From the book
CARING ENOUGH TO CONFRONT #3
By David Augsburger
I would change….(if l could)
I ought to be better….(but I'm not)
I should be able to move free….(but I'm helpless)
I wish things were different….(but it's hopeless)
What do I really want?….(I can't say, I'm too busy playing helpless and hopeless)
Experiencing the Freedom to Change
It's 2 a.m. You're stark awake, lying in bed reliving the day's work. You give up trying to sleep, stick a leg out of bed. . .walk out to the living room. . .oooh. . .you kick a toe against a piece of furniture in the dark. Then you stand, leaning against the windowsill, rubbing your foot, looking out at the lights of the city. So this is what you get. You drive yourself all day. Can't sleep nights. Is this all life has for you? Long days? And even longer nights? Where's the enjoyment, the sense of meaning you once felt? "God, there's got to be more to life than this senseless routine."
You stop suddenly, surprised to discover that you're praying. "I feel so—God, but I feel alone. If I could just talk this out with my wife, if I had just one friend who mirrored what I feel. . . .1 need something, someone to talk with— Where do I start?"
Why confront when change occurs rarely and slowly if at all?
Why confront when people are largely the products of their pasts, when persons are the consequences of their early childhood development, when humans are basically conditioned by their social situation?
What's the point in confrontation if minimal change, growth, adaptation are to be expected from the adult human?
"You can't change human nature!" True? On the contrary, humans are the creatures with the gift of changing, growing, creating and recreating behaviors.
To learn is to change. To learn is integrative, not additive, so all real learning involves a change of one's core self. Change, and the ability to continue the change process, is at the center of our humanness, our aliveness, our uniqueness as children of God.
Focus your mind on one of your friends. Choose a friend whom you respect most. Someone who has gifts you admire, convictions you envy and the courage to live them now. There. You have a face in mind. Now let's imagine what that person might make of your life if he had the opportunity.
Are you ready for the fantasy?
It's morning. You've just pasted your toothbrush and begun a vigorous brushing when you catch sight of yourself in the mirror. It is not your familiar face that peers back, but your friend's. The toothbrush clatters into the basin. You stand, openmouthed in dazed unbelief. How often you've said, "I wish I were in his or her shoes for just one day, and he/she in mine. I'd like to see someone else face what I put up with every day."
Now it's happened. Somewhere, just now, another person is facing your face in the mirror, going down to eat your breakfast, driving your car to your job, interacting with your friends, living today with the results of your decisions made in a thousand yesterdays.
The best person you know has just moved into your life, where it is, as it is.
What changes will be made?
Will a fresh viewpoint make a real difference?
Will a new spirit of hope and optimism infect your job, your friends, your work?
Will the abandonment of worn-out habits of thought and action make a change in your life and the lives of your associates?
Will one day's practice of new behavior patterns really make a difference in the world you normally touch?
What are the differences? Are they differences you want now? Changes you need now?
What is stopping you from making those changes? How are you keeping yourself from being the different person your work needs, your world needs, you need?
How are you stopping yourself?
You are stopping yourself from becoming all you can be.
You are free to change if you choose. Change as a person, change in your power-to-live, change in claiming your potentials.
To say that change is improbable, impossible, to say, "I can't change," is to nurture the false fantasy that my life is controlled by fate. The script for such a life-style goes like this:
I had no voice in my birth.
I had no choice in my parents, my family, my community.
I grew up in a vise. I couldn't breathe, move, grow.
I had no say about anything.
I had to stay in line, no back talk, no negotiation.
By the time I was five, my personality was formed.
By the time I was a teenager, it was all decided.
I was determined, my character was set.
I never had a chance.
Not enough love, support, trust, faith.
Not the parenting, training, models for maturing.
Not a good education, choice of vocation.
Not one chance to change it.
Not a single opportunity to be different.
It's all in the stars/cards/genes/fates/script/conditioning.
I live with all the wrong breaks, no luck.
I'll die when my number comes up, and that's that.
I never had a chance.
I've no choice.
I can't help it.
A police car pulls up under the street light in front of the town hall-police station combination in a small Midwestern town. Two deputies pull a disheveled girl from the back seat. She flinches under their rough handling. A crowd of men follow them into the office of the justice of the peace.
"We caught this hippie slut sleeping in a haystack with two long-haired apes. They got away. But she's gonna get it for all three of 'em."
"Whatta we do to her?" someone asks.
"Wait'll the J.P. gets here; we'll find out."
