PASTOR BOB’S NEIGHBORHOOD: “Owning My “White-tiousness”

A religion scholar comes to Jesus and wants to know how one attains eternal life. After Jesus gives the man his initial answer, including the command to love your neighbor as yourself, the man has one quick follow-up question for Jesus …   

Luke 10:29 — Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Inadvertently, the religion scholar opens the door for Jesus to tell a story about the exact nature of the love that he expects from all of us. In short, Jesus teaches that there are no exceptions to this command, and that everybody is our neighbor. In trying to find a loophole, the religion scholar clarified exactly who and when Jesus expects us to love as He loves us: Everybody … Always! 

The time is now here for me in own my life to own this story, by owning my own story. It’s time for me to become a better neighbor to those who are not like me; to be Samaritan than priest or Levite. 

Luke 10: 36-37 — “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

I did not know George Floyd, but I know many people who aren’t like me, and I know of many more that are like him. But even then, the “neighbor” in Jesus’s story didn’t know the man in the ditch. Which didn’t keep him from lifting him, carrying him to help, providing a safe place for nourishment and healing, and offering some extra help for the rest of the journey.  It seems that Jesus expects people of privilege and preference to be really good neighbors. 

Now I realize — I have a “me” problem. I cannot honestly read the story of the Good Samaritan without confessing that my role in this story is played by either the priest or the Levite, who both prudently moved to the other side of the street so as to avoid the man needing help. I wonder why I have been content to walk on the safe side of the street my whole life while so many of my neighbors continue to face hardships and danger from the same social structures that offer me such preference and privilege. 

This week I have been asking God to show me what I need to do to become a better neighbor. God immediately showed me, first of all, who I am. You see, I have learned the hard way that you can’t get God’s help, or anyone else’s, if you don’t admit to yourself that you have a problem. God revealed to me four problems I have: 1) I am white; 2) I am male; 3) I am straight; and 4) I am of European descent. 

Isn’t that interesting? I’ve never thought of those as problems for me. All along I have thought those were “good” things to be. I even preferred to be those things, because somehow I’ve been trained to think those four characteristics were indeed “better” than the alternatives. I felt fortunate that I was a white, male, straight, Euro-citizen of the U.S. It’s like I won the lottery! 

And then God showed me how “white-tious” I had become. Without even giving it a second thought, I accepted the false truth that those who weren’t like me were less than me, just because of who I was. But, now I look at myself and the situation our nation finds itself in from a different lens – from the eyes of Jesus … based on the story of the Good Samaritan. And this is what I have discovered:

  1. I have a white problem – not a black, brown, yellow or anybody else problem. They’re not the problem. I am. And I need to admit that so that God can help me change.
  2. I have a male problem – not a female problem. They’re not the problem. I am. And I need to admit that so that God can help me change.
  3. I have a straight problem – not a gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual, or any other sexual orientation problem. They’re not the problem. I am. And I need to admit that so that God can help us change.
  4. I have a Euro-centric citizenship problem – not an immigrant. undocumented, illegal alien, or foreigner problem.  They’re not the problem. I am. And I need to admit that so that God can help me change.

In sum, I have a “me” problem. (And by the way, I think for those like me, our country has a “we” problem.) The truth of my story is that I have not been a good neighbor to people who aren’t like me. I have spent too much of my life crossing over to the safe side of the street where my preference and privilege protect me. And I have failed to understand that because of the power of my preference and privilege, I have a unique God-given calling to help my neighbors. 

Like you, I celebrate the principles and ideals that this country is founded on. I think that they give our nation the best chance in the world to see a great diversity of peoples live in peace and harmony with justice and freedom for all. But the time has come for me to understand that just because I can celebrate those ideals and principles in my heart, because I have experienced them directly and personally, that until my neighbors can also do that, then those ideals and principles are hollow promises and empty slogans. Now I can see how I have lived my life based on my self- “white-tiousness.”

I want to thank God for being so quick and clear (after all these years!) in showing me the truth of my life, compared to my neighbors, in such a compelling and convincing way. I now know that this new path of my spiritual journey has just begun. I now know that there are many more things that I don’t know about this journey than I do know. But I also now know that if I stick with God on this, and don’t rush to get out in front of God, then I too could someday be as “good” of a neighbor to others as the Samaritan was to the man in the story. 

Lastly, I can’t help but wonder if God has been trying to speak to your heart as well. My spiritual intuition tells me so. That’s good! I cannot walk this walk path alone. I know that God is walking with me … but I wonder if you would be willing to join me. I wonder what that path might look like, and what it would entail. I know that there will be a lot of learning to be done … but also some real action. Let’s pray about it. Let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas about this … and let us be led by the Holy Spirit, who can teach us everything we need to know if we are willing to listen.

No Jesus ~ No Peace                                                                                                                                          Know Jesus ~ Know Peace,

Pastor Bob