I love it (in a very painful kind of way) when wise leaders remind me of the danger of considering and valuing only my perspective and that of those most like me. I honestly can’t help it that I spend all day with me, so that’s that. As my father in law would say, “It is what it is,” and that is true. Being with me all day long is not ever a negative thing because it’s as involuntary as my heart beating. But the other half of the above reminder is much more wounding, because it’s SO much more comfortable and easy to be with those most like me; and it unfortunately is not involuntary but chosen every day. It does feel natural, but Jesus has already informed me in a million different ways the scathing truth that so much of what feels natural to me is that way because I’m rebellious and depraved and don’t know better until I humble myself and listen.
The danger, you see, of only being around and listening to those most like us is how we marginalize the perspectives, challenges, and needs of those not like us. When these other voices consistently remain outside our self-built walls to maintain group identity, we can be tempted to believe they do not exist. At the very least, the longer we ignore others in this way, the more their voice fades in importance for us.
In the below quote from his book The Dangerous Act of Loving your Neighbor, Mark Labberton lays bare the temptation of tribalism and calls us to see others as Jesus did; being willing to honor those must unlike us (like the Samaritan woman at the well), believing that in thoughtful listening, we will be affected and changed. There is much power in naming, and much positive, redemptive, painful value in being careful of how and who we name that which we see.
We name what we see in terms that reflect value, meaning, position, relationship…the problem is that you and I name without caution, justification or reason – let alone justice – as we move through life every day. Most naming occurs in ordinary moments, It happens as we respond to fellow drivers, as we stand in line, as we meet people, as we watch tv, as we read the newspaper, as we look at our peers…it is the most ordinary stuff of daily human interaction. In our name for one another for better and for worse, lies the evidence of what is in our hearts. Our distorted sight of God, ourselves and our neighbors leads us to name wrongly…when a human being is mis-seen and then mis-named, the soil of injustice reveals its destructive fertility.” (111-112)
– Mark Labberton –
This quote stands in a long line of others testifying to me like a living crowd of witnesses, leading me to change what I have always considered to be true. One of the things I am now coming to believe is that a church’s legacy is best defined by asking the questions,
“If our presence ceased to exist in this neighborhood tomorrow, how would we be remembered? Would we be remembered as a subculture that required others taking the risky step of approaching us to become like us, or as an open culture of embrace defined by simple acts of care and companionship?”