat together, cried together and prayed together. Later that afternoon we walked around the park where the man was shot and we could see, and in a small way feel the pain and grief the community and his loved ones were carrying. Similar to how the people wept outside of the tomb of Lazarus, people wept beside the memorial that had been made for the man who was known as Karate by family and friends.
For some of us we have to travel to the tombs, we have to travel to places where lives are consistently lost or in a state of danger. While others live amongst the tombs. Where are the safe spaces for so many of the people who knew Karate? Where was the safe space for Karate? After leaving the park we traveled back to our families and it was as if we had traveled into a different world. This cannot be the way we are supposed to be living. This brings us back to the idea of safe spaces. Christians are called to put their trust in Christ. We are called to find our safety in Christ, but we are not called to be safe.
While there is the need for the literal church building to be a literal safe space, there is a need for the Church, for the body of Christ to go out and be creating safe spaces. And sometimes, maybe even most of the time, that means giving up feelings of safety to do so. When Jesus told his disciples they were going to visit Lazarus, the disciples initially tried to stop him because there were people trying to kill him there. Following Jesus sometimes means following Jesus into uncomfortable and even unsafe places.
Shortly after Jesus weeps he asks them to remove the stone in front of the tomb. He cries out for Lazarus to “come out” and tells the people to “unbind him” from the linen strips he was enclosed in and to “let him go.” Our weeping leads us to action. The time spent weeping with one another leads us to take the steps necessary to heal and to transform. Transforming our area from tombs with a few safe spaces, to an area where the body of Christ has stretched its limbs out so far that every corner, every alley, every park is being transformed by the healing touch of Christ into a safe space. This is not the call of one church, one pastor, one person, but the call of every person who claims to be a follower of Christ.
We too must find the ways to remove the stones that have kept people from living life abundantly. Stones such as inadequate funding for schools, stones such as the poverty prison that has been created within the city by only allowing subsidized housing in one part of the city. These are stones that are blocking many people from coming out of the tomb and finding those safe spaces. These stones often lead to the orange colored linen that so many people get wrapped in. These stones are not keeping problems out; they are creating them.
Creating safe spaces will have to tackle these large issues and for some of us we have the access, the skills, the knowledge and the ability to help remove these stones. But for some of us we are not placed in such positions, but we are still called to create these safe spaces for one another. It may look like opening up your home in a way you would have never thought of. It may look like using your abilities and resources in new and surprising ways. It may look like reaching out and being present with people you never would have before. No matter what it is, it will be you opening up your heart. No matter what it is, it will be you losing some of your comfortability. No matter what it is, it will be you losing some of your safety.