By Bob Sittig
There is an old expression that most of us have heard at one time or another in our lives: “Walk a mile in my shoes.” On the surface this phrase seems to make sense. It suggests that we can’t really understand what another person feels or thinks until we have experienced what they have. While I agree that the thought behind that concept may be true, I have come to believe that it’s just not possible to do this.
I can’t, as a white male in America, ever experience what an African American experiences in today’s society. The several recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of white police, and video of the manner in which Sandra Bland was treated by a Texas law enforcement officer prior to her alleged suicide cause a pit in my stomach. One real tragedy in our society today is that we only hear about the sensational abuses that make the news and promote nationwide outrage, but not the everyday marginalization of minorities characterizing their everyday lives. We know that people of color are being followed around grocery and department stores every day, but that doesn’t make the news. There are even more subtle practices of racism that I never see, but are certainly felt by our non-white brothers and sisters. Poor service, long waits, unfriendly glares and countless other manifestations happen to so many in our society all the time, some of us never even notice. Those that feel these snubs notice them all the time, I don’t.
We can be quick to make judgments about those of different backgrounds who live on the fringes of society, and find themselves, for example, begging for money on the streets. There was a time when my response was less than kind. “He looks pretty healthy, why doesn’t he get a job?” might have been my reaction. Maybe we hear some complain about issues that may seem trivial in our lives. My knee-jerk reaction might have been “Just get over it!” We often filter our response through our own set of lenses that have been formed by the accumulation of all of our life experiences from the day we were born. I now think there is something in our subconscious which supposes that everyone else uses that same set of filters. Nothing can be further from the truth.
I can use my imagination to try to project what others may have experienced, but no matter how vivid my imagination is, I now know that I can never experience the hurt and devastation that discrimination has caused in the lives of so many in this country and in the world in general. I just can’t fit into those shoes.
So if it’s really true that I can’t walk a mile in anybody else’s shoes, what can I do? First of all, I can give up making any assumptions regarding what others feel or “should be” feeling. I can listen with an empathetic ear. I can think for a long time, if necessary, before responding to others regarding their circumstances. Most of all, I can be kind. I know that makes God smile.
The above piece is reprinted from the August issue of Evergreen Notes newsletter and The Spire.
By Peach Jack
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. — Ephesians 2:19-20
In the spirit of Ephesians 2:19-20, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America came together for a week of inspiration, worship, music, learning and fellowship at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA . Celebrating its thirtieth year, BPFNA’s No Longer Strangers: Crossing Borders for Peacemaking asked participants to consider:
“What borders intersect your life?”
We were invited to explore the many ways our lives are divided from the lives of our neighbors by borders both visible and invisible. According to keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, of the Washington Consulting Group, our work begins first with understanding the mechanisms that erected the borders and question our own complicity that maintains them in our minds, hearts, families, churches, institutions and public policies. Dr. Washington gave us tools to begin this work during the week, crossing borders of diversity. Some quotes from his presentation follow.
Kicking off a week of peace-making activities, lectures and discussions, we were encouraged to consider how we may prepare a peace rooted in justice ministry. This was especially useful as we interacted throughout the week. Workshops included, among others: Hopes and Fears of Cuban-American relations, Lighting the Future of Undocumented Students, Cross-Generational Alliances, Opening Children’s Imaginations to the World of Shalom, Transgender Family Trees and Christology for Radicals. Visits to local Mennonite settlements and Sustainable Living Community Gardens, and recreating in the Shenandoah National Forest were some of the themes offered.
One workshop I attended was called, “The Real Scandal of the Prodigal” with David Jordan, where he amplified our understanding of the differences bridged by the Father’s love. Jordan also explained the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” from Psalm 23, as a place which is also known as the road to Jericho, showing us slides of the actual road, where the Good Samaritan story is situated. Graphic description of these scenes from the parables brought a dramatic perspective on crossing borders. From this perspective, we continue to struggle with these challenges today, and are called to be peacemakers.
Intentions/Goals Of the 2015 Peace Camp
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist