Though I tend to get a tick and highly suspicious when I hear the words, “That’s just the way we are,” or “We are just made that way or it’s in our genes and make up,” as I have pondered the last several days maybe there is some deep down truth to that notion.
I, and I suppose all of humankind, are victim of our environment? With all the recent unrest around Ferguson MO, the Middle East, Ukraine, and struggles here in the states and around the world, I have been pondering fear and especially fear of the other; fear of those who are different than me, than us. As I ponder I suppose early in our development and evolution it was or even is a part of our defense mechanism, our survival mode, to protect our tribe from outsiders, invaders, and enemies. Perhaps deep in the genetic make-up of who we are there is something that tells us we should be suspicious, leery, and wary, of those who do not look, think, act, or believe like us. I know I have been affected by that notion and the culture and society in which I was raised. Although I fight against it, there is still that part of me that finds more comfort and less anxiety when I am surrounded by those who are like me. It is unfortunate and most times, if not all times, my loss if I let that fear and anxiety shape how I interact and engage, or not, with those who are different, I believe diversity is a beautiful thing!
Over many years, and especially since I began my journey in the ordained ministry I have often tried to put myself in the shoes of those who have been historically and continue to be oppressed, discriminated against, and the victims of all the isms of our world so as to better understand. While I try to do that and as I preach and as I write even this pondering I recognize I speak of that which I do not know. I believe that is an important part my journey and understanding. I do not mention this to somehow justify my fear or deflect my own struggles; I mention it simply because I believe it is. And to perhaps say, admitting it is the first or an important step in the evolution of understanding and reaching out to make this world a better place in which to live.
I speak of that which I do not know because I have never been afraid, followed, watched, threatened, bullied, suspect, refused a job, oppressed, targeted, had pejorative slurs hurled at me, or denied my dreams simply because of the color of my skin, my religious beliefs, whether I may or may not have a green card, the clothes I wear, my nationality, my race, of whom I love and walk down the street hand in hand, or my gender. I am a white, middle class, protestant, straight, man, and for me to say racism, sexism, same-sexism, bigotry, ageism, and a whole host of other isms do not exist because I have not experienced them is one of the biggest isms that exist, not to mention a life and opinion void of compassion, empathy, and understanding.
As I continue to ponder it occurs to me that this isn’t just a race, gender, age, economic, orientation, or religious problem, this is a human problem. As long as we continue to see the other somehow less than us because they are different we will continue to have Ferguson’s, Stonewall’s, Newtown’s, War, gender inequality, and all the isms that continue to divide us and leave our children lying dead in the streets, both literally and figuratively.
Maybe this is our final evolutionary process as humankind; to find a way, a peaceful way to reach out to one another, to lay down our arms, to open our clenched fists, to find a way to and a place at the table for all, for all. Perhaps our final step of evolution is to see within each other the battles we are all waging against; to approach one another not in order to change or convince, but rather to understand and open ourselves to what we might learn from one another.
Maybe the reason this evolutionary process is the most difficult is because it isn’t going to happen by itself; it is a participatory one. I believe the Spirit is pressing us forward to embrace this diverse Way of being in the world, but we do not embrace change well. We all must find a way to let go of that survival instinct and come to a realization the only way to relinquish the fear is through love; open, honest, authentic love of one another. How will you embrace who you are? How will you acknowledge your assumptions, biases, and prejudices and reach out to the other, and discover what you might learn and how you might appreciate and even love those you do not understand? How will you? For change and openness does not depend on, nor even start with them, it begins with you…it begins with me. May it be so. May it be soon. Let us begin.
pondering…and hopefully evolving continues…