Increasingly I am becoming concerned about the divides in our society. Rich and poor. Urban and suburban. Color of skin. Ethnicity. Access to opportunity. They are there. They’re real. They’re not going away. Instead of running away from that which causes us discomfort we have to walk straight into them. But that journey is uncomfortable.
I’ve been thinking recently about what happens when we turn away from big issues instead of trying to understand them. Our natural inclination to organize ourselves around clan, tribe, race, ethnicity, preferences and circumstances tends to create barriers to understanding. When people are isolated they start to believe the worst about those who are different. That belief can easily lead to hate. Look at Rwanda, Nazi Germany, the Klan movement in our country, and even in church splits (often caused by insignificant matters disguised as a fight for doctrinal integrity).
Our world is diverse enough these days that we can’t help but rub shoulders with those who are different. Spend any time in a hospital and you will meet the world. But do we really get to know people as individuals? Or worse yet does the individual we meet become a representative of all people from their particular tribe or nation. I like to tell people that if you meet a ‘white person’ you’ve met one white person. Don’t generalize much beyond that. Same goes with someone who works with an African American. That colleague is an individual who has insights about the Black experience in America but they don’t represent every African Americans opinion about every subject. We are in grave danger of doing severe injustice to Muslim people in our country because of the stereotypes we advance. Stereotypes will bite us in the back side more often than not.
I don’t think I’m an alarmist but I’m concerned that our journey to be in community with like minded and like looking folks is going to prove to be a very unhelpful strategy going forward.
In scripture Jesus pleads for the unity of the body of Christ. We’re taught that we need each other to be complete and that ‘in Christ’ there is no division. And yet we know there are deep divisions because so many carry deep fear about people who are different from them.
As you all know we are facing a budget crisis in our country. Maybe it’s because I actually am getting to know people different from myself I’m finding myself sure of one thing. I’d rather pay more personally than have the ‘least of these’ carry the burden for an economic recovery. I find concern for the marginalized is a deep current leading straight to God’s heart. And yes there are other issues of capping, cutting, pork, and deficit reduction that our leaders need to deal with. But not on the backs of the poor. I find much of our lack of concern for those who have little a little repulsive and wonder if too many who are in power are too isolated from the diversity they claim to represent.
So, what does this all mean?
If we’re going to make the kind of kingdom impact we need to make we need to look at any patterns we have of isolating ourselves from people who make us uncomfortable.
We’ve got to be curious about other people’s experiences.
Some might need to be involved in an intentional journey talking about race and culture. If you’re in the Chicago area send me a note ...I’ve not some ideas along these lines.
If you’re a parent don’t allow your child to grow in an environment where they are not sensitized to issues of race, ethnicity, and culture.
Put yourself in uncomfortable situations where you’re not the dominant culture expression.
Ask questions of friends and acquaintance who come from a different culture or race background. Ask the questions that will lead to greater understanding but perhaps greater discomfort (for you)