For several days I’ve been trying to figure something out. Why did it hurt so much?
I like to ask questions and throw things out on Facebook, sometimes (many times) that I don’t even think through carefully. I’m something of a rabble-rouser. I sometimes even take pride in it, thinking it’s my “special gift” to provoke others.
Why did it hurt each time I read her words? And I did read them, over and over, again and again. I thought about it all weekend. Even becoming grumpy, bothered, then deeply troubled as my stomach lurched and tears sprang to my eyes, after days there was still, so much pain. And I have come to know what this means — linger here. Deeply, scrupulously sit with this, discover what it is.
I am mouthy, petulant and troublesome, even stupid at times, on Facebook. This is what I said:
“I’ve long wondered why it doesn’t occur to white men that they are so privileged, but as Julie Clawson says if you don’t get that you are a part of the problem. It’s not tokenism rather catching up to the world, where women and non-white are your equals and simply want the opportunities to represent themselves. In a WHITE and in a MALE dominated culture.”
Okay (in retrospect) that was arrogant and whiny. (Perhaps I really do need to give up Facebook. It feeds all the wrong parts of me.)
Then my old and dear friend, she challenged me. I quote the entire conversation because it matters to me. Here is exactly what she said (Emphasis is mine):
I wonder Mel if in the logic of what you are saying in your statement whether it cannot be applied to anyone who has any privilege in any part of the world. And I do mean that literally within the logic of your statement. It is known as systemic sin and it can be applied in other ways…I wonder why people who earn over $20,000 a year, or I wonder why persons who were able to go to college, or I wonder why people who have running water in their homes and carry through the logic. I think you are able to speak in these ways because you are part of a white and economically dominant culture so then you are in a similar situation to the people you are accusing.
I am not saying therefore change cannot be brought about. I am saying we all live in power dominated systems. It is what Scripture means when it talks about principalities and powers, and we ALL have our blind spots where we don’t see our privilege and we don’t see our power orientation and we don’t see that we don’t see. I do see that the Gospel calls us to a different way – of being the servant in love. I find it fascinating that Jesus was among an oppressed people, the memory of about 2000 Jews having been hung on crosses at one time within the living memory of people alive at Jesus time,
the fact that the centurions came out at Passover in huge numbers because Rome knew what Passover celebrated,
the fact that Jesus told them don’t just walk one mile, walk two…what is that about…it is about
the fact that by law a centurion could require you to carry all his gear for a certain length of his journey,
the fact that Paul didn’t free the slaves but gave alternate teaching…
So even those who do get it who have a household of over $20,000 a year, or a University/college education, or have water running through pipes to their homes are still part of systemic inequality how often do YOU, do I not get it when we eat an ice cream when that money could have gone to digging wells etcetera….
I am not saying stop seeking to bring about change but let’s recognize we white women are parts of a fallen world too…
And then ask ourselves what concretely does it mean to be a servant in love to those whose lives we can impact concretely … Why does Jesus define His kingdom in the manner he separates the sheep from the goats…
Me: So, what then? Certainly yes, white women are born into a world of privilege and opportunity and we too should look for ways to give up our power. I suppose I just assumed this was understood.
She said: But why do you assume it was understood, when you constantly are commenting about white men…
Me: I never/rarely say “white” men, but it must be implied. Your “constantly” gives me pause perhaps I just talk too much. I don’t mean “white” when I talk about men. We all have our lens through which we process obviously.
And that was the line that cut so deep …
“when you constantly are commenting about white men…”
You see I don’t want to be known for that, for constantly commenting and complaining about white men. Even if I do feel a challenge to speak on issues of women in the church, as I do, I do not want to be known for that. That feels wrong.
That is wrong.
To my friends who I have offended or verbally accosted, white men mostly I ask you to forgive me if you can.
[Friends, I hope you will bear with me, I think you will be glad that you read to the end.]
And not having read about the sheep and the goats and not remembering the story at all (apologies to all my Sunday School teachers) today, it’s still bothering, even nagging at me. So I read the account from Matthew 25:31-46 of the Sheep and the Goats (again emphasis mine):
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fireprepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”
Whatever you did for the least of these …
I have so much it’s sick. I am rich. I am white. I am educated and privileged. I have every opportunity and I have every responsibility to see and to do something.
And most days, other than that, if I am not going to do that I think I just need to shut up. Yes, I write. And I may have “things to say.” But I was struck to my core, shattered, stunned with the conviction that this is the core message so many of us (me, I am missing) are missing.
Do I see, do I hear, do I know the least of these? Do I know Jesus?
Thanks to a dear friend, who loved me enough to challenge me, I may never (I hope) be the same. This is one of those serendipitous and life altering moments. I have a choice — to see Jesus, to invite Jesus in, to clothe Jesus, to care for and heal Jesus. I have a choice to know him.
The question remains what that looks like with my hands and feet. I remain open for that.
I am so grateful.