''The little tramp. She oughta be horsewhipped to an inch of her life. That usta be the law around here."
A man pushes through the crowd. He kneels beside the terrified, weeping girl.
"Have a little pity," he says gently, looking up at the hard, leering circle of faces.
"Okay, stranger," a deputy demands, "what do you say we do to her? We caught her in the hay with a couple of homy hippies. Don't you think she oughta have it beaten out of her?"
The man straightens up. "The one of you who is without fault, let him strike the first blow," he says evenly, looking from face to face.
An old man is first to leave. Then another. And others. The room empties. Only the man remains with the girl, still lying sobbing on the floor.
"Where are all your accusers?" the man asks. "Has no one struck you?"
"No, no one," she replies.
"I don't condemn you either," he says gently. "You may go. You're not stuck to the old script. You're free to live a new way. You don't need to repeat all this again." (Compare John 8:1-11.)
Can people change? Can life be different?
Wrong questions. Wrong words. Wrong viewpoint. It's not "can we" but "will we."
Strength is available. Change is possible. Whenever a man or a woman accepts responsibility for where she or he is (that's often called confession) and chooses to make a change (that's often called repentance) and reaches out for the strength of God and the accepting love of some significant other persons (that's often called conversion), then change begins.
Yesterday I hurt a friend with quick words that cut too deeply. I am responsible for that. I am choosing to relate to that person in a more gentle way in the future. I am responsible for this new way of behavior. This is repentance. I own responsibility for my part in what was unsatisfactory behavior. I accept responsibility for my part in what is and what will be new behavior. Repentance is owning responsibility for what was, accepting responsibility for what is, and acting responsibly now.
Repentance is responsible action. It is not a matter of punishing ourselves for past mistakes, hating ourselves for past failures, and depressing ourselves with feelings of worthlessness. Repentance is becoming aware of where my responsibility begins and ends, and acting responsibly. Repentance is finishing the unfinished business of my past and choosing to live in new ways that will not repeat old unsatisfactory situations.
''You didn't want me,'' the girl said to her mother. ''You have never wanted me." For 14 years the girl has lived under the burden of a thoughtless word. "We weren't expecting twins so the second one came as a great shock." The mother's comment, overheard by the little girl at play, was her earliest memory. Feeling unwanted, she withdrew. The mother, not understanding, left her to her loneliness.
Now that she's aware, what's the mother to do? Punish herself for her lack of awareness? Hate herself for the damage done to a sensitive girl?
Neither would be helpful to either.
She can repent. Which is to own the responsibility for her part in neglecting and ignoring her daughter. And be responsible now. She can say, "I wanted you. You are precious. I want to be close to you now." And act responsibly now. She can plan new ways of being close, new times for listening and conversation, new ways of reaching out to say, "I care. Watch me. See how much I care."
I know a father who sat helpless while his sons were growing through their teenage years. "They won't obey me. There's nothing I can do. I'm a failure as a dad," he would say. Meanwhile, the boys grew bitter at his lack of strength, his unwillingness to stand up to them, his softness when challenged.
What's the father to do?
He can repent. Which is to own his responsibility for copping out on his sons, recognize how he is avoiding all confrontation with them, and stand up alongside them. He can care enough to confront them with his own strength. (He has strength enough. He's been using a lot of it to protect himself.) He can love them enough to let them test their budding strength against his, prove their decision making ability by matching it with his.
This is repentance. Owning responsibility for what has been, wasting no time in self-punishment or self-hate, and getting on with the kind of behavioral changes that accept responsibility for what really is now, and what can be.
For example, you can say, "I was wrong. I made a mistake. I'm starting over." Or if your life-style has been a constant apology for living, you're free—in grace-—not to apologize, to say, "I'm accepted. I'm all right now. It's okay to be me. I don't need to apologize for living. I'm loved."
The capacity to repent determines our capability to love and forgive and our ability to receive love and accept forgiveness. It is the growing person who can honestly say, "I have done wrong. I own it. It was my action. I am responsible for it. I am choosing to end that way of behaving. I am choosing to live in a new way."
The capacity to repent is directly related to our willingness to see. You've got to see how it really is before you can truly take repentant responsibility. It takes courage to see what truly is in our relationships. We are afraid and rightly so. Usually we are afraid for the wrong reason. We tell ourselves, "If I let myself see what really is, all will collapse." It is not so. We can dare to see things as they are as far as we can be aware; and see we must. It's the only way to grow.
