On Sunday the church was packed as our Pastor came to the stage. He was a bit out of sorts; stumbling with his words at first—as if trying to sort them in a way that would carry the burden off his shoulders and onto God’s.
He said he’d had it with the endless stream of racial tension and divisive rhetoric keeping us from understanding one another. “Look around you!” he screamed. “Look at this crowd. THIS is real. Love is real. This church is real.”
My eyes scanned the crowd on both sides of me. Colors blended like a box of crayons. Black, white, beige, brown, purple hair, yellow hair, grey hair, no hair. A sea of humanity waiting for a touch from God. We joined hands across the aisles and prayed for everything we could think of. Racism, prejudice, misunderstanding, stupid comments, reactions, murders, taking a stand… you name it, it was prayed for. And somewhere, deep inside, I felt satisfied.
As an interracial couple, Bobby and I have slammed against the wall of misunderstanding on several occasions. It always seems to surprise me, since I love him more than any other human on earth. The trouble is, unless you’ve lived in someone else’s skin, walked in their shoes, traveled the roads they’ve traveled—you can never understand what it feels like to experience life from their perspective.
When we first got married, I was one of “those” people who believed prejudice was a thing of the past. When I fell in love with Bobby I didn’t see skin color, I saw a strong man. It didn’t take long for people to point out our differences. I remember one night after our two daughters were born, we were at a restaurant in an upscale neighborhood. I excused myself to use the restroom, and a woman a few tables over saw this as her opportunity to corner me and say a thing or two to me in private. She cornered me against a stall and railed, “How dare you do that to your children. Do you know what you’ve done to their lives by marrying a black man? ”
I looked back at her and said, “How dare you speak to me as if you know me!” “We love our children, and will raise them in the love of Christ. That’s better than children from two hateful parents…wouldn’t you say?”
OK…I was a little tough on her ignorance—but this was the first time I saw the world through Bobby’s eyes. Misunderstanding and assumption lead to a stupid way of viewing things, and that was my first dose of stupid.
The years that followed brought a string of prejudice that sometimes left me shaking. When Bobby played shortstop for the Yankees, a crazy fan sent a letter to the ballpark that spewed hatred over our interracial family. They said they knew where we lived, and planned to come kill Bobby, me, and our children. For the rest of that baseball season we had extra security and police watching our home vigilantly. The following year we lost a house rental after they saw Bobby was black. The realtor literally took the rent deposit and gave it back to us before putting it back on the market. We weren’t served in restaurants, and got used to a string of nasty looks and whispers when we traveled to places still flying the Confederate flag. Our love had never felt scary, but now the undertones of prejudice were creeping onto our landscape and we had nowhere to run. We prayed, we loved, and kept going.
Recently, events across our country have brought another type of divide—splits that are harder to detect and harder to acknowledge. Race, faith, gender, background, north side, south side, rich side, poor side…we’re more afraid of one another than ever.
The great poet Maya Angelou says,
“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.”
When our present becomes inaccessible we’re unable to change. And one thing’s for sure—a society that can’t change will never grow.
I keep hearing people say that we need to talk about our differences. To try to understand, and have the tough conversations we need to have. I agree with that, but I think we need to go one step further. We need a model…a mentor…a plan to help us find our way.
Ironically, Jesus laid out a race relation strategy capable of changing the world if we truly embraced it. He was so concerned with prejudice, violence, and the undertones of relational ignorance that he shared a story that completely shocked the mixed crowd listening.
“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him, he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
A Samaritan traveling the road came to him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. The he lifted him up onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go…and do the same.”
At first glance, this story may seem old and outdated—out of touch with the harsh realities we face today. But it’s actually spot on. Many people are lying on the side of the road—beat up by life and circumstances. Why is it so much easier to scoot to the other side than to look at their wounds? Are we so busy trying to do good that we forget to be good?
Perhaps we think on the “other side” we can safely assemble our thoughts and emotions. To categorize and marginalize people is easier than trying to know them. “Maybe that man deserved to be beaten.” “He must have brought the attack on himself.”
It’s funny how Jesus chose an unlikely character to be the hero of this story. The kindly Samaritan wouldn’t have been allowed to drink at the same well as the man he was rescuing. He would’ve been shunned and despised by the neighborhood he was traveling through—and yet—he stopped.
I wonder if God isn’t trying to teach us more than being kind to our neighbors. He’s blasting the boundaries of prejudice—providing the model we’re searching for but haven’t yet found. His teaching can be framed in a few ways:
Don’t be so busy doing good that you forget to be good. It’s probable the religious men were on their way to something good and important. Chances are, they didn’t want to be distracted by somebody bleeding. It’s easier to turn away than to get dirty and help.
When we overlook our differences and help one another, the culture starts to change. Not only was the injured man helped here, but the innkeeper, and those that witnessed the Samaritan strapping the injured man to his own donkey in an effort to assist.
It’s hard to say who benefits more from an act of service; the one served or the one serving. Both leave the encounter changed and free. No more boundaries. No more fences. No more fear that we’re too different to embrace.
Something to think about…