Everything changes when you move from the edges into the middle. As an introvert who still carries a bit of the shy little girl I was, I am all about the edges. Loner tendencies linger hard in me, and I’m much more comfortable on the edges.
Quiet. Watchful. Thinking. Processing.
I’m grateful for the ones who love the middle. Those who sing, dance, and thrill at being at the center of the action. It’s not always a joyous whirl in the middle. The middle can be loud, angry, and chaotic. I’m still grateful for those who thrive there. The ones who don’t hesitate to raise their voices. Who turn and run toward the noise. The ones who don’t hesitate to engage.
There’s been a lot of action in the middle recently. The twenty-four-hour news cycle has ensured that we’re all in the loop when everything happens. From small acts of kindness to large acts of violence, everything is magnified and examined under the microscopes of whatever media we’re plugged into. And what does that give us? Where does that take us?
As we watch events unfold, is it with detached indifference? Are we part of the story; intrinsically bound to the outcome? Are we on the edges? Or in the middle?
The spotlight on escalating racial violence of the past eighteen months has kept our grief at a high pitch. The violence is not new, but the spotlight is. While it broke my heart, there was a part of me that remained removed. As many conversations as I have had with friends of various backgrounds, I could never step into the places and spaces that my friends with darker skin occupy. I remained on the edges.
And then the middle came roaring for me, teeth bared, this past week.
The shocking news out of Atlanta, Georgia: the deaths of the women, all Asian Americans, swung the spotlight on to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. #stopAsianhate and #stopAAPIhate began trending. Not since the #metoo movement had something hit me so hard.
I’ll never tell you that my life has been full of struggles associated with my ethnicity. As a multi-racial woman with light skin, I know most people take me for “just another white girl” at first glance. A few more glances and I start to shimmer and become the enigma they can’t quite place. Which is just fine with me – I rather like being an enigma. But apparently, placement is important. Enough for me to field the question of “What are you?” many times. For some, there has been a measure of satisfaction once my ethnicities have been sifted out. I’ve had a few, “Oh wow, you speak English really well for …” There have been others – even more offensive, because eventually most, if not all, AAPI women all hear the ones that wrap our heritage up with other people’s sexual fantasies.
Now, I feel like I’m standing in the middle – a place I don’t want to be. Surrounded by anger, hate, fear, uncertainty. And yet, in this middle comes something else. Understanding. Grace. Love. Forgiveness. Healing. Compassion. The spotlight I didn’t want, brought me to a place where I was not removed from the unfolding events, but part of them, and in being part of them in a more personal way, I could – I CAN react with compassion and empathy for those who have been in the spotlight for far longer and who are wearier than I could imagine.
Compassion allows us to look past our own pain into the pain of others and embrace them fully with love that understands the territory; love that sits with friends in the grief and the struggle; love that stands in the gaps and lifts others up when they can’t stand any longer.
As we round the corner to Easter, we’re looking at people in the story of Christ’s crucifixion and asking questions about how this relates to our life two thousand years later. Two men who are briefly mentioned, but who have critical responses to the crucifixion, are the two thieves who were placed on either side of Jesus’ cross. As all three hung there in agony, the one in the middle looked at those gathered and through the timeless lens of kairos at all humanity and loved us with the most compassionate, sacrificial love. Another, lost in the torment, mocked and cursed Jesus with the rest. The other, also torn in pain, was somehow able to see what others could not – he saw the majesty of God and cried out for mercy.
As I look at these men, I feel the struggle of the middle anew. A time of pain. A time of strife. How do I respond? Will I become lost in the struggle and lash out; echoing the animosity around me? Or will I cry out for mercy, and allow the compassion of Jesus to flow through me? If I’m being honest, compassion asks that I step into the middle where it’s beyond uncomfortable; that I step into spaces of pain with a soft heart focused on healing love; that I allow the glory of Christ to become real through my actions and my choices to bring beauty from ashes.
I invite you to take two steps closer to the middle. Whatever your edges are, wherever you are lingering, I invite you to step closer with me. To embrace compassion. To soften your hearts. To live Christ’s love to the communities around us.