It seems that racial tensions are escalating in our country. The part of the country I live in doesn’t experience this kind of thing, so I feel like I don’t understand any of it. Maybe it has always been this way and I am just very naïve. That is possible.
I was never taught to see people differently than I see myself — not for any reason. Race, color, creed, social status, or even how someone smelled was no excuse to treat people any differently. I am grateful for that. I just don’t experience the effects or causes of racial tensions in my life.
It is more than just because I am a white, middle-aged male. I am sure this reality has an effect I don’t understand on my life and that I am over simplifying everything and that I have no real voice in this conversation. That is probably all true. And yet here I am writing these thoughts down.
What I know is the issues facing reconciliation are very complex. There is not a “just do this and it will all be better” kind of action. What I want to propose is more of a first step toward reconciliation.
Reconciliation in any relationship essentially starts in the same place, whether the brokenness comes by offense, misunderstanding, racial issues, or otherwise. I must fight to understand before I fight to be heard. I want to be clear here: This is not just working to hear what the other person is saying — it is working to understand it.
A weird thing happens when we fight to understand one another rather than fighting to be right. We can stand in different places and yet be supportive of the other person. That is the foundation upon which real unity is built.
There are a couple of ways to achieve unity. One is unity at the expense of opinion. No one gets to have any thoughts or input except for one person at the very top. This is a major piece of what lies at the core of many reconciliation issues. One party feels overpowered by another. They believe their voice is taken. This is actually abusive, and it is one of the major indicators that abuse is taking place. While everyone is “on the same page,” it is not that everyone is actually on the same page, but there is only one page to be on. This is not unity. It is uniformity. It is a dictatorship. It is abuse.
The other way to achieve unity is to allow for all opinions to be heard. This is unity in the face of differing opinions. Real unity is defined by diversity. That a group of people would come together and have all kinds of ideas about how the world works — and what we should value as a culture — and still fight to bring out the best in each other rather than fighting to be right… That is beautiful. And who wouldn’t want to be a part of that kind of relationship?
Whether your need for reconciliation is at the marital level, the work culture level, or the racial level, it all starts in essentially the same place: We must fight to understand the other person. We can’t simply try to prove we are right.
This is one of the beautiful pieces of the Gospel message. God demonstrated His love for us in this — while we were still sinners, He came to die for us. Hebrews says we do not have a High Priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but He was tempted in every way just as we are, and yet was without sin.
Understanding is not a compromise. Understanding is recognizing there are things that are far more important than being right. It is embracing the reality that humans are more valuable than making any point, no matter how highly you think of your point. It is being able to trust that when God says it is His to take vengeance, He means it and He will actually take care of business. It is letting go of the need to get even with others. It is allowing the good of the whole to trump my personal desires. It is seeing that my opinions, while considered and perhaps even educated, are still just my opinions and are therefore limited. It is giving others an opportunity to shape the world in new and profound ways that I didn’t know could exist before. Understanding looks like Jesus.
May you be a person who fights for understanding. May you never let the millions of divisions in humanity dissuade you from the power of reconciliation. May you look like Jesus. And may you be the first person to let go of your need to be right so real reconciliation can take place.