Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Being Human

The last few days have caused me to think harder than usual.  I have received both praise and push back related to my last post and, if I expected one and not the other, shame on me.  This weekend I spent a great deal of time helping decorate our house, watching my Tigers lose the SEC championship game, and preparing for the great privilege and responsibility of preaching to the congregation that meets at Union Hill Baptist Church.  To be honest, I began preparing the morning sermon looking for something to say about Ferguson.  Indeed, to see if God had something to say about Ferguson.  I'm sure He does but that is not where this week's message ended up.  From that message, the events in Ferguson, the video and grand jury proceedings in NYC, and the discussion of my last post, I have a few more thoughts that have risen to the top.

The main point of the Sunday morning sermon was that God said at least three things in coming to earth as the Baby Jesus ("Messages from the Manger" clever, right?) and He is still saying them today.  Those three things are, "I am with you," (Matt 1:18-23), "I understand you," (Hebrews 4:15-16), and "I love you this much." (Philippians 2:5-8)  I'll spare you the whole sermon but Jesus waded into our messy, painful, real world to rescue us.  As such, any who follow Him ought to be the first to wade into the messy, painful, real life of someone else.  Categorization hinders this.

As described by one of my friends while sharing my last post, I am a "white, middle class, conservative Baptist pastor."  I'm pretty sure he used those words in a friendly fashion.  All of them carry some useful information.  All of them can also carry some excuse to put people in a box and assume you know what they will think, say, or do in any variety of contexts.  In short they provide an opportunity to short-cut actually knowing someone.  Obviously, there are lots of words that carry that opportunity.  Black, White, Latino, Cop, NAACP, Protestor, Suspect just to name a few that have been thrown around in the last several months.  None of these labels are bad; they all carry useful information but they carry the opportunity for not knowing.

Are all black men aggressive towards cops?  Do all police officers treat black me unfairly?  Are all prosecutors biased toward the police officers they work with?  When the questions are asked like this, the answers are easy.  That's not the way prejudice usually works.  I get a little information about a situation or a person.  Maybe it's from a little bit of gossip, half a conversation that I overhear, or even the news.  It's easy to slide a little information inside my pre-made categories and end up with a faceless wall of "people."  I put people in quotes because that's the problem; they are not people anymore.  They are preachers, cops, lawyers, blacks, whatever.  They no longer have faces, or families, or personalities.  They are the group.  We know how "they" are.  That's how "they" always are.

Knowing is hard.  It is much easier to keep to myself and my like-minded friends and imagine how others think and feel (if they feel).  If I keep reminding myself that I am imagining, there wouldn't be anything too terrible about that.  The trouble is when imagining turns into assuming.  Assuming is not knowing.  Assumptions turn people into blocks and groups.  Personal interaction (usually listening more than talking) leads to knowing.  Knowing turns groups into individuals, people.  Humans have pain.  Humans cause pain.  It's all part of being human regardless of language, zip code, or color.  Knowing will lead to pain.  Those you know will hurt you.  You will hurt when others hurt people you know.  You will hurt when those you know hurt even when no one caused it and there's no one to blame.  It stinks.  Knowing, however, is the only thing that makes loving possible.  Without that there's nothing worth anything.

One final thought, I read an article last week about who we really know.  The author didn't use those words but, instead, talked about who we discuss important social issues with.  Think about the folks you discuss politics, faith, and social issues with in a meaningful way (not like we talk about the weather).  Do all those folks look like you?  I realized that those folks in my life are boringly similar.  They all look like me and most of them think like me.  I'm out to change that.  How about you?  Don't be surprised when it turns out to be difficult; knowing is hard.   

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