“Those protesters.” “Those police.”
The death of George Floyd has once again brought the issue of race and racial injustice to the foreground. This is a difficult situation that has tentacles that run to many other adjacent issues. Feelings run high one way or the other. And by nature, we want a quick answer to this a two-hundred and fifty-year old problem in America.
I’m not sure what exactly has to happen to get to the final answer, but I do know this: if you have found a quick answer in the middle of this national crisis, you haven’t found the answer at all. I say that because there are no quick fixes, nor easy answers here. To wrestle with this issue means we have to go deep into our own hearts, souls, and personal beliefs and challenge them. That isn’t easy. It’s difficult to look hard in the mirror and challenge long-held beliefs. It is hard to step back and look at others with new eyes which try to understand what they are feeling, especially when those feelings and perceptions are different than ours.
So, I come to you this morning, not with “the” answer to this deep and complex issue, but with a starting point from which to begin to address this issue: here is it – seeing. When people look at the issue and cry out “Those protesters” or “Those police,” neither side is actually looking at the other with any sense of understanding, compassion or empathy. Likewise, when we use the word “those,” it is immediately separating that group from yourself, which makes empathy or understanding impossible.
Richard Foster, a great spiritual figure of our time, tells about a venerable, old sage who once asked his disciples, “How can we know when the darkness is leaving and the dawn is coming?”
“When we can see a tree in the distance and know that it is an elm and not a juniper,” ventured one student.
“When we can see an animal and know that it is a fox and not a wolf,” chimed in another.
“No,” said the wise man, “those things will not help us.”
Puzzled, the students demanded, “How then can we know?”
The master teacher drew himself up to his full stature and replied quietly, “We know the darkness is leaving and the dawn is coming when we can see another person and know that this is our brother or our sister; otherwise, no matter what time it is, it is still dark.”
Long ago, during his ministry Jesus was asked by a man “Who is my brother and sister?” Jesus answered by telling a parable, which in the end, the very one that he thought was by nature the enemy was his brother. It’s a good parable; give it a read today. You can find it in Luke 10:25-37.
The point Jesus is making is that when any discussion starts out with the words, “those people,” darkness remains because we aren’t seeing them as a brother or sister, but rather as cardboard protesters, or abusive police officers. But, do you really see what the protesters are trying to say? Do we really understand what the police officers are facing?
It is only when we can see them as our brothers and sisters, and not “thems” and “those” that we can truly begin to deal with the problems we face.
In the play, “The Rainmaker” by Richard Nash, a girl named Lizzie says this to a young man named Starbuck. “Some nights I’m in the kitchen washing dishes. And Pop’s playing poker with the boys. Well, I’ll watch him real close. And at first I’ll just see an ordinary middle-aged man – not very interesting to look at. And then minute by minute, I’ll see little things – strange little habits I never noticed he had – and ways of talking I never paid any mind to. And suddenly I know who he is – and I love him so much I could cry! And I want to thank God I took the time to see him real.”
I don’t know the answer of how to solve the deep issue of racism we still have in America, but I do know a couple of things. First, I know there aren’t any simple answers. Secondly, until we see those we might disagree with as brothers and sisters and see them “real,” we will never be able to solve the problem.
And that would be a tragedy.
~ Pastor Dan