Rub the specks from your eyes and take a good look around
Preachers traffic in words. And because language changes, it’s fun and challenging to keep up with new words and new meanings of words that appear in our cultural lexicon. Like “woke.”
Being woke is a way of talking about becoming newly aware of circumstances you once were asleep to. Being woke has its roots in the Black Lives Matter movement. Usually it refers to a white person who awakens to the realities of racial, gender or sexual inequalities that exist in the structures of our everyday lives. Most of us who get woke have an encounter with some injustice that sparks a new or fresh or changed understanding of our previous thinking. The Twittersphere is full of hashtags on the subject, such as #getwoke or #staywoke.
Christians know the verse from Romans 12 that calls us to a different way of seeing: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The “world” St. Paul talks about is the way things are organized that is contrary to the divine intent for human flourishing. If we want to participate in the redemption of all things, we need to get woke to God’s desires for the world. We need to be able to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. And that takes having our minds renewed.
As a pastor, I have been amazed at walking beside people with brain injuries. A young adult friend who had a mountain biking accident suffered a severe head injury. Two young children were in a recent car accident and suffered head trauma. In each case, the brain went to sleep for a time while it tried to heal. Doctors sometimes induce a coma in order to give it the necessary rest to recover. When they wake it up, there is work to be done to connect new neuropaths that will allow the mind to work again. The brain needs to be retrained to do the things necessary for the person to walk and talk and function normally.
Similarly, we are called to a lifelong practice of mind renewal that allows us to see how asleep we have been to God’s will for the world. When we awaken spiritually, we are not immediately healed. We still want to return to the patterns of seeing and conceiving the world that keep injustice in place. Getting woke and staying woke takes deliberate attention. We have to relearn what it means to be human and to be neighbors who look out for one another.
Right after those words from Romans, the apostle tells us not to think of ourselves so highly, but instead to “love one another with mutual affection and to outdo one another in showing honor.” To be woke, then, is not to insist on our own privilege, but rather to look out for the welfare of others.
Let’s get woke and stay woke.