Thursday, December 4, 2014

You don't know what it's like to be me.

Last night, two channels owned by the same company showed vastly different events happening literally blocks from one another. On NBC viewers could watch the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller center. Over on MSNBC (and every other cable news channel) viewers could witness protests that erupted just a few blocks down the street after a grand jury decided not to indict the officer involved in Eric Garner’s death. For many on social media, the disparity between the two videos was astounding.

At about the same time around thirty of us gathered for our weekly ritual of Bible study in a small classroom at Southland Baptist Church. We had our Bibles open to Job 9 and discovered that Christmas celebrations and protests over injustice may have more in common than we realize.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, Job was a righteous man who came under tremendous testing. His family died, his wealth vanished, his health failed so that by the time we find him in chapter 9, he is sitting in an ash heap with festering boils all over his body. He complains to his friends that God is too far removed from life on the ground to understand what it is like to be a suffering human being.

He laments:
     God is not a man like me – someone I could answer –
        so that we could come together in court.
     Oh, that there was a mediator between us;
        he would lay his hand on both of us. (9:32-33)
     Do you, [God], have physical eyes;
        do you see like a human?
     Are your days like those of a human,
        your years like years of a human,
        that you search for my wrongdoing and seek my sin? (10:4-5)

It’s a bold complaint to say the least, one most of us would consider sacrileges if it wasn’t right there in the Bible. That God includes this protest in the pages of Holy Scriptures surprises us. What should surprise us even more is that God listened to Job and answered his plea.

Job cried out, “God, you don’t know what it is like to be me.”

At Christmas, God answered, not with defensiveness, but with grace: “You are right Job. I don’t, but I am sending one who will find out. I’m sending one who will indeed be able to lay a hand on both of us, so that the gulf between us might be spanned.”

When I watch the news and the reaction to the news and the reaction to the reactions of the news, I get the feeling that almost all of us are standing around shouting out Job’s protest to one another.

African American’s are saying to their white neighbors, “You don’t know what it’s like to walk down the street as a black person, especially a black man, in America.”

Likewise, police officers are saying to those they are called to protect, “You don’t know what it’s like to go to work every day and risk your life to protect and serve.”

Both, I suppose, are correct. Most of us live out of our own perspective with little attempt to understand another’s point of view. At least, I know that's true for me far too often.

When we are accused of not being able to understand another’s perspective our tendency is to resort to defensiveness. Instinctively, we seek to protect our own point of view.

What would happen this Christmas, however, if we followed the pattern of Jesus? What would happen if we left the safety of our group, our people, our place and walked alongside a neighbor, black, white or brown, police or civilian, and simply asked, “Tell me, what it is like to be you?”

We might just discover that the Mediator between heaven and humanity can work through us to mediate between neighbors here on earth.

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15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. – Romans 12:15-18

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