Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Recognizing Ourselves

When we start shooting one another or even vilifying one another by categories, it is time to go back to original things. The creation account in Genesis asserts that every human being is made in the image of God.  We are all kin to one another; there should be a deep resonance among us. If we don’t recognize ourselves in others—however different they might be, then we are not seeing other people as God sees them.

I arrived at a community meeting about rehabbing a block of vacant houses and found that I was an hour early.  I was walking back to my car to listen to the radio and wait.  I was preoccupied contemplating the amount of time I had wasted, how I could have enjoyed a more leisurely dinner if I had paid better attention to the phone message.

Just as I walked under the light of a street lamp, a young black man stepped out of the shadows of the building.  He startled me, and I yelped.  He too drew back a bit, not expecting me to be there.  We stood there face to face, less than two feet apart, looking into one another’s eyes.  He blurted out:  “It’s O.K., I was just lighting a cigarette out of the wind.”  I responded:  “No problem, you just startled me.”  We stood there with our eyes locked continuing to assure one another that all was good.
A whole other conversation took place through our faces.  This was not a block to be avoided at night, but there were blocks close by that were not so peaceful.  Considerations of safety and harmony were always on people’s minds. We both lived in a society that said I, as a white guy, should be a bit leery young black urban males; he was certainly aware of this.  Society often told him that I did not have his best interest at heart.  It was within this context that we stood face to face under a pool of light on a dark city street.

I wanted to communicate to him that he had simply surprised me.  I reacted without thinking or even clearly seeing who he was.  I wanted him to know that I did not see him as my enemy.  I sensed from his eyes that he wanted to communicate to me that he was not threat.  There was nothing I had that he wanted.  He was just trying to light a cigarette on a windy street.  This is what I sensed passing between us, both of us feeling awkward.  I was aware of our common humanity and vulnerability in that moment.  I felt our shared need to be understood and accepted.  Both of us were simply trying live our lives in peace.
There is so much in our society that tries to set us against one another, to say for one group to get ahead another group must be diminished.  The creation account denies this lie.  It teaches that we are all kin to one another.  For any of us to live fully into God’s plan for our life, our neighbor must have that same opportunity.  At the core of our being we are kin to one another.
White folks and black folks, protestors and police officers, Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Libertarians, we are all in this together. If we choose sides and build walls, we are each damaging a piece of who were created by God to be; we are less than whole human beings.  Human beings are not the natural enemies of other human beings.  This is an aberration we introduce into creation because we fail to see the image of God in that other person.  Sometimes that image is, admittedly, buried pretty deeply and a bit malformed; but it is there.  The Bible says so.

Jim Kelsey

Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State