I have only walked in one man’s shoes–my own. I know my own past, my own mistakes, and see the world through the lenses of my own culture, upbringing, family system, and experiences. So, one thing I learned NOT to say or believe was this: “I know how you feel.” I couldn’t say it to an 83-year old widow who had experienced the deprivation of the Great Depression and had been alone for 20 years. I couldn’t say it to a woman who delivered a still-born baby just 3 weeks before her due date.
And I can’t say that to my black friend. I don’t know what it’s like to experience these events through the filters of fear, distrust, and personal history. I have never been the target of a racial slur, a noose in my locker, or an abuse because of my racial background. I have Hispanic friends who have been accosted, black friends who have been targeted or excluded. I have been given several “windows” into that with the events that have unfolded over that last few weeks–events that are just a continuation of a pattern. I have a young a teenage friend who is being trained by his father to be superbly polite and above critique in his behavior. But it’s not because it’s good etiquette; it’s considered a survival skill. I have never walked in those shoes.
I have never walked in the shoes of the police officers I know. I know so many whose hearts and motives are healthy. They want to help people regardless of their racial background and it grieves them when the uniform creates fear in innocent people. They live and work in ways that should be respectable, but they often are not respected. I don’t know what it’s like to be judged because of the bad behavior of officers who are NOT healthy in how they approach people who are racially different from themselves. And I don’t know what it’s like to stand in a line to protect property before a crowd, trying to determine when peaceful intentions are really violent intentions, knowing that my life is at risk. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in those shoes.
What seems clear to me is this: we all have filters and we tend to hear/see through those filters. We don’t realize most of them.
Too often, I don’t know what I don’t know. So many things that are happening only make sense depending on your own background. If you’re a police officer, then preventing destruction and crime is your calling and focus. Looting and burning violate the law and they make no sense. Violence isn’t the cure for violence. But if you have faced a history of racism and you have felt the pain of it, personally, you can’t understand why others don’t feel it as profoundly as you do and act to bring change. A police officer said, “I have worked to protect people all my life, but I am now a target for things I have not personally done.” A dear black pastor friend said, “I don’t understand why this doesn’t mean more to the Anglo church, and why this pattern continues to be tolerated.”
Friends, today we are more fractured than ever before; we listen less before we speak, and when we speak, it’s almost as if we WANT to be incendiary.
Today, I can’t say “I know how it feels.” But these things I do know:
- We often have no idea just how offensive our actions or words are, and sometimes we don’t WANT to know. So if I am honest, I’m more prejudiced than I realize. I don’t want to be, and I’m trying to learn how to listen better, and how to eradicate prejudices from my own heart. I have dear friends who have been hurtful but blind to the impact of their choices. Some practice immediate repentance when they start to understand. Others immediately justify. Retribution isn’t redemption. We must redeem our minds and our actions.
- God’s grace was offered to ALL people. All lives matter. Every human being ever born is one for whom Jesus died. In AD 45, the racial conversation was about Jews and Gentiles. They had to learn that Samaritans mattered to God just as much as Jews did. God’s grace was offered to all people. And through the years, our obedience to that principle led us to host English as a second language, visit people of color in their homes and welcome them gladly to our fellowship, embrace a bigger role in missions, and seek to understand that every race, tribe, and language are precious to God, and must be to US.
- No matter what the truth is, some people will always choose hate. That evil is deeply rooted in their hearts. As one friend said, “We’re never going to solve it this side of heaven.” But we both agreed that we must try.
- Each individual stands before God with their OWN choices, not the choices of people who look like them. I have often been judged because of the behavior of other pastors (and I didn’t like it) but it never risked my life or livelihood. A person should’t be judged by their color or their badge. With every person I meet, I have to stand before God and ask, “Am I seeking to live and love like Jesus?” Jesus shocked people by welcoming Samaritans and tax collectors, and I must take each person where they are and seek to love them as Jesus would.
I love welcoming many who are new to our country for ESL classes, welcoming their children into our ministry. I love welcoming people who are Indian, African-American, Nigerian, and Hispanic as they worship with us. I want to lead a church that loves people well. And I want to lead Anglo people who matter to God and are seeking to live and love like Jesus.
So, friends, I am on a journey to root out my prejudices and to love and treat all people with dignity–whether they wear a badge, or look racially different from me, or are rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, love me or hate me. The Jesus I follow shocked His day when he said, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies,’ BUT I SAY to you, ‘LOVE your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.'”
I hope we can hear that and pursue it together!