We can learn a lot from children. Their questioning may be annoying at times but there is wisdom in their continual questions. Too often we take a situation at face value or respond to it based upon our own experience without stopping to ask “why” something is happening. It might be good for us to look at each other, our friends, family members, community members and those in the world who do not reflect our life experience, beliefs or ethnic background and ask “Why?” “Why, do they feel this way?” “Why do they think this way?” “Why do they view the world in a way I struggle to understand?” “Why do they feel it is important to speak, act, take a stand on issues that I may not view as important?” If we are not careful asking questions like little children might lead to understanding and caring for one another in ways that would bring honor and glory to God…bring about the fulfillment of the prayer so many of us pray “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done.”
The sad truth is that we spend little time asking others the question “why?” Instead we think first of our own agendas. We jump to the narrative of our life which we have learned since birth. We may ask ourselves “why?” Our answers are often simple and quick. Such answers tend to “paint” ourselves in a good light and find the simplest and most convenient ways in which to explain the behavior of others. It is in those moments of simple and convenient answers it would do us well to start thinking like a three year old and start asking “Why?”
In John 8:32 Jesus says, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” This is one of those teachings of Jesus that people have adopted without often knowing where it came from. Truth has a way of shining light into the darkness and helping you see clearly so that you can move forward. Sometimes those truths are not comfortable. There may be times when truth is downright painful as it reveals something about who we are or how we move in this world. It may not always be comfortable but truth, spoken in love, has a way of breaking the chains that bind us and setting us free to live life to the full.
My heart is breaking these days. Our country is reaping the results of decades of not asking “Why?” and seeking to understand the experience of others. Philando Castile and Alton Sterling are the latest in a long litany of African American men who have lost their lives while interacting with white police officers. Thursday night I watched, like many of you, in horror as a lone gunman targeted and executed five police officers while wounding eleven others. His motives, he appears to have been angered by the reality of young black men dying while interacting with police. I sit tonight in fear. Fear that we are beginning to see a cycle spiral out of control and I do not see any leaders on the horizon who have the skills nor desire to help us break the cycle.
Jim Wallis, in his book “America’s Original Sin” writes, “only by seeking the truth are we made free, and that hanging on to untruths can keep us captive to comfortable illusions.” “Untruths that we believe are able to control us, dominate us, and set us on the wrong path. Untruths are burdens to bear and can even be idols that hold us captive – not allowing us to be free people who understand ourselves and the world truthfully.”
To be set free from this cycle of violence and death we need to be set free from the “untruths that control us, dominate us, and set us on the wrong path.” We need to learn to ask “Why?” with the persistence of a three year old until we uncover the truth…the truth of our experience and the truth of the experience of others. One of the biggest obstacles to healing and transformation is the reality that my experience is not your experience and your experience is not mine. It is often hard to see the world through the eyes of someone else, and even more difficult the more different we are. For example, I may find it easier to relate to the life experience of other white males from a middle class background. Ask me to relate to a white male who has lived a life of great wealth or abject poverty…that would be harder. If you want me to relate to the life experiences of women in our day and age I would have to ask some questions to fully grasp their experience. Relating to or understanding the life experience of someone who comes from a different ethnic group or socio-economic group from ours is not easy. It takes work. We have to ask questions. We have to look at actions and ask “Why?” We need to keep asking those questions until we get to the root causes of what separates us and builds walls of division.
If we are willing to explore the reality of others experiences we may uncover truth that will set the captives free…and in the process find out that we have been the ones held captive by untruths. I was watching CNN yesterday. One of the “talking heads” came on to address the two latest shootings where an African American male lost their lives while interacting with police. They talked of not knowing the whole truth of what happened, of needing time for an investigation. At no time during their talk was there any empathy expressed to the families who lost loved ones. They had very clear talking points and they were experts at holding to them, it was clear there was no interest in understanding the experience of the young men or the families they left behind. The very next day the same “talking head” was on CNN talking about the shooting in Dallas. This time it was “his people”, the police, who were hurting and he could not talk without shedding a tear. His comments were moving and appropriate. Moving, appropriate and at the same time they revealed the truth that while he understood his life experience he was totally out of touch with the experience of African American men who find themselves interacting with police. He could not show even the most basic form of empathy or sympathy for their reality. His reality is a small picture of the bigger reality within our country. We understand our experience. We fight hard to ensure our way of life continues yet we struggle to connect with the life experience of others.
And then there was Jesus, the Son of God who took upon the very likeness of a man and walked among us…experiencing firsthand what it means to be human. Maybe there is a lesson there for us who seek to be followers of Jesus. Maybe, just maybe it would be good for us to take the time walk in “another’s shoes” and to learn what it feels like to experience life from a different perspective.
My heart is breaking today because I do not see the leadership within our country that has the desire nor the skills to help us move in this direction. I pray I am wrong, but I fear I am correct. Today was filled with politicians from both major parties stepping up and calling for unity and calling for the country to “come together and work together.” My jaw just about hit the floor. These “leaders” have held our country in gridlock for years. They have been unable to work together for the common good of the people of this country and the world to pass even the simplest and most basic legislation. On even the most basic issues they have been unable to understand the positions and experiences of others and come together in unity for the common good. Yet today they stand calling a country in chaos to unity? I would simply love to see them stop talking about unity and working toward the common good and start showing us the way forward.
There is an opportunity here. An opportunity for the church to be the church that Jesus longed for. We need men, women and young people of faith to step into the vacuum that exists within our country to provide the kind of leadership which will result in understanding, reconciliation, renewal, and peace.
My prayer is that we will begin to ask “Why?” as we explore the life experience of those we journey with through life. May we seek to understand their experience and then ask how we can come alongside them to share the love of Jesus.
“Thy Kingdom Come…Thy Will Be Done”