Last month I listened in to a conference call with Anthony Smith, who blogs at Musings of a Postmodern Negro. Anthony spared us some of his time to reflect on leadership in reference to power. The course tended to wrestle with gender issues. But, the matter of race is not too dissimilar. Some may argue, and with merit, African-Americans suffered a greater wound than women. Then again, if one has not walked in the shoes of a woman ….
We who shared in the call marveled at a perspective few could really grasp. Some may have wanted Anthony to feel better about life in American as an African-American and assert, “Some of my best friends are black.” Fortunately any such thoughts were kept from the conversation.
Anthony closed the conference call with suggestions for reading and listening from African-American culture. I could not help but think of the kind of value Newbigin suggests when he refers to someone who shares a different perspective as an “intruder.” (See, Proper Confidence) Those with differing view points intrude on our constructions of the way the world is and force something of an altering to include how others see life. To exclude the intruder is to risk not only potential valuable correctives but reduces the intruder to a nuisance, and so their experience less than human.
One writer Anthony suggested we read was James Baldwin. He, Anthony, mentioned the essay, “The Fire Next Time.” I picked up a copy of, Baldwin: Collected Essays. I began reading, “The Fire Next Time” and noticed it was written in 1963, the year I was born. Sitting in the doctor’s office I made it about half way through. A couple of quotes caught my attention.
The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have not other hope. The are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. (Baldwin,p.294)
And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. (Baldwin, p.294)
I at once thought of Will Willimon’s recent Christmas Eve message. We like to think we are the best characters in a story. We so want to identify with those whose experience seems akin to our own. The problem comes when we do not see our story clearly. For example, Willimon notes,
When I read the Christmas story, it is unfair for me to read myself into the places of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, or even the wise men. This was their home. They are under the heel of the Empire, their lives jerked around by imperial decrees.
I live in Rome with Caesar Augustus, or maybe in Jerusalem up at the palace with that King Herod, lackey for the Roman overlords. Iâ??d rather see myself as one of the relatives of Mary and Joseph. I wouldnâ??t mind being one of the shepherds, out working the night shift, surprised when the heavens filled with angels.
Identifying with Mary or Joseph is akin to suggesting, “Some of my best friends are black.” It is to assert some false connection. It outright denies our own place in our own story. The best we can do when entering another’s story is as Baldwin suggests, and I might add finds place in the way of Jesus, love. Jesus reiterated the long standing command to love our neighbor. The Apostle Paul concluded loving our neighbor sums up the whole Law.
Resisting the shaping of a culture, an economy, a politic, or a social construct may best be done by loving others. Entering another’s story in love creates a deconstructive opportunity giving birth and life to a re-constituted way of life calling for repentance and faith and relationship with and in Christ.