Human together

Martin Luther King Jnr

In February, I turned a corner - just not a great one. After six years of reading glasses, I knew my eyesight was not quite right. It had deteriorated and I needed varifocals to correct my vision. Without new glasses, I would not be able to see how things really were. I think it is time for everyone to put on some glasses, as our eyesight is defective, and we need to see other people as they really are.

Over the last few weeks the issue of racism has come sharply into focus. The sad reality is that it took the death and appalling treatment of George Floyd for it to come into such sharp focus. The 8 minutes and 46 seconds that George Floyd’s neck was knelt on should never have happened. The other police officers should not have stood around for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and done nothing to stop it. Yet, how many times have we stood around for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and done nothing? The reality is, our 8 minutes and 46 seconds have lasted a lot longer. Our silence, our lack of action, our failure to support our neighbour who needs us, is our equivalent of standing by and watching.

Jesus told a story about a good Samaritan who stopped to help a Jewish man who had been attacked on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was known as “The Way of blood” due to the number of people attacked on the road by robbers. The Jewish man is left beaten to the point of death and stripped. A Levite and a priest both see the man and hurry along the road without doing anything. The third person to see the man is a Samaritan, sworn enemies of the Jews. It is hard to overestimate the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. When the Samaritan becomes the hero of the story, it would have been an afront to the listeners. Jesus was very clear, “You go, then, and, do the same”, we should act like the Samaritan. Would Jesus have stood on the side lines for 8 minutes and 46 seconds? No. Would he have allowed the 8 minutes and 46 seconds to last a lifetime whilst he did nothing? No. On that basis alone, anyone who claims to know Jesus, needs to follow His example.

Our trouble is we group people and take away their identity. We turn people from individuals into groups of “Them” and “They” and we become “Us”. Many years ago, I worked in a residential home for people with learning difficulties. Each week we would take a few of the people living in the house to the supermarket. On numerous occasions, people came up to me and loudly said things like “You are amazing for working with people like these”, or “You must be very patient to work with these people”. I seem to remember my answers normally ranged from “Why would that be?” to “Not really” to “You do realise they are not deaf?” I was with a group of individuals of different characters and interests, but the other person saw them as a group who were different and lumped them all together. They were no longer individuals, they had become “Them”. We are prone to be wary of difference, not celebrate it. Yet, Jesus calls us to welcome everyone, regardless of background or difference. The Church should be the most welcoming place on the planet, but unfortunately, we all fall short and that is not everyone’s experience.

We all fall into the trap of seeing difference and reacting badly to it. We all prejudge and make assumptions of other people based on our upbringing, our friends, the media and the world around us. One of my all-time heroes is Martin Luther King Jnr. He once said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Our unconscious barriers and the very real social boundaries we have erected, prevent us from communicating effectively with each other.

It is easy to argue that all lives matter, and not just black lives. This is true, and I think anyone campaigning for black lives matter will agree. But, when I am campaigning for disability rights, no one claims I should be campaigning for rights for all. I am standing with my friends who need my support due to the discrimination they have faced for their disabilities. Campaigning for them does not mean no one else matters. We do all matter, but sometimes we need to address the single, presenting need. Will I continue to fight for equality for my disabled friends? Yes. Will I continue to stand with my Polish friends who have faced abuse for the country they were born in? Yes. But at this moment, I believe that it is important to stand with my black friends and declare that their lives matter. I am standing with friends like Sam and Charlene, whom we have heard from in the previous two blogs and am declaring enough is enough.

I am in no way perfect, if we can be truly honest with ourselves, we recognise we all have blind spots and prejudices. I have as many as the next person. Our challenge is identifying them and working on changing them. The danger is, if we don’t, we all miss out. We are at our best when we live in relationship, that is what makes us human. The former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu once said “Africans believe in something that is difficult to render in English. We call it ubuntu, botho. It means the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humanness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourselves out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognises that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” I choose to be human and therefore black lives matter.

By Paul Bennett