What I have to share is very personal and very sensitive. What I’m presenting is not an opinion or a dissection but a personal journey through listening and revelation. This is truly part of my wanderings and it’s shaken me to the core.
Most of us are not ignorant of the events surrounding Michael Brown and Eric Garner. After several weeks of listening, asking questions and some discussion the issues remain very hot and volatile – volcanic actually. I’ve made a few blunders in my inquisitiveness and attempts in trying to understand and be compassionate. I’ve also been misconstrued. I understand why but I’m not satisfied with where I am and I’ll tell you why. I think, by the end of this, you may be uncomfortable with where you are as well. Sometimes, we just need a new pair of glasses.
I’m a white male. I grew up on a small farm with chickens and ducks. My desire to not only help people but also to follow God has lead me to serve students in a sub-urban setting (not suburban, not urban). I mentor and mingle with students of several different races and religions every week – some with no religion at all – and from various socioeconomic strata. My students laugh in concert with me when they share their ethnic heritage or preferences and I say, “Man, I’m really white!” That’s not an excuse it’s a fact. The beauty of the students is that they get that I don’t “get it” but they appreciate my efforts. I wish I could say the same for all the conversations I’ve had with adults recently. What I love about students is that most of them are willing to extend grace and patience. They’re willing to listen and they’re also really good at letting me know when I’m not seeing things well. My background, upbringing and ethnicity have really tinted the lenses I’ve viewed life through.
Years ago I was a photographer. A journalist. I loved to create photographs that told a story – especially for those who couldn’t tell it on their own or didn’t have a voice. I was welcomed into people’s homes, trailers and lives. I attended birthday parties and surgeries, funerals and weddings all as part of my passion to tell people’s stories. I was very much aware of my “chicken and ducks” upbringing and I allowed both young and old to educate me in their world. I was accepted and they accepted me. But one day I was smashed in the face with a reality I’d not experienced before but is all too familiar for many.
I was on assignment for a newspaper photographing a New York Yankees game in the Bronx. I was in an unmarked company car, a maroon Plymouth Sundance, on my way out of the stadium. I missed my exit toward the Verrazano bridge and was redirected under the highway. I was driving through a neighborhood attempting to reorient myself when I came up to a red traffic light. I was paused just a moment when a man walked in front and then along the drivers’ side of my car. He looked at me and then shouted to the neighborhood, “White trash, we have white trash here!” I was absolutely stunned.
The Wednesday that the Eric Garner grand jury verdict was announced I was on the phone with a very good friend. He’s Indian, a very dark Indian. We were both wrestling with the tragedy and injustice of the events. He shared with me his experiences over the years about being pulled over by police without any reason being given and about being watched suspiciously upon entering stores. He also shared with me horrid, hellish names his mother had been called. We attempted to grasp the massive schism in our society and the disorientation we felt in our own spirits. We concluded the conversation in prayer yet still angry, confused and just plain twisted inside. It was nearly impossible for me to contain my emotions.
Since that phone call I’ve reevaluated the episode in the Bronx I experienced so many years ago. Although I was stunned then, it was a rare incident for me. And even though I’ve been called other sick names since by people of different ethnicities, these pale in comparison to the number of times my black or Hispanic brothers and sisters have faced derogatory comments or actions simply because of their skin color or the way they dress.
What I’ve learned from my friend and others that I’ve spoken to and in following various Twitter feeds and news clips is that sometimes, more often than not, we need a new set of glasses by which to view the world. And unlike actual glasses or contacts where we personally realize that our prescription is out-of-date, we can’t always decipher when our worldview needs updating. We need others around us to tell us when and where we’re lacking or missing. This takes courage. This takes listening and seeking to understand. This takes repentance. This takes intentionality. I’m not patting myself on the back, I’m kicking myself in the butt for not participating in this sooner and for not taking the steps to change my “prescription”. My lenses weren’t grossly off but far enough to be embarrassing. I can make myself feel better by comparing myself to others, or worse for that matter. But if I do nothing, if we do nothing, about a topic that God is passionate about, we are to be pitied greatly.
I have a lot more listening and changing to do. As things I don’t understand become clearer I’m also finding my voice to share and to help others see where they’re not seeing clearly. I have a long way to go before this particular log is removed from my eye. But I feel the topic of racial equality and justice is far too important to wait. I’ve already begun to speak to students in my care about justice. Some of them have already experienced the injustices in our society – systemic injustices – and they’re wounded. This is wrong. Others don’t get it just like me but are at least open to listening, talking and adjusting.
If I read the Bible correctly, in it’s context, there truly is no difference between Jew or Greek, black or white. All are equal in Christ. People are worth listening to.
I’m getting a new pair of glasses. I doubt they’ll be my last but I needed a new prescription badly. What about you? How out-of-date is your worldview? Where do you need to adjust? The Bible says that we all need it, constantly, to the very day we die. #BlackLivesMatter.