Back to Top

A Time to Listen: Learning from Shad

The last few weeks have been both difficult and inspiring, challenging and moving.  An apocryphal saying attributed to African theologian and bishop Augustine of Hippo says that ‘hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  In this sense, the last month’s uprising of anger toward anti-black police brutality and the systemic racism in the United States and Canada that gives it license has been strangely hopeful: people around the world have risen in anger at the way of the world and the world’s indifferent leaders, and have had the courage to demand change.

These teachers have unmasked the lies that I have been telling myself. 

As a white person of privilege, the last few weeks have been particularly moving.  Artists, activists, scholars, and friends have prompted me to renew my existing commitments to listening, learning, and making space for real liberation – others’, and my own.  More importantly, these teachers have unmasked the lies that I have been telling myself about my commitments to justice and liberation; I have sinned, fallen short, and in my privilege did not see the way that my whiteness blinded me to others’ reality and my own captivity.  

One such teacher is the Canadian artist Shad.  In a series of poignant and insightful Instagram posts Shad has reflected on imagination, faith, and the story of Black freedom. Shad’s reflections on racism and privilege (‘when our wealth or privilege are substantial enough to insulate us from the realities of the world – the realities of systemic racism, for example – we are essentially living a lie.  And a lie can never free our souls.  We can only be free when we get in touch with the truth’) are still with me.  And because my voice is not the one that matters on this theme, I want to point us towards Shad’s voice.

And it didn’t end the story but sadly it crushed him.

In one particularly perceptive post, Shad invites his readers to consider what he calls his ‘Judas theory’ (here are reflections if you want to read them for yourself first).

Shad reflects on the role of Judas in Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion and recognizes that ‘Judas could not accept that he had done something so terrible, that he might be the bad guy.  Maybe because, for a good while, he was sure he was one of the heroes.// When his true place in the story was revealed to him, he couldn’t see past himself.  He couldn’t see that he was not the end.  There was a larger story and it was good.  Maybe that, not the famous betrayal, was his only real failure.// And it didn’t end the story but sadly it crushed him.”

I have benefited from the Canadian colonial project.

Shad then goes on to connect Judas’ inability to recognize his place in the story to our own moment.  “There is a critical difference between wanting to be an ally and needing to be a hero.  Because we can’t all be heroes, that’s just not how stories work.  If you need to be a hero in this story and fate has not cast you in that role, the story will still end well but you will not.”  Shad points to a key lesson for me and for any of us who are weighed down (knowingly or unknowingly) by the privilege we carry: that we must come to terms with our role in the story of systemic racism, and that role is more than likely a negative one.   Why?  I have benefited from generations of systemic privileging of my gender, my skin colour, my class.  I have benefited from the Canadian colonial project, from marginalization of Indigenous Canadians and the abuse of their home.  I lived most of my early life in near complete ignorance of the suffering of people of colour here on Turtle Island rather than in solidarity with their calls for justice.  

Shad invites those of us who have benefitted and are benefitting from our privilege into the good work of change by recognizing our role in the story – not to be heroes, but to be humble, listening allies.    As Shad himself says, ‘Again, the moral challenge is maybe just to embrace whatever part you’ve had to play, however small or ugly or both, humbly work on changing you, and ultimately celebrating because the larger work of Black freedom is very good.’  

And so, in these heady days, I am praying to Christ, the author of the greatest story, to walk with me as I embrace my role in the story of freedom for all of God’s children.  

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.