Children of God should be who we are
Following the recent protests against racism in the USA and Great Britain, Andy Bryant is unhappy with being labelled as white, male, and middle-class; and suggests a more meaningful and purposeful identity.
White. Male. Middle-class. Three words which I want to deny but which are my reality. Three words that seem so simple, but which now seem forever tainted. Three words which shape my outlook and at the same time distort my perception.
White. Male. Middle-class. Everything in me wants to resist these labels. I do not want to be stereotyped. I hate it when people make statements about “all whites” or “all men”. I want to say I am the exception, to shout “We are not all the same!”. But I also know that part of my discomfort is that, in part, they carry a truth. The heritage of those labels has not always been good and honourable.
White. Male. Middle-class. Equally the world is not helped by me just feeling permanently guilty, or for ever apologising for being what I am. In and of themselves these three words are not inherently bad. It is rather how I live out that identity.
We each need to live with greater awareness of the lenses through which we see the world, to be more conscious of the unconscious assumptions we too easily impose on others. More crucially we need to be more open to understanding how others view the world, to validate and understand their perceptions of reality – and realise that we may find these deeply challenging, and even critical, of the things we had assumed as normal and right.
At its worst we use faith to confirm our world view, to justify our approach to life and to others. This happens when we create God in our own image. Too many churches have stained glass windows depicting Jesus as white, blue-eyed and blonde. We seek to own God and put God to our own doing. Theologically what matters is that “He” is like us.
At its best faith is the very thing that challenges me out of my assumptions. I have to learn to see the world through God’s eyes and to feel with God’s heart. In the face of the unconditional love of God, my own poor expression of love is challenged to grow in breadth and depth. I have to acknowledge that the plank is always in my eye and, until I address that, I cannot begin to speak of the speck in your eye. Theologically what matters is that I become more like Jesus, that I learn to grow in holiness, grace and love.
The images of the last moments of the life of George Floyd should sicken and appall all of us. But for all my empathy as white, male, middle-class, I cannot fully comprehend how others of a different colour feel and experience this, nor how it speaks to a myriad of other experiences that as white, male, middle-class, I do not know and do not experience. I must respond in humility, willing to listen and to learn, however challenging that may be. I need to understand where, consciously and unconsciously I am part of the problem and not part of the solution. The fact that people need to hold a banner that says Black Lives Matter condemns me.
In the end I do not believe I am defined by being white, male and middle-class. I believe that I am called to live my true identity of being a child of God. Such a statement is not a way to deny the impact of those three words but is the calling to seek a better identity, one that embraces us all and which insists on equality and justice for all.
Covid-19 is not the only infection in town. George Floyd’s death is a reminder of the many ways in which humanity is wounded and needing to be healed. It is not enough to live lives that do no harm. We need to live lives which actively seek to bring healing, to be, in the best and right meaning of the phrase, true children of God.
The image above is courtesy of truthseeker08 from pixabay.com
The Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry here and can follow him via his Twitter account @AndyBry3.
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users.