This is not a political post. It is not even a counseling reflection. Instead, it is personal reflection on what I’m learning as I have conversations with people about the George Zimmerman verdict. I do not pretend to write objectively. I’m realizing that “objectivity” is a pridefully high ideal for me to obtain.
I do hope I write humbly. But if anything I write reveals the blind-pride of being “wise in my own eyes,” then I ask that my readers help me see those thing to which I am blind.
At our Summit staff prayer, my friend and fellow pastor Chris Green led our staff in a devotion through Romans 12:14-16. It drew out many implications of this passage I had missed; likely because I have not experienced (personally, ethnically, or in my family history) the kind of persecution discussed in this passage.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (v. 12)
Chris pointed out that when there is or has been persecution the two sides do not know each other well. We do not know the experiences of the other. We do not share the same history even if we lived during the same set of years. We do not have the same emotional attachments to events and symbols.
This makes it very easy for us to read the worst possible motives on “the other.” What we know so well blinds us to those things about which we are ignorant and the importance of questions that knowledge or experience would generate.
This point struck me most in light of what I learned from verse 14… more on that in a moment.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (v. 13)
The church at Rome was struggling to do this. The church was comprised of Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female (Gal. 3:28). They did not respond to events the same way. When they responded differently, undoubtedly, mistrust arose in the church. “How can I trust you if what threatens me seems like a victory, relief, or even just inconsequential to you?”
Paul’s first “action step” for the church was to deeply and personally empathize with how something impacts another person or group of people.
It is only through conversations with others that I…
- … began to feel the weight of what it would be like to talk with my son about the dangers that can come with how others may perceive you because of your race and the dangers that can come if you respond to their suspicion with frustration or aggression.
- … could feel the uncertainty that emerges from events like the Zimmerman trial when people of your ethnic background’s personal freedoms have changed radically in a single generation and court decisions were a major factor in those changes (sometimes for the better; other times for the worse).
The fact that my reaction to this case did not echo any highly-personal historical events or immediately draw me back to a formative conversation with my parents means I have work to do (in the form of listening) in order to “weep with those who weep.”
“… Never be wise in your own sight.” (v. 14)
This is where things seemed to “click” for me; at least to whatever degree I “get it” now. It is easy for me to seem wise in my own eyes because my answers only have to address the questions raised by the complexity of my own emotions in reaction to these events; which are comparably simple and small.
How wise we appear is often directly proportional to how much the observer shares our experiences related to that situation.
This reminded me of another illustration that helped me understand the various responses to events like the Zimmerman verdict. Remember what it was like for you when you heard the national anthem for the first time after events of 9-11. Please note, I am not trying to draw a moral comparison between 9-11 and the recent verdict, but to draw upon an experience that helped me better understand the responses of those for whom this verdict was deeply unsettling.
I can still remember, it was preceding the New Yankees playing the New York Mets. Television cameras scrolled across the players faces as they felt the significance of the opportunities our country afforded them.
My emotions stirred deeply. I was angry. I was proud to be an American. If honest but without pride, I hated anyone who would assault “my people.” I wanted to do something to right an injustice. Sitting and watching seemed utterly inadequate for that moment. Even today, my emotions can easily be stirred by video of those horrific events with a patriotic song playing in the background or a picture like the one above.
Why? Those atrocities did not happen to me or geographically near me. I didn’t know anyone who was in the towers. You could easily say my life was not directly affected beyond increased airport security and the price of gasoline.
Chances are everyone reading this post agrees and sympathizes with my emotions at that time. You do not question my response, although hopefully you would counsel me not to harbor or act on hatred. It is “natural” enough to you that I likely seem wise, even noble, to react this way… because you share something comparable to my experience of 9-11.
What do we do with this reflection?
I’m not going to advise others in this post. Here is what I believe I need to do. I need to have more conversations. I need to understand those whose reactions are different from own enough that I can join them with deep sympathy for what generates their fear, anger, or other strong emotions. Even a few conversations have shaped me enough to realize I’m not sure how much I still need to change and learn.
As those who have experienced persecution have blessed me with conversation (v. 12) I have grown in my natural response of experiencing unrest with those who are unsettled (v. 13) and grown more humble towards the ways my ignorance made it easy for me to seem wise in my own eyes (v. 14).
I’m not sure what to do with the complex political decisions that are being discussed in the media. I don’t know what “justice” would look like.
I do know I am grateful for friends and fellow pastors like Chris, Chuck, Darrick, Julius, Omar, and Sam who will walk this road and have these conversations with me. I am beginning to realize how I cannot even watch the evening news in a thoroughly Christian manner without men like this, the full Body of Christ (Rev. 7:9), around me.