Our real fear could well be that things will not collapse, that things will not change, that we're likely to repeat the same errors over and over again, that, unless we own our mistakes responsibly and take responsibility to change, we'll be stuck forever where we are now.
"Somewhere along the way I missed it," you say. You're standing in the doorway to your son's room, looking at the empty bed. It's 2 a.m. God knows where he is. Or what he's up to now. "I don't know how or where it started, but I blew it as a dad. I really blew it." You stand, head against the doorframe, going back through the past 17 years, wishing you'd done the other thing. Any other thing. And hurting. For your son and for yourself. So here you are stewing in your own guilt over mistakes you made in parenting. When wrong and guilt and anger build to the breaking point, you take it out on your son again.
"What if I told him where I hurt instead of telling him what's wrong with him?" you ask yourself. "What if I told him that I care instead of cutting him down? I get in this cycle of—I feel guilty about my son—so I get angry at my son—so I feel guiltier and I get angrier. Admitting where I am could be at least a first step to freedom.
Repentance—in the full Christian meaning of the word— is a process. It's a thawing out of rigid life-styles into a flowing, moving, growing, repenting process.
Repentance is living in the open honesty called vulnerability.
Repentance is growing in the decisive honesty we call responsibility. Both of these are processes. They continue as long as life continues.
To be a repenting person, I can choose to live in open, honest vulnerability before both God and community, and in clear, decisive responsibility to both God and community. This is repenting as a growing life-style. It is growth.
A word on vulnerability.
Vulnerability is letting repentance touch my defenses. If I need to admit to you that I make mistakes, I freeze. If I am about to be honest about my failures, my sudden fear is that I will lose your respect, your trust, perhaps your friendship. It's likely not due, of course, but my inner defenses keep telling me that it is so.
But repenting—honest owning of my own fears in voluntary vulnerability—creates trust, makes respect possible, and builds friendship.
(I speak not of self-depreciation done either in self-hate or false humility, but of simple owning of my own experience for what it is.)
Repentant vulnerability initiates, I discover, the most consistently beautiful and meaningful experiences in human relationships. People are lovable when vulnerable. People are believable when vulnerable. People come to life as real, living, breathing, hurting, feeling, laughing, singing, growing beings when they are vulnerable.
But the price is practicing a life-style of repenting, not pretending. No person ever achieves safe-and-serene invulnerability. But we can pretend it. We can dream that it is possible, work to make it probable in our own lives, and carry on as if we are carrying it off. But we never arrive. Our pronouncements continue to be questioned. Our pretenses are constantly suspect. Our claimed expertise is never beyond criticism. We are vulnerable. We feel it even as we deny it. We might as well affirm it. Own our vulnerability.
Vulnerability is letting repentance replace my old defense strategies with simple honesty, simple openness, simple willingness to change and grow.
Second, a word on responsibility
Responsibility is letting repentance touch my decisions and turn my actions in new directions.
Repentance is responsible action. As I say this, I am aware that most persons hear the word "responsible" as a command, "You're responsible," made by some authority—either conscience within us or some controlling force without.
But the real meaning of the word is response-ability—the ability to respond. Persons with responsibility are persons in touch with their own ability to respond to others in free, vulnerable honesty.
I am finding that as I choose to be vulnerable to others in admitting who I am, where I've failed, how I hurt, and what I truly want in life, that the strength to respond in new ways— the response-ability—is there. Some of it is my own strength. Much more of it is the strength of God's Spirit within. (Who of us knows where the one ends and the other begins. We are only thankful that strength, courage, endurance, and patience are there. These are the abilities-to-respond.)
Repentance—open vulnerability, honest response-ability—is a continuous, ongoing process in Christian living. I want it to be at the center of my life-style. It's the key to growth, to relationship, to witness to God's work in human experience.
Repentance is hope. Hope that change is possible. Hope that I can be forgiven, loved, accepted by both God and my fellows if I only own what I've done and where I am. Hope that life can be new.
The capacity to see clearly where you are— the responsibility to own fully what you've done— the willingness to act decisively now in new ways— the courage to follow through in new behavior— this is repentance. Active (not passive). Acting (not just thinking, or feeling). Acts! (Not just good intentions or fine emotions.)
I've repenting to do, daily. I expect you may have a bit of it to do too. I'm expecting it of myself. It's the natural order of things for the growing person. Owning what and where I've been, choosing what and where I shall be going. Expect it of yourself. Plan it for yourself. Make it a normal part of living. Risk it. It's the key to life.
