Here’s a special glimpse into my marriage. In the first few years we were married, whenever I was upset about something- we ended up having two fights- the thing I was originally mad about, and my husband’s dislike of my tone of voice when I brought it up. After having some version of the same fight over and over again- I agreed, I would bring things up “nicely.” I would use a gentle tone of voice to bring up what was bothering me. So we tried this method for a while.
I would bring it up nicely.
Bring it up again.
So then I would be pissed- and I would bring it up again- in my angry voice.
And he would say, “Hey, you said you wouldn’t use that tone of voice.”
“You don’t listen when I use my nice voice.” And I would list out the times I had brought it up “nicely” and his lack of response. “So you can’t tone patrol me if you don’t respond to my nice voice. It’s actually you- that requires this tone of voice.”
This reminds me of how White and Asian Americans respond to the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.
I hear white and Asian American Christians bothered by the disruption- stopping a freeway, interrupting a Bernie Sander rally, marching the streets. The critique is, they seem angry. They are disruptive. It is uncomfortable. It is annoying. And my answer is- yes. Yes they are. Yes it is. But you wouldn’t listen when they used their “nice” voice, so this is what it takes. Interruption is what is takes to get dominant culture to even consider change.
White America, and frankly that portion of Asian American that is flowing with the dominant culture’s worldviews, won’t listen to “nice tone.” I spent the last few days in St. Louis filming activist, theologian, preacher, and worship leader Michelle Higgins. She talked about the fact that most activist consider interruption and disruption a last resort. They have tried phone calls, letters, meeting with local leaders, and community organizing. But when that doesn’t work, when it doesn’t get people’s attention, you have to interrupt. They used “nice” methods to seek change. Too bad, nobody would listen.
I know I don’t like being interrupted. I understand our general dislike of interruption. Even in conversation it’s annoying. But that doesn’t make it wrong. White America hates all forms of disruption and interruption to its normal life.
Take the civil rights movement. Civil rights activists peacefully, non-violently, and calmly interrupted lunch
by sitting at a counter. They were greeted with hateful slurs, had food poured on them, and were surrounded by angry mobs of white people. They were interrupting the most mundane thing- lunch at a diner. And in the most peaceful way possible- sitting in silence. And white people lost their damn minds about it.
Lets remember- Black Lives Matter is a message to non-black people. Black people know it. They are trying to interrupt the normal flow of life to get everyone else’s attention and say- our lives, our bodies are treated with violence. Will you wake up and care?
And the repeated answer is- no.
No we will not.
For systemic racial change to happen- cities, neighborhoods, schools, and organizations need to be interrupted.
They need something to stop the normal flow of life. Because normal life is racist.
I understand disruption and interruption are never comfortable. So is police brutality. And Black children being shot. And Black children being handcuffed. And Black people being treated with violence.
Jesus actually used disruption all the time. Look at his life and ministry.
He opens Luke with a teaching on being good news to the poor and it is well received. But when he gets particular and calls out the Jewish people on their own ethnocentrism and pride- they want to throw him off a cliff. He is interrupting their worldview and they don’t like it.
When Jesus interrupts dinner conversation by telling people they are being proud. It’s more than awkward. It interrupts what could have been some pleasant dinner talk.
When he overthrows the tables in the temple because they have blocked the court of the Gentiles, lots of business people would have been angry. It interrupted business as usual.
Jesus interrupted and disrupted all the time to get people’s attention and tell them to change. But we in the U.S. have castrated Jesus, and made him into Precious Moments Jesus, and we can’t believe that he was as passionate and disconcerting as he was.
Being interrupted is jarring and it requires humility. It required wanting to change and wanting to learn. It requires being confused and not knowing what to do, because you have to stop your normal habits. It required not being derailed by criticism or insecurity.
Asian Americans and Interruption
I’ve thought for a long time that Asian Americans move away from the Black Lives Matter movement because interruption is extra uncomfortable for us. A lot of Asian American communication is about nonverbals. It is about not needing to say something. It is about saying something at a level 3, but the hearer knows it is really a level 8. And in our culture, interruption is incredibly rude- especially to someone older than you or in authority.
And here is the Black community- disrupting and interrupting. Here they are challenging authority. I think that it feels foreign us. I think we see protesters, we see their anger and the emotion, and we interpret it through our communication lens.
They seem too emotional.
And they are making public spaces uncomfortable.
But we are missing the truth in the message, because we are uncomfortable with the method. We wouldn’t listen when they used their “nice” voice. So it is us who requires interruption.
We Need More Disruption, Not Less
More churches need to be interrupted. Stop doing regular church every Sunday. Engage with the violence and injustice directed towards Black people in our country.
More Christian organizations need to be interrupted. Stop trying to care for people of color, while not having any people of color in leadership.
More Christian ministries need to be interrupted and take a prophetic stance about race and injustice, instead of staying silent because so may donors are white and uncomfortable with Black Lives Matter.
My own organization could use some interruption.
We say we value mulitethnicity, but have we let Black Lives Matter interrupt us? Have we talked about it with our student leaders? Did we incorporate it into our New Student Outreach in any way? Did we incorporate anything about multiethnicity into our Fall Conferences? Did we do more than pray for Black staff that are underfunded?
Or did we go on, business as usual, not being interrupted?
We may not like it. But frankly, I think we need more of it. More disruption. More interruption. Until justice and real change have come.
PS- Don’t worry- the hubby and I worked that dynamic out. In case you think we are tragically stuck in that dynamic 8 years later.