“James from Maiden”
While driving to the church office this morning I had my favorite local sports talk radio station on, listening to “The Mac Attack” call in show. The subject was football, in particular the NFL and our local team (Carolina Panthers). Today marked the beginning of the football new year, not sure why, when the sports talk world leaves behind the NBA and Major League Baseball to get ready for the start of high school, college and NFL preseason practice. I love this time of year; hope springs eternal for fans of the sport. As I listened to the callers discus our hometown team, person after person wished the show hosts and listening audience a “happy football new year”. Listed above are the four names that I could remember as I sat down to type. There were black callers and white callers, callers from northern states and those from small communities in the south; each spoke with excitement about the chance to be a part of the show and pledged their allegiance to the Panthers. As I laughed about the funny nicknames and ridiculous predictions for the upcoming season, my mind went to an insight that I had discovered years ago…a professional sports team can unite it’s city. Yes in Charlotte we have fans of every college within 200 miles, and passions run deep and can even be a little over the top. We enjoy those rivalries and the bragging rights that come from winning championships. However, on Sunday’s during football season we put away our rivalries and unite under the team colors of the Panthers.
The football new year discussion was for me a nice respite from the angst that is engulfing our American society this summer. Once again our nation is choosing sides on matters of race, authority and politics. It’s devastating to see images of African Americans killed by law enforcement officers, and then law enforcement officers killed in response. And so we respond by saying: “black lives matter”, “blue lives matter”, “all lives matter”, and so on. We look for people and institutions and laws to blame for all the violence and anger. We point fingers at people we have never met, and offer our opinions on why they are in the wrong. I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to live as a racial minority, or serve in law enforcement as do some of you who will read these words. But my goodness, if we can put aside differences of race and politics and unite behind a football team…surely…
What I’d like to do on this Monday morning is share with you with a couple of thoughts related to the events of last week.
For starters, I believe that empathy is something that God calls us to cultivate in our lives. Empathy, to put it simply, is the ability to understand and share the emotions and experiences of another human being. Empathy is different from sympathy, which is feeling pity or sorrow for another person’s misfortune. To empathize is try as best we can to walk in another person’s shoes; to gain an understanding of what it must be like to experience life as they do. While I have my thoughts and feelings regarding the deep divide that has been magnified by the events of last week, I’m trying to refrain from simple minded knee-jerk reactions, and empathize with the people who see life so differently. If you think about it, the basic Gospel message centers on God’s empathy and sacrifice for humanity. Jesus shared our flesh and experienced the entire range of what it is to be human; He gets us…He can empathize with our plight. However, going beyond simple empathy, He also sacrificed any privilege He had and gave His life that we might be reconciled to God. As His followers, I’m convinced that a faithful response to what has our culture roiling is to empathize and be willing to sacrifice our ego in order to show grace and understanding. The powers that be will deal with the legal ramifications of the violence, the power of God is what will deal with human hearts that need to be mended and shaped. Indeed I’m praying that God will give me the gift empathy; I’m praying that God will give me the words to communicate the grace of God in the midst great turmoil this coming Sunday.
The other thought is also related to prayer. I’m not only going to pray for empathy, but also for the Holy Spirit to be with those on the front lines dealing with this cultural divide. My prayer for community and organizational leaders is that they sow seeds of forgiveness and grace among those who look to them for direction. In my view this is a spiritual problem we face, and thus it requires a spiritual response. Jesus was born into a world marked by deep divisions among people groups; for heaven’s sake the Hebrews wouldn’t even extend simple acts of human kindness to the Samaritans. Rather than ignore or defend the lack of dignity afforded to people who were different from those in Jesus’ community, He built bridges between them. This morning I’m praying for the Spirit to move the shapers of opinion and policy to be bridge builders according to the model given by our Lord. Like me you might not be on the front lines, yet this doesn’t mean that we don’t have a role to play. So please join me in selecting a person or two and spend some time in focused prayer for him/her.
One bonus thought. Today each of us will come in contact with another human being; how will we treat him/her? Let’s resolve to be one small player in an enormous movement of Christians who are covering our community with God’s grace. I once heard a pastor teach a lesson on healing wounds that divide people, by emphasizing: “It might not be your fault, but it’s your time.” I love that. Friends, it is indeed our time.
Grace to you,