When Jesus came among us His first words were, "The kingdom of God is at hand" (the kingdom of right relationships is here). "Repent and believe the gospel" (turn, change, believe that you are free to love and be loved). As Phillips translates these words, "The time has come at last—the kingdom of God has arrived. You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15, Phillips).
The wino looked up as he felt the hand on his shoulder. A dozen men had walked into his alley, stopped, circled around him.
"Sir," one said to the man who seemed to be in charge, "whose fault is it that this man is a wino? His own? Did his wife drive him to drink? Or was it his parents?''
"Forget the blaming games," the leader replied. "Ask instead, Where can he go? What can he do now?'' Reaching out, he put his fingers under the man's stubbly chin. Their eyes met, caught, held. "Come on," he said, "you're free to leave skid row. Here's a five. Go on over to the Y, shed your rags, shower, shave, and go home." Two hours later the man got off the bus in his old neighborhood.
"Hey, look. Isn't that Wino Willie?" an old neighbor asked.
"Can't be," another replied. "He's rotting in some alley by now.
"Sure looks like him."
"Yep," said Willie, "it's me!"
"Dunno. This man says to me, 'Willie, you're free. Go on home. You're okay again!' I did. Here I am. I'm okay."
By this time a crowd had gathered. Family, old friends, two social workers, a probation officer, several local clergymen, a news reporter.
"What's going on?" they all asked. "What's with you?"
''Well, nine o'clock this morning I'm just sleeping off my hangover from last night's half gallon of muscatel, and I'm feeling like the DT's are coming back, when this guy and his friends come up the alley. He talked to me like I was people. Told me I'm okay. Said I was free to put the old life behind me. I could go. I did. Here I am."
"You're putting us on," someone yelled.
"Yeah, it's a hoax. You weren't really a wino. What's your angle?"
"No angle," the guy replied. "I've been splotched for years. Now I'm sober."
"Impossible," a clergyman snapped. "Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic."
"Could be," the man replied. "This I do know. Once I was wet, now I'm dry."
"Tell us again what happened," the crowd demanded.
''Why? Are you open to changing too? You want to taste a little of this freedom to be different?''
"Change? Nothing doing! You can't change human nature. You're no different. Just wait and see. You're Wino Willie and you always will be! Get out. Go back where you came from."
The downtown bus pulled in. Willie shrugged his shoulders, got on.
Back on the city street, one block from the bus depot, Willie ran into the man and bis group of friends.
"They say I'm no different, that I can't change," Willie said. "I guess they're right. There really isn't any hope."
"What do you think?" the man asked.
"Me? I dunno. But I felt today like I really am different, like God touched me, like I really can be free. Like it's okay to be me."
"That's all true. You can go on being free. And God is with you, see?"
"Yes, I think I see. But my family, my friends, why don't they see it?"
''None are so blind as those who will not see!" (Compare John 9:1-41.)
For Further Experience
1. When you feel you're up against a wall, and unable to change, consider Reinhold Niebuhr's classic prayer:
God grant me the serenity
To accept things I cannot change,
Courage to change things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Exercise that wisdom. Which things can you change?
How? Here and now? Arrange them in two columns.
I cannot change I can change
my age my youthfulness
my sex my awareness of sexuality
my family my family relationships
2. In owning, repenting, and finishing past experiences affirm to yourself, to a significant other person, to God with this person that
(1) I do not deny the facts of my own past experiences, I do not need to overlook them, I will not distort and justify them. They are past expressions of my freedom to be me. They are no longer me. I am forgiven. I am free.
(2) I here and now take responsibility for making my own decisions (I want information from others, I want understanding love from those near to me, I want to be aware of the way of Jesus), but I am fully responsible for my choices—satisfying or not—and I accept the consequences of my own behavior.
(3) I recognize and respond to "God at work within me—giving me both the will to do and the power to perform." I own and choose "to work out this salvation with a proper sense of awe and responsibility.” (paraphrase of Phillips' version of Phil. 2:12,13).
I used to be a bit biased myself . (Now I have this thing about all biased people, they bug me.)
I used to be prejudiced myself. (Now I can't stand prejudiced people who can't accept others who differ from them.)
I used to hate the guys that smoke. (Now I hate the guys who hate the guys that smoke.)
What Has It Done for You Lately?
"Talk about going after every cent you got," you say to the guys over lunch. "You gotta count your fingers to see if you've got 'em all when you leave the clothing store at the mall." You grin appreciatively as the fellows chuckle. Then it hits you. That line was a direct quote from long ago by your dad. A rerun of his racial feelings.
