I attended seminary in Philadelphia. It was a lot different experience than growing up in rural Western Pennsylvania or attending college in rural Kentucky. I can remember sitting in a ‘touchy-feely’ class, where we would share our experiences and how they formed our faith (not particularly my favorite kind of class), and as I listened to the stories of my classmates, I realized that they were much different than my own.
I had two options as I listened to those who would become my friends: I could discount their experiences OR I could listen, seek to understand, and live empathetically as a brother and a friend.
The rage of the week is NFL players kneeling, or in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers not coming out during the anthem (save for Allejandro Villenueva). Those who are critical of NFL players will say that the players are disrespecting the flag and the men and women who fought for our freedoms. Those who are kneeling will say that they are using the very rights guaranteed by our Constitution to shed light on inequalities in our great nation.
I think, especially for White America, we are missing the forest for the trees. The reason that we are missing the forest (big picture) for the trees (kneeling during anthem, or other rage of the week) is that we have failed to listen to our brothers and sisters who are people of color in our country.
Their experience is much different than my own. But I had to listen in order to have a better understanding, which led to great empathy. I could have focused on the trees (different people will have different experiences), but I would have missed the big picture: That each person, regardless of the color of their skin, should be treated equally, with respect, as people created in the image of God.
If we were to refuse to get caught up in the “how they are protesting/communicating” and instead focus on the “why are they protesting,” what might we hear? As I have challenged my congregation over the years, I want to challenge you this morning: Rather than focusing on the tree (kneeling during the anthem), ask your Black friends, family members, co-workers, or church members to lunch and listen to their experiences.
- What is it like to be non-white in America?
- What do you feel when you hear our President say that there are “good people” among the White Supremecist at UVA in Charlottesville earlier this year?
- How is your life affected by racism corporately and individually?
- What is communicated to you when you see NFL players kneeling during the anthem?
In my eyes, the big picture is that I love our country, but I hate that there are people whose experience has been different from mine and who are treated as 2nd class citizens. Rather than expecting uniform behavior during our anthem, let’s uniformally work to make our country worth standing up for all people. (h/t to Ricky Extanus for giving me the thought for that last sentence.)