"It's different here."
This is a phrase I’ve heard many times since moving to the east coast in relation to race, racism and cross-cultural exchanges. I grew up in San Diego, CA. While I’ve travelled quite a bit, I’ve lived in that city, and the county around it, my whole life until moving to Washington, DC. For a season of my childhood, my parents owned a small orchard in the rural part of San Diego County. I attended a public school, which was made up of white students whose parents owned the orchards on which brown students’ parents worked. Even in 5th grade the tension was palpable.
For years, I didn’t understand that tension. I didn’t have to. That was part of the problem–I didn’t have to appreciate that not everyone saw the world as I did. Yet, many San Diegans knew that their survival depended on understanding this. As Howard Zinn often articulated, winners write history. Losers live knowing another story while having to embody the winner’s version.
The narrative of Southern California and the mid-Atlantic are different. But they tell the same tale. It’s a story of dominance. A story that establishes a particular group as winners and others as losers–one group as good, another as bad. And once this is settled within the fabric of a culture, it’s difficult to undo.
Jesus told stories. Lots of them. In fact, in what was likely annoying to the disciples, it’s how he answered most questions. This last Sunday, Christians across this nation listened to one of these stories, the story of the Good Samaritan. But did we hear the story?
At the end of Jesus’ tale, a Hebrew attorney can’t bring himself to name who was the most neighborly–the Samaritan. Instead, he says, the one who has shown mercy. Additionally, I cannot go unnoticed that the passage is referred to as the "Good Samaritan," as if most Samaritans weren't good but were bad. Jesus’ story exposes the bias of his culture as well as the dominant readership over time.
There was another story told this last weekend. Attorneys were present in this story as well. We all read about it in headlines, personal status updates and heard about it on television. No matter the opinions we each hold concerning the George Zimmerman verdict, what was made evident is that this country remains deeply wounded regarding race and culture.
The trouble is that people like me–white, heterosexual, middle class male–don’t have to hear and see what this narrative exposes. Like the attorney in Jesus’ story, we don’t have to name it. But we have an opportunity to name what has been exposed, just as Jesus did. As a person of privilege, I can’t say that I fully appreciate or know what is to be done beyond naming the biases and dominance that have been exposed. It seems rather critical that we listen well to other narratives before taking naïve action.
In the last couple of days, I’ve reached out to several people in our diocesan community to do just that: listen. Through those conversations, what is already clear to me is that the kind of action we take must tell a different story. In a world that is broken, we need to embody a story of healing. In a world that dehumanizes, we are called to announce that good news that God’s likeness is found in each of us. Like that good Samaritan in Jesus’ tale, it’s time to draw near the pain of our neighbors–close enough to understand the pain. As it cost the Samaritan man, it will cost each of us. But in the end, this tells another story. A story the Church can demonstrate and proclaim. A story our neighbors long to hear.