When I sat down to write for ‘my day’ for Treasure Valley Prays my mind was focusing on two different paths. One was how envious I have been feeling lately that other people are heading out on vacations and I’m not. I want to get out of town and head someplace fun or relaxing, but I just don’t feel like it is safe enough to do yet. Then I thought about how much time I had when the pandemic first started. I made a list of all of the odd jobs I wanted to get done around our house before we ‘got back to normal’. Little did I know….
Then I thought about this past Friday and I realized that something significant happened on Friday that affected a fairly large population in our country. Normally it would have been something that was a blip on my radar. I gave it a first thought but not really a second thought. But, as Bob Dylan said once, “the times they are a-changin”. So, I knew that I had to acknowledge it.
This past Friday, July 17, 2020, two giants of the Civil Rights struggle went to their eternal rest. One of them most of us are very familiar with, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), while the other one most of us probably have never heard of before, Rev. Cordy Tindale Vivian of Atlanta, GA. Both men were Baptist pastors. Both men were born and raised in the south. Both men fought for equal rights for Black Americans from the late 1950’s until their deaths on Friday. Both men received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Both men are icons in the Civil Rights struggle which has come once again to the forefront. Rep. Lewis was eighty years old. Rev. Vivian was ninety-five years old.
In most every way neither of these men had much impact or influence on my life. Which is why the name of C.T. Vivian was new to me. Yet to many of my sisters and brothers who skin is a different color than mine, these men were icons. President Obama, in a speech in 2007, called the Rev. Vivian “the greatest preacher ever to live.”
Had I not started to read “The Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism” by Dr. Drew G.I. Hart last week I would be writing on something completely different today. It was something he said in the first chapter (which is as far as I’ve read) that caused me to pause and reorient my focus for today.
Dr. Hart wrote about a conversation he had with a white, male colleague in a McDonald’s one afternoon. The colleague wanted to learn more about Hart’s experience in the black culture and he figured that Hart wanted to see the white culture from this colleague’s perspective. Hart had a revelation for his colleague. Dr. Hart explained that he had been living in the white culture his whole life. Most of his teachers in school, college, and clear through his PhD had been white. In school he had learned white history, white literature, white culture. He had learned well how to navigate in a ‘white’ world. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have achieved all that he had. He said that on the other hand, his colleague had never had to learn anything about black culture (dress, language, customs, food, hair, music, etc), black history or black literature in order to achieve what he had in life. What his friend hadn’t realized, what most of us have not realized, is how in this country and in many parts of the world, what is considered normal or mainstream comes out of the white, northern European culture. When you grow up white, as I did, you don’t see it. It is just history, or literature, or music.
It is why, at first, the death of two Civil Rights icons on Friday was only a blip on my screen. Why their lives and their deaths didn’t affect me the way I’m sure it has affected many of my black Christian and non-Christian sisters and brothers.
But I want to change. I want to be changed. I want to see how to respect and honor my sisters and brothers whose skin color doesn’t offer them the same opportunities, the same safety, the same history and future that mine does. For me it isn’t just a black and white issue. It is much more extensive than that. Which means that I can no longer ‘coast’ through life seeing people as one or two dimensional. I need to see people as Jesus saw them. He didn’t just see ‘Jew’ or ‘Gentile’. He saw multifaceted, beloved individual human beings. Or, as Dr. Hart has written, “the person committed to Jesus follows him to the margins and cracks of society”.
I will fail at this most of the time. But over time, if I am diligent, perhaps I can begin to live more days with my eyes and my heart open to the beautiful, deep, rich, cultural differences in each person around me.
As a start I will grieve with my black sisters and brothers as they mourn the deaths of two great men instead of telling myself it doesn’t concern me. Perhaps you will consider joining me on this journey.
Let us pray...
Creator God, you crafted a world full of diversity. Help us to keep our hearts, our minds, and our eyes open to the richness that such diversity brings into our own lives. Let us see each other, whatever our skin color, as the beautiful, equal, individuals that Jesus sees. Give us the courage to face our own failures in this endeavor and the strength to continue making the effort every day of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.