When you’re blind, it’s impossible to know what you don’t see. That’s what it means to be blind – to not see.
I’m not talking about eyesight blindness. I’m talking about experience blindness, what you don’t see or don’t understand because you just lack the experience to see it.
I wouldn’t have given two thoughts about this being the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday if a pastor friend, with whom I was going to have lunch hadn’t invited me to a morning service commemorating Dr. King’s dream. Did I say morning service? It began in the morning, but stretched into the early afternoon. Certainly, Haiti is on my mind and in my prayers, but I could have easily not thought about the dream of racial justice.
That’s a confession, by the way. It’s not a confession about being white, or being uncaring, but a confession of being blind to the life-experience that those who are different from me have.
But, I’m not as blind as I once was. When I first moved to Chapel Hill nine years ago, a black guy befriended me. He had been attending the church where I was for about ten years, with his family, but he had not become a member. Some looked at his unwillingness to join as a lack of commitment, or about being a contrarian, just sort of prickly. I didn’t know what to think, but was surprised to discover that it really bothered him that he was attending a primarily white church.
“Mark, do you know that the only place a black man has had any power in this country has been in the church?” (Black Church, that is.) I guess, having a black president changes that. But, for my new friend who was about to tutor me in quiet black man rage, to join the church would be like giving up the cause.
Hmm . . . . I once visited the first African church in America, started by slaves. The First African Baptist Church, of Savannah, Georgia, which is still active. Above the baptistery are stained glass portraits of its first six pastors. I’ve never seen a stained glass portrait of a white pastor, plenty of pictures, but nothing in stained glass. (That doesn’t count the full-body stained glass picture of Florida State’s recently retired football coach, Bobby Bowden.)
Here’s the thing: apart from a meaningful friendship with this man, who was willing to risk the friendship by being honest with me about his experience, I would still be mostly blind about racial issues. I would rationalize that differences exist because some people just don’t work hard enough, apply themselves enough. And I would conclude that what I enjoy in life is the result of my achievements and those of the generations before me. Inequity would not be a concept anywhere in my mind set.
Test yourself. Do you have a meaningful friendship with someone who is not of your race? Particularly, if you are of the majority culture? Someone, who is not constrained at all to fit your cultural experience. Have you ever been shocked by that friend’s different interpretation of a news story, or current event. Have you ever left a conversation confused, or maybe even angry at their different point of view?
It’s much easier to be blind, isn’t it? It’s much easier to think that since we know someone at work of another race that we’ve got this thing down.
To love people incrediblly well, as Jesus did . . . . Lord, forgive the unpsoken, even unconscious prayer – "as long as they are like us."