“O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.”
(Psalm 15, NRSV)
To start part 3, I’d like to go back to the instigating case from part 1 of this trilogy. Bill Bennett makes a blatantly racist remark, to which people react. Leonard Pitts says, “That is racist.” Andy Bryan says, “That is racist.” When Leonard Pitts says it, it sounds somehow different than when I do. Yes, I know that he is a nationally syndicated columnist who could out-write me with one hand tied behind his computer and I’m just a Midwestern Methodist preacher with internet access. But his reaction sounds different for other reasons, also.
I think it is because he is speaking the truth from his heart, whereas I am speaking the truth without benefit of that resource. I do not have access to Leonard Pitts’ heart. His naming of the racism draws upon the pain and brokenness of his own heart, his own life experience, his own encounter with injustice. And that resource adds depth and power to his testimony.
I, too, am speaking from the heart, but my heart is just not as full as his. My heart has not been broken as often and as personally as his. My heart feels the pain of racism only empathetically. Empathy is an important resource, to be sure. But it doesn’t hold a candle to experience.
Preparing for an immersion trip to Guatemala while a seminary student, my class read books like I, Rigoberta Menchu, and Guatemala: Never Again and The Certainty of Spring by poet Julia Esquivel. The purpose of this exercise was to prepare us for the experience, give a little background of the Guatemalan story, and foster the beginnings of an understanding of the horrifically violent situation in the impoverished, exploited country. I soon learned that reading a book that tells a story about the massacre of an entire village is not the same as sitting in a small house hearing a woman tell the same story from first-hand experience with tears running down her face, the smell of corn tortillas cooking, the sounds of children playing outside, an eternally Spring breeze wafting through the open doors. So when I speak against the injustice that has been a part of Guatemalan life for the past four decades, I can do so with someone’s face in my memory. I speak from a heart that is a little bit fuller, a little bit more broken than it would be had I merely an academic knowledge of the situation.
SO: (and here I am going to attempt to be constructive. Ready?)
The difference is RELATIONSHIP. The best thing I can do with my unrequested, undeserved power and privilege is to be in relationship with those who do not have such. Pick the cliché – get outside of your comfort zone, expand your horizons, think outside of your box, even “enter the rainbow” – whatever you feel better with. The point is (and here I begin preaching to myself, as well) to enter into relationship with people radically other than you, and recognize the inherent worth of all human beings as children of God no matter what their station in life. Sit down with someone, have a meal, talk, be honest, look someone in the eye, shake their hand warmly, smile, laugh, cry, share stories. Especially seek relationship with the powerless, the oppressed, the prisoner, the sick, the outcast, acknowledging (confessing?) all the while the privilege that makes it even possible for you to do so in the first place.
Then, drawing upon the newly discovered resource of relationship, speak the truth from your heart! A heart that is now a little bit fuller, a little bit deeper. Tell the stories you now know. Speak without slander, evil, or reproach. Speak with integrity, respect, and honesty. Speak for God’s justice to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Speak out because your heart is so full that to not speak would cause it to burst. Speak the truth from your heart with the love of God as your guide, and you shall never be moved.
Grace and Peace,