Seeing Through Another Lens

I’m learning it starts with listening and empathy.

I’m writing to my white, conservative, Christian friends. Let’s listen. Let’s learn. If we want to make a difference when it comes racism—I do, and I hope you do—we need to listen. That may mean listening to a black friend, if they are willing to talk.

At the very least it means listening to a book, an article, a podcast, a video by someone who has experienced America differently than you and me. (And yes, there are people like that.)

Listening allows us to see life through someone else’s lens. It’s a bridge to empathy. Empathy means we put ourselves in their shoes, recognize their experiences and emotions, and communicate that we now see and hear them. And all this without the dreaded judgment of “but!

Listening is a bridge to empathy. Empathy means we put ourselves in their shoes, recognize their experiences and emotions, and communicate that we now see and hear them.

How often are you tempted to shout, “BUT!“? Or maybe “Wait!” “Hold on!” “This!” “That!” I get it. But when I grasp for all the verbal ammo I can to mount a defensive, it’s impossible to listen. And that makes it impossible to identify with someone’s pain. It reveals I’d rather be right than get it right.

We can’t afford to do that here.

As Christians, who have the Spirit of God in us, we have the power to do it. It’s not impossible to listen and empathize. In fact, it’s at the core of what God call us to be and do, by his grace. “In humility count others more important than yourselves, not looking to your own interests but the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:3-5).

There’s only one way to do this: listen and empathize.


Why Black Lives Matter

She left her water bottle at the well and sprinted into the village. Nearly out of breath, she gasped, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. He’s never met me before. How? Why? Could this man be the Messiah?”

Her life was turned upside down. That’s how it was when people met Jesus.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples rejoined him. What a day to remember. That woman’s whole village, of Samaritans no less, came to believe in Messiah! Jesus told his friends about how God was harvesting–that is, gathering–people from every ethnicity on earth to be a part of his family. Even among the Samaritans. And the disciples would reap the benefits, even though they didn’t lift a finger.

“But Jesus,” objected Peter, “Samaritans? They are, uh, unclean.”

“Half-breeds. Don’t trust ’em,” Matthew chimed in. “Can’t see it.”

“I’d only trust one as far as I can thrown one!” Andrew quipped. Other disciples chuckled. Some smirked but held in their laughs.

But Jesus didn’t laugh.

He looked each of the twelve right in their eyes, his face sad and stern.

“Samaritan lives matter,” he said.

No one said anything for half a minute. They seemed, well, flabbergasted. Samaritans?! Jesus waited, took a few sips of water and a bite of bread. Peter was the first to speak up. (He always is.)

“Master, we believe that all lives matter. It is written that in the beginning, ‘God made humans in his image.’ This is true. All lives matter.”

Jesus smiled at Peter in the way he did so often. It was a smile that pierced Peter’s soul.

“Samaritan lives matter,” Jesus repeated.

“Jesus, why do you have to say it like that?” asked Peter. “I mean, that seems to be really, well, Samaritan-centered. What about Jewish lives? Don’t our lives matter, too?”

“Peter,” Jesus said in the way only Jesus could, “isn’t it obvious to all of us right here that ‘all lives matter’? And that ‘Jewish lives matter’?”

“Yes, Rabbi, it’s obvious,” Peter said looking right back at Jesus.

“But what do you all think? Does the average Samaritan feel that his life matters to you–Peter, son of Jonah–or any Jewish man or woman for that matter?”

“I suppose not, Rabbi,” Peter admitted.

“And do you suppose that the maltreatment of, suspicions about, and snarky remarks toward Samaritans has caused this people, who are loved by God, to feel devalued and denigrated?”

“I suppose that’s true, Lord.”

“And, dear Peter,” Jesus said, “do you suppose that when you say, ‘All lives matter,’ and avoid saying ‘Samaritan lives matter,’ they still sense that you do not see them or hear them because you cannot even give them the dignity of identifying their uniqueness among all the peoples on the earth?”

“I suppose that, too, Master,” Peter said.

“And suppose you sensed that you loved and cared for one Samaritan, but another said to you, ‘I do not feel loved or cared for by your people.’ What matters more–how you feel about your actions or how they have received and perceived the actions of another Jew or Jews as a whole?”

“I suppose,” Peter said, “it’s the latter, Jesus.” This time, his head was hanging low.

“Peter, lift your head. Be encouraged. And hear me: Samaritan lives matter.”

I hope the point of this imaginative conversation is clear enough. Sometimes an experiment like this on a conversation that never happened–but could have–is helpful for me as I think about what Jesus still has to say to us today. It also reminds me that Jesus was a real person who had other conversations that weren’t recorded in the Bible.

If you have no idea of the context, Jews hated Samaritans. They considered them less-thans for a variety of religious, theological, and cultural reasons. Centuries of hate and discord. The situation is not parallel to what we are dealing with today in the United States. But the racist sin in the heart is.

You can read the actual account, as it’s recorded, in John 4.

Why, you might ask, did I pick on Peter? Well, the Bible is pretty honest about Peter’s struggle with discrimination against non-Jews. You can read more about it here and here.

And while you’re at it, consider that time Jesus asked a simple question to a man who couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan” out loud. It’s akin to saying, “All lives matter.” Of course “all lives matter.” But saying that is a convenient tactic to avoid the issue at hand. Black people have not felt honored, valued, and cared for by our system, by white people in general, and by particular white people. Neither you nor I get to determine what they have experienced and felt. This is their reality.

If you’re a Christian, we should be leading this charge with empathy and a soft heart ready to listen. Jesus is the One who brings together what is divided.

That’s why we need to get this right.

That’s why Black Lives Matter.