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No More Opting Out- a reflection from Sara Kennedy

Manna for the Moment was birthed in response to a global pandemic that refused to stay 8,000 miles away. It has become a place for our beautiful church family to encourage, connect, and build that most difficult and necessary relationship - nurturing family.

In the coming days, we will focus these entries on grieving and memorializing the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery, as well as the persistent reality of racial injustice in our country.  Members of our church family will offer words of lament, pastoral encouragement, poems born of righteous anger, and personal reflections.

We open with an honest acknowledgement: as much as we love one another, this particular tragedy, and what it represents, does not impact us equally.  Not even close. The parallels with the Coronavirus pandemic are striking.

In January and February, while Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the lives of “other people”, if we are honest, we have to admit that it was scarcely a blip for most of us. But carrying a universal passport, Covid-19 did exactly what highly contagious diseases do.  By mid-March, even the Northside was upended in ways we can’t yet fully understand or appreciate.

Under government mandate, and with a unifying spirit of compassion, Americans buckled down. Together, we agreed that protecting the vulnerable in our society was worth some measure of sacrifice. We agreed that even if the symptoms weren’t impacting us, we would change our behavior for others.  For some, this represented life-altering loss, for others, inconvenience mixed with blessing. As Pastor Matt said: “The storm hit everyone; but not everyone had the same kind of boat.” In some ways, with mixed success, we’ve learned to exercise societal muscles we didn’t even know we had. We can do so again.  We can even apply the same logic - even if I am not directly impacted, I can change my behavior for the good of others.

As a white, middle class woman in the United States, I have often been able to opt out of difficult realities others face.  This has largely been the case during the Coronavirus; it is even more true about race. And I am not alone. Far too often for far too many folks with my demographics, racially charged events in Ferguson or Baltimore can feel as remote as an unusual winter flu in Wuhan, China. Born into tremendous privilege, the tribe reassures: the terrible, unjust, incomprehensible things that happen to others have nothing to do with me. The message:  I am not implicated, I have nothing to add or confess - no response is helpful or required.

Except this: I am a new creation; I have a new family now. My new family consists of those who can opt out and those who can’t. Those favored by history and systems, and those who aren’t. My new family has brothers and sons and fathers and uncles and beloved friends who look a bit like Ahmaud Arbery and members who look more like the men in the white truck. My new family has members who are maligned for looking more like the people in Wuhan than the people on Leave it to Beaver.  My new family is diverse and complicated and heart-breakingly beautiful, and I am, by God’s providence and mercy, implicated.

My new family - the Church universal and the one that is made visible in our local congregation on Brook Road - has work to do. I know this because I know my own heart. There is so much work for Christ to do in those dark, scared, selfish corners that prefer to opt-out of discomfort and pain. He - the Savior who never opted out - shows us the way. And here’s the thing. From our little outpost of the Kingdom, our church family has drawn a line in the sand - Northside will be a meaningfully cross-cultural church. Not for optics, not for social approval, but because God’s heart is for His diverse children to love Him, love each other, and love their neighbors. I’ve signed up, and so have you. How many times have wise saints in our city warned how costly this will be?

In the wake of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, we have yet another chance to deepen our commitment, to strengthen our resolve. We will need to make time for the historic practice of lament.  We will need to read and express righteous anger at the senseless loss of yet another image bearer to the miserable disease of racism. We will need to write editorials and make phone calls. We will need to check in with each other and the wider Northside community. We will need to continually ask how to more fully offer the many gifts our church family has been given. No more opting out for me. In the face of such pain, I --- we --- cannot be silent and also be nurturing family.

In the coming days, we will be challenged and encouraged, sharpened and strengthened, by the words of our brothers and sisters at Northside Church, and in the larger body of Christ. May their words - and our love for one another - cause us to “Carry each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2).


Sara Kennedy and her family have been members of Northside Church for seven years. They are deeply grateful to be taught by, challenged by, and loved by the diverse community of worshippers at Northside.


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