Enough Bigotry to Go Around?

Hey y’all! I just finished my fancy pants appearance on Moody Radio’s Up For Debate. (That I told you about yesterday which you would know if you had been paying attention. See the things you miss when you’re not paying attention?) Anyways, I will get the link to the show up just as soon as it’s available.

Almost immediately after the show was done, I got a comment from a listener which addresses a concern I really would have liked to address on the show, but obviously, we could only scratch the surface in an hour. I think it’s an important point, so I thought I would share the comment and my response with y’all. So pay attention! 😉

Dear Rebecca:

On the Moody Radio show discussion about Ferguson you mentioned how you had prejudices and biases of which you weren’t aware simply from growing up.  I agree whole-heartedly.  What you didn’t mention is that the same is true for the black community, the hispanic community, the Middle Eastern community and the Asian community.  We all have biases that we are taught as children.  I’m a law enforcement officer in Orlando, FL.  I have worked in the schools for more than 15 years. I encounter black kids and their families that have an automatic distrust and bias against me, simply because I’m white and a cop.  This is a bias the children are taught.  I also work in the parks of a private community which owns the parks.  Part of my duties are ensuring that those who are using this private park are residents or guests of residents.  My concern isn’t race, religion, or anything but whether the person is allowed in the private park.  In 18 years, I can only recall one instance when a white or hispanic person challenged me for doing my job.  On the other hand, I have had a 1/2 dozen black people insist or imply that I was checking them simply because they were black.  By the way, all but one of these folks were NOT residents and did not belong.  This is a racially and culturally diverse community and I have great relationships with young people and adults of all races.  Please acknowledge the biases taught to the children by both races.  Thanks and God bless.

-E

E, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would just challenge you to consider that because of the way race works in this country, that the sort of defiance, hostility and distrust which you encountered among African Americans has its roots in legitimate problems which we as Americans have never dealt with, much less solved. As a white person, my prejudices were shaped almost entirely by the media, my community and the rare encounters I had with African Americans who were serving me in stores and restaurants. An the other hand, my husband has a lived experience of regularly being mistreated, of being belittled, of being threatened, of being afraid which occurred at the hands of white people. His discomfort with and distrust of white people is fundamentally different from my own prejudices. While I might wish an African American person would process and deal with his experiences differently, I had no right to tell him or her that s/he doesn’t have a right to be uncomfortable and distrustful after all that s/he has experienced and continues to experience. Of course, my husband’s a mature, educated, spiritual man, so he isn’t going to start resisting authority, being rude or hostile simply on the basis of race. But it’s easy to see how someone in a less comfortable, less experienced position would walk around with a negative attitude towards authority (which has always been the tool by which abusive, oppressive laws and customs are imposed on African Americans, btw).
It’s interesting that you bring up working as a guard at a private park. When my husband was 8 his mother moved them from Texas to the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. As they were moving in, my husband noticed that the only playground was a set of swings on a blacktop surface. He asked his mom, “why did someone put those swings on the blacktop? Someone will get hurt if they fall off.” He says his mother bent down and spoke into his face, “honey, there’s something you need to understand right now. Nobody cares what happens to you here. If you fall of those swings and get hurt, nobody’s going to care. We might not even be able to get an ambulance to come and help you. You have to take care of yourself here because nobody else is going to make sure that you and your brothers and sisters are safe.” It was 1978 and she spoke the truth. Now, imagine living in a neighborhood where the playground is unkempt and potentially dangerous. And right near-by is a nice, safe, well equipped park. But you can’t go there. Because it’s not for you. It’s for the people who paid for it. It doesn’t matter that you and your family can’t dream of affording to live in such a place. Nobody cares about you and your problems. Put yourself in that situation and the hostility makes a bit more sense.
Thanks again for your comment!
Blessings,
Rebecca

Compromise, Convictions and the Good Samaritan

Yesterday, a Christian friend put a quote from a famous pastor up on facebook which ended with this little gem:

You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

Which is what we like to tell ourselves, but it’s not true. Jesus even told us a story to show that it’s not true. You know, the story of the good Samaritan. That story is Jesus telling us that sometimes we do have to compromise our convictions in order to be compassionate.

You see, we read the story and understand right away that the priest and the Levite who walked by the injured man are wrong. They should have stopped and helped. Except we’re wrong. They behaved just the way they were supposed to.

Stopping and helping the injured man would have required breaking purity laws, especially if it turned out he was dead or he died while they were trying to help him. The man would have been stripped of his clothing by the bandits so there was no way to know if he was a fellow Jew, a hated Roman soldier or Gentile or some other sort of unclean person. There were certain policies and procedures to be observed.

If they did stop to help the man, they would have been putting themselves at risk. Bandits weren’t above waiting to ambush anyone who came to help on of their victims. They were a constant danger on that section of road. It was foolish to put yourself in danger for a potentially unclean man who may well be too far gone to help.

Plus, the process of becoming ritually pure could be long and even expensive. If they were traveling on business, having to go through ritual purification could interfere with their ability to execute their other duties and responsibilities.

It wouldn’t have occurred to many in Jesus’ audience until the end of the story that either the priest or the Levite had acted improperly. They had important teachings to uphold and no greater duty than to faithfully execute their duties under the law. Far from doing anything wrong, the priest and the Levite behaved just as they were expected to as faithful keepers of the Torah.

It’s entirely possible that the priest and the Levite had compassion on the beaten man as they passed by. Maybe each man sent up a prayer or meant to bring up the problem with safety on the road with government officials or resolved to put a few extra coins into the widow’s fund in honor of the man. They may well have done any or all of those things. Or thought about doing them. Perhaps they had compassion in their hearts, but it certainly did the injured man no good.

Into this story walks a Samaritan. A person whose religious credentials were seriously questionable. Just the sort of person who would compromise convictions when it served their purpose to do so. And that’s exactly what he does. He crosses over the boundaries the priest and the Levite respected in order to take care of the man. He did it at great cost and inconvenience. He even went so far as to make himself vulnerable to the robbers who continually prowled that road looking for victims. He behaved very irresponsibly, really.

But as Jesus said when he told the story, “who showed love to their neighbor?” It wasn’t the ones who kept to their convictions. It was the one who loved his neighbor as himself. Even when it meant compromising his convictions.

 

Not So Red of Tooth and Claw

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve long wondered what it says about God that we live in a world of predator and prey. Sometimes it helps to be reminded that even in this world of predator and prey God’s more gentle, compassionate nature can be observed as well:

A brave baboon attempted to make a run for it. Unfortunately, a lioness caught it. As the baboon died, the photographers noticed a baby baboon slowly disengaging itself from its underside.

They held their breath as the innocent, frail baby stood before the lionesses.

One lioness gently and curiously examined the baboon. He was frightened and hurt.

She softly picked him up in her mouth and settled down over him, watching.

The little one even tried to nuzzle the lion, not knowing what she was.

You’ll need to go see the conclusion here. It gets even better.

“Hate was just a failure of imagination”

“When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity — that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.” ~ “The Power and The Glory” by Graham Greene

I have often observed how hard it can be for people – and often particularly God’s people – to get past the sin and ugliness and abrasiveness of people to see the image bearing man or woman God created them to be.  I think that “a failure of imagination” is probably just the right accounting of the problem.  When I was growing up my mom used to look at someone who had fallen on the way of life and say, “there but for the grace of God go I.”  Continue reading