"I don't dig replaying my dad's racist lines," you admit to yourself, "but it's a matter of habit. Those old family scripts get rerun in me like they were on tape. And I don't recognize the stale dialogue until I hear it out loud.
"I'm going to start listening for those old tapes," you decide. "When I hear them I can stop, even if it's in the middle of a line, and start over. I'm not stuck with the prejudiced attitudes I caught at home. I can choose my words. I can choose new ways of feeling toward people of different backgrounds."
Clear confrontation of another's prejudices requires that I be aware of, and wary of, my own. Before I dare address another on his bias or her intolerance, I need to recognize my ever present tendencies to slant the issues, skew my conclusions, and shape my viewpoints in favor of my kind, my kin, etc.
I need to deal with my own prejudging—whether it be radical, liberal, conservative, or apathetic. I am all of these on different issues. I am in process of changing and being changed. I may be useful in challenging other's opinions.
Somewhere the ideas began—
that whites think they have divine rights,
that blacks are violent, power-driven,
that Indians are unimportant, dispensable,
that Mexicans are lazy, irresponsible,
that Polacks are stupid, slow-witted,
that Russians are malicious, dishonest,
that Italians are emotional.
Where did the ideas begin? I can't recall who first implanted the stereotypes in my mind. Can you identify how these and their many variants first came to you?
No matter how, where, when I learned them, if the stereotypes of prejudice are with me now, I am responsible. If they are still with you, you are responsible. Such ideas stay with us because we choose to keep them with us. We indoctrinate ourselves with strange ideas such as, "Black people are biologically different from whites," or, "Minority people are shiftless, lazy, and not to be trusted."
To keep alive such assumptions as though they were facts, we simply keep repeating them, keep telling ourselves that they are true, keep slipping them into casual conversations:
“Minority children seem to have lower IQs.”
"The Indian has contributed little to our world."
"The race problem in America is essentially a black problem."
"The race problem in Canada is an Indian problem."
The words are empty. We know it as we hear them. Yet the repetition serves to convince ourselves that our prejudices are still serviceable. They aren't.
You met the Roberts at a neighbor's backyard barbecue. They are the first blacks you've known—on a personal, family, social basis. You enjoyed them. But you were uncomfortable. You caught yourself checking on how the man was looking at your wife. You felt anxious and distant. So you're just becoming aware of how deep your prejudice runs? You do buy into the old stereotypes—like blacks are sexual athletes, they aren't safe around white women; they have no motivation to work; their fingers are long. "Where do all these old lines come from?" you wonder.
"From me," you admit. "They're part of my memory bank. I call them up. I reindoctrinate myself, reaffirm such ideas each time I think or mouth them. Maybe if I talked about my prejudices with the Roberts themselves, they could help me.
"Me? Receive help from them?" There's another old prejudice. "Yes. Why not?" you say.
Prejudice is any collection of negative feelings based on erroneous judgments which are not readily changed even in the face of data which disproves them.
Prejudice is any set of negative valuations based upon a faulty and inflexible generalization.
The process of forming these generalizations called prejudices flows as follows:
We categorize to maintain our sanity. Grouping things, thoughts, and people into classes is necessary in order to handle the complexity of our world. The trap lies in our tendency to exaggerate differences between groups on a particular characteristic and to minimize the differences within all groups.
We stereotype to maintain our equilibrium. It throws us off balance to constantly be observing differences, so we attribute certain traits to large human groups. Often these are images chosen to justify a negative feeling—fear, threat, inferiority. It is a head theory to support what the heart wants to make true.
We sanitize all incoming data to maintain purity of opinions. By being selective on what we expose ourselves to, we automatically limit our contacts and possibilities. By being selective with attention, we unconsciously exclude all incompatible data. By being selective in our recall, we drop out conflictual facts. So only supportive evidence is admitted and any contradiction is seen as an exception to the rule which goes to prove the rule.
So we discriminate in feeling, men in thought process, then in action. And the contradictions go unnoticed.
For example, the traits considered a virtue in the groups we like (because we are like them) are seen as a vice when observed in members of unlike groups. If one is a white-Anglo-Saxon protestant, he or she will admire Lincoln for being thrifty, hardworking, eager to learn, ambitious, successful. In a Jew, such traits would be called stingy, miserly, driven, uncharitable, etc.
What beliefs, attitudes, generalizations and stereotypes I carry with me into the next moment are my choice. What prejudices and biases I keep with me are my responsibility. I am free—if I'm willing to accept the freedom inherent in humanness—to leave the past and its self-serving opinions behind me.
