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.