Thursday, October 13, 2005

What Can You Say? Part 3 – “Those who … speak the truth from their heart”

“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,
Andy B.


Anonymous said...

Brother Andy,
It's not a metaphor to say that what affects others affects you.
Racism has harmed you. and me. it limits our understanding and our vision.
While you are being touched and moved by the first-hand story of someone else's experience of violence in Guatemala, don't lose sight of your own relation to the story: here for instance. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
"If I had a personal stake in the issue... i.e. if I were gay" Oh, Andy. You have a personal stake in how straight men are allowed to act, feel, express, move, behave (and if you think anti-gay prejudice doesn't rigidly constrain that, think again). You have a personal stake in whether your church is deprived of the (ordained and lay) ministry of a subset of believing Christians who are in same-sex relationships. You have no idea who your children will grow up and fall in love with.
I have worked in nursing homes. I can tell you we don't take very good care of our elderly, anywhere. I can tell you most Americans under 65 believe that if they were to address this issue at all, it would have to be as some sort of crusading outsider advocate.
I can tell you that most Americans under 65 are eventually going to be over 65. And boy will they be surprised to discover that nobody improved our eldercare system while they were aging into it.
Poor people disproportionately live near toxic waste dumps. This means their kids get more cancer. It also means if you're not poor, you may not realize how thoroughly the water, land, and air that keep you alive are being poisoned until the destruction is nearly complete.
Owning your privilege is one step.
Recognizing that it doesn't save you from the consequences of injustice is a bigger one.
We are all in one boat, and if it goes down, being a straight white guy is not going to keep you dry.
-- your sister in law (and in Christ)

Dan Trabue said...

I agree with your sister-in-law above but even moreso, with your conclusion. YES! The answer is in solidarity. Not working FOR the poor and oppressed, not giving TO the needy, but becoming one WITH them.

It was Jesus' answer, after all.

Adam Caldwell said...

I'm trying to figure out who your sister in law is. Brad sure as heck isn't married. Unless that is something he has failed to mention to me.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous homosexual piping up here:

Also agreeing with your conclusion, and the comments, and adding, "If we're only roughly 10% (or whatever the most recent figure is) of the populace, how can we get any justice if only we 10% of the populace are fighting for it?"

Not that there's much stock in percentages.

Plus, we're apparently easy to dismiss, 10% or not. A heterosexual friend (I had to meet a quota) once said what the homosexual community needs is a good vocal heterosexual out there speaking up for them. I agree.

I think this applies to other injustices as well, although not all injustices happen to a minority of the populace.

Just wanted to add that... and because of the country I live in, and the part of the country I live in, and the times I live in, and the job I have, it does not behoove me to post this from outside the closet.

So fight on.

Dave Wood said...

We talk all of the time about people who come to church, or give money to the church, but they don't have a relationship with the church. You're right on about getting involved...whatever your position or condition in life. To qoute another cliche..."Do what you can with what you have."

John said...

You know that I, Rigoberta Menchu was a forgery, right?

Brad said...

Hey bro, it's little bro, I wonder if anyone has ever thought that aborting all the white babies would make crime go down too! I say again, these people need an island where Pat Robertson and Bennet and all the rest can just run free and not hurt anyone anymore.