Wide Awake

Deep change cannot be effectively pursued without deep consciousness and deep understanding of the world as it actually is.

In the midnight darkness of the garden of Gethsemane, the disciples’ eyes were opened to a vital dimension of what it means to faithfully follow Jesus. Discipleship isn’t just about believing what Jesus said or doing his work. On that pivotal night, the eve of the crucifixion, the disciples learned that the essence of faithfully following Jesus is staying awake.

Time and again, the Scriptures call for awakening. Notably it is believers—not unbelievers—who are urged to wake up. Apparently, you can be a fully committed follower of Jesus and yet still remain fast asleep in critical ways. “This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you’” (Eph. 5:14).

When we are asleep, we are immersed in a deep and comfortable darkness. We are unconscious to reality. To wake up means becoming fully conscious to the evil around us and listening for how Jesus wants us to respond. At its heart, discipleship is a journey of awakening. For our generation, this may especially be true when it comes to our need to awaken to racial injustice.

In 2017, the term “woke” emerged in justice circles and is defined as being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Martin Luther King Jr. also used the language of awakening as he implored his sleepy brothers and sisters to get involved with racial justice efforts. He observed, “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change.”

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The essence of awakening is a growing consciousness of reality. Deep change cannot be effectively pursued without deep consciousness and deep understanding of the world as it actually is. As King lamented, “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” Disciples have a responsibility to deepen their awareness of reality—especially where injustice is concerned.

As disciples of Christ, we must awaken to the many dimensions in which our society is still blighted by racial disparity. Today, racial disparity works itself out expansively and subtly through a racialized society. In their book Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith describe a racialized society as one “wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities and social relationships.” A racialized society is characterized by systems that persistently result in unequal outcomes based on race. We now have abundant evidence of naggingly unequal race-based outcomes and experiences in wealth creation, employment, health care, criminal justice and so much more. This evidence—this clear picture of our reality—is easily accessible to all who are willing to discover it.

Many of us cherish the self-evident American ideal that God created us equal. But let us also deeply cherish equal treatment and equal opportunity. Every person created in the image of God should have a reasonably equal shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s time to awaken to the reality that we will never be what we ought to be until others are what they ought to be. As long as we have breath, Jesus invites us to awaken to more of what he can accomplish in and through us. When we do, we will awaken to more of the kingdom of God.

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