By Kenji Kuramitsu
I’ve seen a certain Cornel West quote emblazoned on many a protest sign: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Last year in a room full of evangelical Christians, I heard Dr. West further confess: “…and tenderness is what love looks like in private.”
I recently watched a livestream of the theologian James Cone as he talked beautifully and vulnerably about the birth of his liberation theology and its genesis in “the cry of black blood.” During the Question and Answer section of the talk, a white man approached the microphone and lambasted Dr. Cone: calling his lecture “needlessly divisive,” shaming him for tarring Martin Luther King’s legacy.
I wanted to leap down the man’s throat. The room gasped at the remarks, as did the moderator, who interrupted to remind everyone to be respectful. All turned to Dr. Cone, holding our breath for his riposte.
Cone responded softly, with unbelievable gentleness: “You know…We live in different worlds. We do. I do understand what you’re saying. I really do…I’ll just say we live different worlds, and I’ll leave it at that.”
I have learned that this is what tenderness looks like in public: the ability to say to people who live in different worlds than our own “I may not agree with you, but I can at least understand – and I want us to get somewhere else together, if at all possible.”
To admit that love is tender doesn’t insist upon glossing over old scars, thrusting cheap grace in the face of violence. To say that our love is tenderized literally names our wounds: still bleeding, still sore – yet always hopeful for the possibility of new bridges across our different worlds.
Kenji Kuramitsu is a seminary student and writer based in Chicago, IL. As an educator he has delivered workshops at Wild Goose Festival on systemic racism, Asian American identity, creation myths for youth, and mixed race Christology.