I grew up in the most diverse neighborhood and school I have ever experienced. In fact, I sometimes say my childhood makes Sesame Street look homogeneous. The neighbors behind us were Vietnamese, one was Buddhist and the other Catholic. Across the street was a half-way house, where felons were learning how to integrate back into society and the disabled lived. Three houses down, my friend was deaf. My class, which averaged about 15 kids from K-8 had a mix of kids too – several black kids (one who was albino), a Hindu girl, one girl with cerebral palsy, one boy who had braces on his legs, one boy from Venezuela, one boy from Mexico, and a few of us were white. It was truly a unique childhood. Yet, we didn’t care about the differences, we knew that we were unique, that is a good thing, and it kept us friends.
Even in the midst of such diversity, I don’t know what it is like to be a black man. I don’t know what it is like to wonder if my life will be in danger because I get pulled over for speeding or for having a broken tail light on my car.
My adopted nephew (and now brother too – my parents adopted him after my sister’s death) is black. His experience in my family is a completely unique one, the only black person in a family full of white people. Though he is loved no less, his experience will be nothing like mine. But, I don’t know that our country fully understands this.
We have experienced horrible violence lately. The shootings of black men (including Philando Castile and Alton Sterling) highlight what we already know – unarmed black men are victims of these kind of shootings at a higher rate than others. Black men also have higher rates of poverty, incarceration, broken families, addiction, etc. What is our reaction for most of our country? A shrug of the shoulders. We can’t let this be our response. We have to care about one another more! Jesus tells us the dividing lines of race, sex, etc. need to be broken down:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” -Gal 3:26-29If we are truly to be one in Jesus, then we need to care that there is something very wrong in our culture. There is something wrong with a world that divides along race, class, religion, politics, etc whenever another human tragedy occurs. It isn’t a “black problem” that black men are killed by police when they shouldn’t be. It isn’t a “government problem” or a “white problem” when cops are shot. Nor is it “Muslim problem” when a mosque is shot up, like the local one was yesterday when the mosque (one block from St. Mary’s) had the front windows shot out. These are all human problems. These are OUR problems!
Within the culture something continues to deprive those who are poor, black, immigrant, etc. from having as many opportunities as someone like myself. Something is also wrong when those who are different from others are hated for being different. I admit this. I also admit I don’t have all the answers – but I know the one who does! It is Jesus!
- When faced with violence, we need to turn to Jesus in prayer.
- When a place of worship in our community is attacked, we need to turn to Jesus in prayer.
- When police officers are shot in Dallas, we need to turn to Jesus in prayer.
- When black men are killed and video shows they did nothing to warrant being shot, we need to turn to Jesus in prayer.
There are many difficult conversations our country needs to have. One of the most pressing surrounds that which divides us. When we have these conversations, let us not try to win an argument, but truly listen to others.
Let us admit we don’t understand every experience and fear of others.
Let us grow together in trying to work on our cultural and systemic issues.
Let us respect the dignity of our brothers and sisters.
Let us return hatred with love.
Let us have real conversations that lead to understanding.
Let us pray.
Let us cry out to Jesus.
Let us fight for peace and justice.
Only then will we be able to say that we are “all one in Christ Jesus.“
For more, please see the Diocese of Austin statement on recent violence.