While in the gym the other day, I came to that point in my workout where I had to go to the back room to use a certain set of barbells. So, I walk in, and I notice that there’s only one other person there—a woman doing stretches on a yoga mat. Unfortunately, she’s set up like three feet in front of the rack that holds the barbells I need.
Immediately, I started having a conversation with myself: “Oh crap! Why didn’t she set up her yoga mat someplace more convenient? “Should I get the barbell, and move to a different spot, so it doesn’t look like I’m looming over her? On the other hand, why should I move? I don’t intend her any harm, and, after all, she’s right where it’s most convenient for me to stand. But that doesn’t seem right. She was here first. Why should I have any claim to this spot, especially if it might appear to her that I’m a potential threat? Still, it’s going to be a pain in the neck picking up the barbell and moving to another place. . .”
Back and forth.
I didn’t get the chance to decide because moments after I picked up the barbell, she gathered her things and left.
Somehow, I felt like she probably left because she didn’t feel comfortable in such close proximity to a big, hairy guy with a barbell in his hands and nobody else around. Then, I felt like a jerk. Because do I want to live in a world where the first thing other people have to do in these situations is sized me up as a threat?
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The whole thing felt really wrong to me. I realized that my first instinct was to carve out my space and make her adjust to concerns for my convenience.
What does that say about me? That my knee-jerk response was to think that my convenience was more important than hers?
But even more depressing than that is that my knee-jerk response was about me rather than empathy for her. I’m supposed to follow Jesus, which means that my encounters with others should first be an exercise in creatively imagining the worlds they inhabit—instead of how it is that they’re bit players in my own psychodrama. Don’t I owe it to her to take some extra time to try to understand her experience—in which her knee-jerk reaction of suspicion and fear makes sense?
People like me have created a world for ourselves for our own convenience. Out of a sense of self-preservation, she must live with fear in that world—one I get to take for granted is pretty safe.
And it is pretty safe . . . for people like me.
But so many people don’t have the luxury of taking that safety for granted—which, I feel, contributes to all the mishegoss over NFL players taking a knee.
African American players try to draw attention to a world in which people of color are dying at the hands of police—a world white people get to take for granted is safe from police brutality.
And what’s the knee-jerk response by so many to this pained cry of protest?
“Hey, this is our world! And, in our world, people like you must play by rules that reinforce our belief that the world we’ve created for ourselves is fair and just. So, if you have problems with that, there must be something wrong with you. You need to adjust yourselves to concerns for our convenience. If you don’t adjust, we’ll bring out the most potent symbols we have—the flag, the national anthem, military deaths—to make you adjust. We’re not playing here. This stuff makes us really uncomfortable, and you’ve got to stop!”
You know, what’s a damn shame? I hear Christians saying this stuff.
Yeah, the people who’re supposed to love others the way Christ loved them. The people who’re not supposed to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think. Those people who’re supposed to “in humility regard others as better than themselves.” The ones who follow Jesus, and who are called first to imagine the world others inhabit . . . before thinking of themselves—and their own convenience.
How can people who claim to follow Jesus hear the cries of the wounded, who’re forced to live in fear, adjusting themselves to our view of a safe and just world? What could make us hear those cries and think only about the most effective way to drown them out? Just because we find those cries inconveniently challenge the world we’ve built for ourselves, cries that plead with us to adjust ourselves to a different world than the one we’re comfortable with—to see things through someone else’s eyes?
Whatever happened to compassion?
Come on, Jesus expects more from us!
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Photo credit: By Brasil2 @ iStock by Getty Images