empathymatters tinapostaagaard

Prejudice makes me sad.

In the work our ministry does in the homeless community and in those of need of assistance, a significant number of the folks that require help are of color – you pick the color – but not white. These groups of people statistically suffer from higher unemployment rates, higher rates of homelessness and higher rates of incarceration. There is nothing to be confused about. We as a people we have created this circumstance; then when a person of color is seen as a victim of abuse at the hands of authorities, it irritates the raw nerve of society. We should not be surprised.

The men and women of law enforcement work at their own peril, at times, to keep order in our society and protect us from those who would otherwise harm, steal or kill us. Our public servants deserve respect. Police officers often work long hours, are moved often from shift to shift requiring frequent changes in their sleeping habits and are paid often times as little as teachers (another wrong for another blog). So it’s also no surprise that when placed under the lens of scrutiny of public opinion they push back. I get it. And I am not surprised. This is a sometimes impossible role we’ve asked our public servants to fill.

The behavior of oppressing a group of people in a vain attempt to elevate ourselves is a long standing practice.

We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan. Good guy heading down the road stops and helps an injured traveler when the “righteous” people pass him by. At the time Jesus tells this story it would be understood that the Samaritans were a half-breed race, seen by the Jews as being polluted and un-pure both by blood and religious practice. Local Jews often took the long way around Samaria when traveling just to avoid the place.

In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul opposes Cephas when he begins to act differently toward the Gentiles (non-Jews) once the Jews come to town. Cephas is ministering to and hanging out with the Gentiles at first, then reverses field and insists that the Jewish traditions are to be followed, even by the Gentiles. Paul put the hammer down after several folks were led astray, by making the right statement that we are justified (meaning found not guilty) through our faith in Jesus and by nothing else. Not our traditions, the good stuff we do for other people – nothing else – but the blood of Jesus sets us from our past mistakes. Up until then, the Jews thought they had an advantage over all others because of all their religious traditions.

We’ve been doing this for thousands of years. It’s in the record. We’re guilty.

I think when others get upset it’s because in their mind they’ve been wronged. They’ve been disrespected. They are being held back or unfairly judged. Either way, they are upset and ignoring or disrespecting those feeling simply makes things worse.

It’s a long-term, challenging problem, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I’d like to do about it in my own life.

I don’t consider myself racist. I am Caucasian. I love all people of all colors and all backgrounds. Frankly, I find people different than me more interesting than people “like” me. But what I don’t do naturally is empathize. I see the news stories and hear about the problems but I don’t take the time to try to understand. I haven’t often asked one of my friends of color how they feel about their circumstances. How do they feel about the shootings in Ferguson, Baton Rouge or Minneapolis? And what would they like from me? I will being to pray for people that are oppressed, get involved when I can and initiate a dialogue with those that I need to learn to understand better. I need to learn to empathize which will in turn change my attitudes and drive me to initiate dialogue and action to support those that are oppressed.

That’s at least a place for me to start. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m intent on not joining the host of people in history that have summed up entire groups of people based on a characteristic that has nothing to do with the associated behavior or trait.

I aim to be more empathetic.

[photo credit: tinapostaagaaard.com]

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