I have racist attitudes. I don't like discovering them in myself, so I've become expert at biding and denying them. Now I know that freedom and healing come as I can own these attitudes, admit my inner confusion, confess my apathy, discard my myths, and make a change.
Life changes from moment to moment. I too can change, unless I choose to be stuck with or to stick by old, narrow, self-defeating ideas and ways of behaving. Healing can come as I become willing to risk the pain of letting go of what I've clung to. Or hung onto. Prejudice is a bulldog grip. It is clenched teeth. It is a spiteful bite that grips the past and its stale ideas as a protection against the present and its realities. It is hanging onto the imaginary security of fantasies that "me and my kind" are superior in some way.
Healing follows a willingness to risk seeing, admitting, smiling at and saying good-bye to old generalizations. Then healing, forgiveness, love, and reconciliation happen.
What is prejudice doing for you? What has it done for you lately? Think "Chicano," what image do you have? Of a short, fat, chili-and-tortilla-eating, lazy, uneducated Mexican-American?
False. Chicanos do not breakfast on tacos and tamales. Chicanos are as concerned with life-work-education-community relationships as any other group. Chicanos have as much to contribute as any other ethnic group in America. We will all be made poorer if we refuse to receive it.
Think "Indian," what image do you have? Of a dependent, dishonest alcoholic, who lives on government money? That's untrue, unfair, and unfounded. Indians have made as great a contribution to our cultures as any group in Canada or the United States.
What are we doing with such prejudices? May I suggest we are excusing ourselves for (1) being unmoved by injustice done to others, (2) withdrawing from human need into indifferent safety, (3) enjoying our wealth without admitting that our gain often demands another's loss, (4) demanding government programs that profit our kind and class while depressing others. And that's only the beginning.
What have your prejudices done for you lately?
Excused indifference about the whites-only policy in your neighborhood, apartment building, business, or club? [THIS BOOK WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 1973 - Keith Hunt]
Justified your doing business with restaurants, barber shops, motels, and recreational facilities that welcome only white-Anglo-Saxon-worthies?
Maintained your church as a lily-white organization supporting the status quo?
Bolstered sagging self-confidence by putting down those who are never present to defend themselves?
What function do prejudices perform for you?
They serve some end or they would likely be dropped and forgotten. Become aware of what you're doing with your collection of racial labels and stereotypes. When you become aware— truly aware—of what you are doing and how you are doing it, you have a choice. You can choose to quit it. Or you can choose to excuse it and continue it.
Let your mind float freely for the next minute and fantasize with me. lt’s morning. You're rubbing the sleep from your eyes after punching the alarm clock to silence when you notice your hands. They're brown. Not their natural tan but a deep dark brown. (Or if you're naturally black, imagine that the hands you hold in front of your eyes are suddenly white.) You stumble out of bed and stand staring in dumb disbelief into the mirror. You're black. (White.) Overnight through some unexplainable freak act of fate you've become another, the other race. The bacon-coffee smells of breakfast tell you that your wife (husband) is in the kitchen. What will she say or do as you enter? Will her eyes scream rejection? Will she recover with that phony smile (too wide, too long, too many teeth showing) that signals rejection while it speaks acceptance? The smile you've often given to people of other races?
The men in your car pool, they'll be stopping by for you in 30 minutes. What will they say? And at the office will there be a new distance separating you from your fellow workers? Will the job still be yours by tonight?
What of your friends? Will they be just as close as before? Your racist brother-in-law, how will you get along with him? And then there's your church, will you be welcome now? Or will the cold shoulder move you on to the side aisles and out of the door in a short time?
You look closely at yourself in the mirror. You've got to go out and face the world, but right now you're not happy about facing yourself, being the self you are becoming.
Do you find fantasies such as this distasteful? Threatening? Uncomfortable? Do you prefer to avoid discovery of things about yourself and your feelings toward other races?
To be able to see things from another's point of view is to be truly human, to be fully alive.
To be willing to see life from others' perspectives is to begin to understand them and to know yourself.
To be concerned about experiencing life from the vantage points—or disadvantage points—of other races and groups is to begin to awaken to life, to the world about you, to responsibility and to love.
Paul has some incisive words at this point. ''Look to each other's interest and not merely to your own . . . If. . .life in Christ yields anything to stir the heart . . . any warmth of affection or compassion . . .[try] thinking and feeling alike, with the same love for one another, the same turn of mind, and a common care for unity''(Phil 2:4,1-3, NEB).
