According to Dr. Norma Feshbach, a professor at UCLA, exposing children to empathy, helping them to understand what it means to stand in another person’s shoes, “results in low aggression, strong social development, and greater cognitive performance and achievement.” As a society, we can’t afford not to make it a priority. It is certainly the model that Christ taught and one that we at St. Christopher’s are teaching as well.
With the events of this past week in Charleston, South Carolina, I thought I would share a sermon I preached in the spring following the incident at Oklahoma University. Below is the service and sermon for that morning’s Chapel. At St. Christopher’s every one is a student who is learning- whether you are the boy, the teacher, the administrator or the staff; that’s how we grow and become better people.
Hymn: “In Christ there is no east or west”
Lesson: Philippians 4:8-9
A reading to Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The Word of the Lord.
Like all of you, I enjoyed the break. It was nice to sleep late was it not? I stayed in Richmond and enjoyed having the time to do a few house projects and read. The exciting news at my house? I have a new dishwasher. What an amazing invention.
I also sadly watched- with the rest of the country- the story unfold at Oklahoma University. It was hard to watch the video of young men singing a fraternity song about lynching and using the N word repeatedly. It was disturbing and disgusting- and certainly not to my knowledge – representative of the young people I know and teach. And yet, it’s real.
I have talked about it a little with some of my students and plan to continue that discussion. This is our culture even if it isn’t our school. Though just this week, on Knowles Field, a young man on an opposing team used the N word- and aimed it pointedly at one of our players. I just can’t fathom it.
I think that if something redemptive, and I am all about redemption, is to come out of any of this then there has to be open and honest dialogue, and I think that occurs best in small groups- in classes, teams, clubs.
When discussing the OU incident, some of my students were not surprised. All of my students were appalled. And some were glad it came to light- for if it never did, folks might assume everything is fine- when it really isn’t. There is still much to be done.
I watched not too long ago an HBO special entitled “Chris Rock Bigger and Blacker.” For those of you who don’t know him, Chris Rock is an African-American comedian who uses colorful language to not only entertain, but also to speak profound truths. His language is definitely for mature audiences and I am not recommending it as something you need to see, but I found a lot of powerful truths in some of his routine.
The most telling was this: He is in front of a Live audience. He is making jokes about the reality of race in America, the reality of being Black in America. As he looks out at his audience, a lot of whom are white, he says, “The truth is none of you would change places with me. And I’m rich! That’s how good it is to be white.” The audience breaks into uproarious laughter. He continues when they quiet down some, “There’s a white, one-legged busboy in here right now…that won’t change places with my black ____. He’s going, ”No, man, l don’t wanna switch. l wanna ride this white thing out.” Again, the laughter is loud and boisterous. Chris Rock smiles too and I think it is because he knows he has just spoken painful truth through comedy.
It was lost on no one that the Oklahoma incident happened on the same weekend that our country was observing the 50th anniversary of the civil rights voting act. People had descended on Selma to re-enact the march to Montgomery just as this video was being posted anonymously on YouTube.
Are things better today than they were 50 years ago for many people? Yes. But are we finished? No. There is much work to be done and who better to do it than the young men sitting in this room.
Issues of racism are not new. Jesus contended with it and often taught lessons of inclusion. When his disciples took issue with him for including a tax collector as one of the twelve, Jesus was quick to let them know Matthew was worthy of being included and that not all tax collectors were crooks and thieves. When Jesus included Mary Magdalene as one of his closest friends, some of his disciples weren’t thrilled to have a female in their male ranks. And some even questioned why a woman would be out alone without a husband hanging with them. Jesus was quick again to let them know she was a dear friend and most welcome in his inner circle. When Jesus taught- he often used parables- and among the most famous- is the parable of the Good Samaritan. He made the Samaritan the hero because Samaritans were despised in first century Palestine. No Jewish person would ever expect them to be the hero. They were the offspring of an inter-racial marriage, the union between a Jewish person and a Babylonian. The Babylonians had held the Jewish people in captivity for hundreds of years and if a Jewish person wanted to be free from prison he or she would marry a Babylonian to escape captivity, and as such, their children, the product of this union, were hated and shunned by the Jews – for hundreds and hundreds of years- long, long past the captivity- simply because of their race. So of course Jesus made the least liked person, the Samaritan, the hero- because we should only be judged by our actions- not our race.
So how do we help? I think one way we do this is that we listen. We have to listen to other’s experiences, their stories, and not assume we know or understand. That’s one way we can begin to build bridges instead of walls.
About six years ago, on a hot August day, between football two-a-days, I took a group of 5 boys to Target to buy a birthday gift for a friend. I parked the car and the boys all piled out with their athletic string bags on their backs and headed to Target. The heat was pouring off the asphalt. I got out, locked the doors, and started heading towards the Target double doors. Just as I was almost there, one boy had reached the doors, turned around and was heading in my direction. He said, “Can I go back to the car?” I asked, “Why?”. He said, “I want to put my bag up.” I replied, “Just take it in with you- it’s too hot to go back to the car.” He politely asked again- and he could now see the frustration on my face. He then said something that to this day gives me pause. He said, “I want to bring my bag back to the car because I would be so embarrassed in front of my friends if someone asked to look in my bag as if I took something.”
My student shared his experience, his story- what it’s like to walk around and be him, an African American male. In his story, I learned something I didn’t know. My empathy level grew. That’s what happens when we make room for our stories to be told. We grow.
I think our hope lies in our stories. After he told me this, I told him to turn around- that WE were going into Target and that I dared anyone to ask to look in his bag and not ask to look in my purse. Hope lies in our stories, but resurrection, redemption, that lies in our RESPONSE to the story. Our call is to help redeem what is wrong and broken. Our call is to walk with…and help.
When we recite the “Lord’s Prayer” this morning, pay attention to the words, “thy kingdom come.” God’s kingdom comes to earth when God’s people choose to help usher it in- and that means standing up for what is right, good and holy.
Even with all the injustices I hear and see, I am hopeful. I am a resurrection person. Christians are Easter people- we believe even the worst parts of life can be redeemed. The cross has taught us this. Be Easter people. Keep on fighting the good fight. Amen.
Let us pray:
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
people of this land], that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us say together the Lord’s Prayer.