"Try on another's skin. Listen until you hear his or her point of view. Then get inside it. See how it fits for size. See how it feels to be there where he or she is. See what love is asking you to do."
Hubert Schwartzentruber, a pastor in inner-city Saint Louis, speaks with a prophetic voice on linking Christian love and understanding to Christian action.
"The best gauge to determine what another's needs are is to take a look at what one's own needs are. I want to be free to make my decisions. If we then see someone else hindered from making free decisions, we must help to remove that which blocks decision-making and freedom for him.
"If I need a job, then my brother needs one too. . . .
"If I believe that my children need a good education, but many people through no fault of their own do not have my opportunities, then I have an obligation to help make quality education available for their children, too.
"If I have a need for a house for the safety of my family, then I must be concerned about the need of a man who, for a variety of reasons, does not have a safe place in which to house his family....
"If it is for the welfare and the best interest of my family to have health care, then can I be a Christian without also doing something about the needs of those who have no way to obtain proper health care?''8
Seeing life from inside another's needs as well as my own can broaden concern and bring awareness of my responsibility to act. Feeling life from inside another's skin can shake me loose from complacent enjoyment of my good fortune and calloused indifference to others.
You're standing, stunned, hardly believing you've heard your daughter's words.
"Are you saying you love this— this—?" You see in her eyes you'd best swallow the racial label.
"I'm not sure," she replies, "but I think we're in love, perhaps enough to choose to marry."
You, of all people, are suddenly at a loss for words. Of all the men (your kind of men) in this world, your daughter gets involved with this— What do you dare call him?—minority person.
''Would you want your daughter to marry one of them?'' you've often asked as a trump question to silence all arguments about races getting close. Now you're facing it yourself. And all the old lines about mongrelizing the races seem useless and empty now that it's your daughter. You could tell her it's beneath her class, that it just isn't done by your kind, in your family. (Not that she'll really listen to all that.)
"No amount of arguments are going to make any difference," you admit to yourself. "Threats will only cut us off. She is her own person. She will need to make her decisions. It is her life."
Confronting deeply-believed, firmly-held, emotionally-rooted prejudices is a complex process of initiating change on several levels.
As a case in point, let's explore the strongly-held bias against marriages between people of different racial backgrounds which are often culturally based, religiously expressed, and emotionally argued. Let's look at the objections as presented and examine them on their own grounds.
Objection one: It's not biblical. Interracial marriage is forbidden by God. All through biblical history, beginning with Cain, God has followed a strict policy of segregation. He called His people the Jews out of other nations, prohibited intermarriage, kept them separate.???
Even the most superficial study of the Bible will show that such separation was on religious grounds only. There is not the slightest hint that color, skin, hair, or shape of skull mattered at all. And the list of great men who married across national-racial lines include Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon. (If you are unclear on this, read Numbers 12, and note God's attitudes toward segregationists and critics of intermarriage.)
Did the New Testament oppose racial mixtures? "Yes," say some, quoting Paul, "He [God] made from one every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined. . .the boundaries of their habitation" (Acts 17:26, NASB).
Perhaps you already noticed as I cited this much-quoted passage, that its real point is that "God has made from one every nation of mankind." We have a common Creator, a common ancestry, a common bloodstream, a common destiny.
Did Jesus and His disciples teach integration or practice mixing of races? Consider how Jesus refused to go along with the apartheid policies against Samaria, and how the apostles welcomed Gentiles and Africans, Jews and Arabs into dth new fellowship. There were no first- and second-class citizens in the new church. (See Gal. 2 and Acts 15.)
There are no biblical arguments against intermarriage. Its message is that all who follow Christ become a new race—or better; that we move beyond all-racial and national distinctions and become one new people—people of God who follow Jesus as Lord. Actually, the Christian faith has no view at all on the problem of race simply because from the Christian point of view there is no distinction between one man and another that allows one man to be set above another. All men are equal before God. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek. For those who follow Christ, race is a cultural matter of interest, but of no significance in value, no barrier to relationships, no block to total acceptance.
Objection two: It's not practical; it can't be successful. It's common sense to oppose interracial marriage on the grounds that there is too little in common. The customs, values, and interests are different—perhaps even the language—so the marriage can't succeed???
Evidence is to the contrary. Japanese-American marriages, with great cultural and linguistic differences, have a lower divorce rate than all-American marriages. A study by Thomas Monahan of 8,000 interracial marriages in Iowa from 1940 to 1967, shows that marriages between Negro men and white women are more stable than all-white marriages and twice as stable as all-black marriages. The same findings come from other studies.9
Objection three: It's biologically bad. Many whites oppose intermarriage because "racial mixture,'' they feel, will lead to the degeneration of the white race.'
Dr. Lowell Noble notes on this:
"History reveals that the white man, who seems to regard mongrelization as the worst evil, has in fact, already been responsible for mixing the races. His abuse of the Negro slave woman resulted in thousands of brown or light-skinned Negroes—or should we say dark whites. The logic runs something like this: If the white male is responsible for interracial offspring, no harm is done, since it is the inferior Negro race that is mixed. Such logic is clearly built on white racism."10
The biological facts are all to the opposite. Racial mixture neither damages nor improves the offspring.
Objection four: It's wrong for the children. They become outcasts. Others oppose interracial marriage because the children must suffer greater discrimination. It is not so. All research indicates that the children suffer no more discrimination than any other minority group.
Dr. James Carse, a historian of Christian faith, speaks to this point. "Children of such unions will surely experience considerable hardship and disadvantage, is the most commonly heard argument. The fact is, that the ‘hardship and disadvantage’ visited upon such children, arise not out of their ‘mixed’ parentage, but out of their being ‘Negro.’ Disadvantaged? Indeed, because in his most formative years he has before him the model of two persons who have made an ultimate commitment in the face of an issue that hatred has created, the 'interracial' child is privileged."11
Having argued the issues raised in support of the racial bias on their own terms, the central concern comes clear.
The core is volitional. The core is the will. What a person wants, wills, values, chooses makes the decisive difference.
At the heart of living in unprejudiced patterns, there are central commitments, such as these:
1. Christians—who seriously try to follow Jesus daily in life—will refuse to make distinctions between one race or another, or to make decisions on the basis of one race being imagined as superior to another.
2. Those who follow Jesus point out dishonesty and discard dishonest beliefs as they discover them. And there is no honest base—biblically, biologically, culturally, or statistically—for fighting or prohibiting interracial marriages.
3. Those who follow Jesus will question and challenge prejudices that separate people, and walls that create distrust between people.
Look at Jesus Christ.
He was bom in the most rigidly ethnic culture of all time; born in a fiercely nationalistic nation; born in Galilee, the most bigoted backwoods of that nation; born into a family of snobbish royal lineage; born in a time when revolutionary fanaticism fired every heart with hatred for the Roman oppressors; born in a country practicing the apartheid of rigid segregation between Jews and Samaritans.
Jesus Christ was born in a world peopled with prejudiced, partisan, fanatical, intolerant, obstinate, opinionated, bigoted, dogmatic zealots—Roman, Samaritan, and Jewish. Yet He showed not a trace of it.
Read and reread the documents of His life. There is absolutely nothing to indicate feelings of racial superiority, national prejudice, or personal discrimination.
Those who stand with Jesus Christ stand with all humanity. They discard prejudice whenever, however, and wherever they find it, confronting it in themselves first of all; then, and only then, in the world about them.
For Further Experience
Become aware of the prejudicial lines that you find running through your thoughts, or appearing in your conversations. Track down the old habit-recordings which play like taped messages from your past. You may not be able to erase these tapes, but you can pull the ear plug, hit the off-switch, refuse to listen.
Become aware of the uses of humor to support old my-race-is-better-than-yours feelings. If you find yourself telling Polack, Newfie, Jewish, Chinese, Negro, Indian jokes (name your favorites), try owning what you're doing then and there. Put your honest intentions into words.
[THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH GOOD CLEAN ETHNIC JOKES, THE RIGHT SORT; I GREW UP IN BRITAIN WITH THE “ENGLISHMAN, IRISHMAN, SCOTSMAN, JOKES; BUT YES YOU DO HAVE TO BE CAREFUL THEY ARE NOT OFFENSIVE - Keith Hunt]
To break free to venture trust, love, and understanding, consider:
How am I stopping myself from seeing all persons, regardless of race, nationality, culture, as precious just as I am precious?
How am I scaring myself from starting friendships, learning to appreciate the richness of differences, developing genuine empathy for others?
How am I stuck in old prejudiced viewpoints that are unfaithful to the Jesus I want to follow daily in life?
How am I blinding myself by selective exposure, selective attention, selective recall of data conflicting with my views.
How can I move into more open relationships that invite others to confront me where I am scared, stuck, closed, blind?
TO BE CONTINUED