On Race and Unity

I’m not a pet person.

I know this is hard for pet people to understand, because SO many people have pets, and pets are one of those things we just take for granted that everybody feels the same way about.

But it is very uncomfortable for me when I visit the home of someone who has a pet, because I don’t have love and affection for their pets (though, for some odd reason, their pets have a great deal of love and affection for me…).

First off, I am allergic to cats; severely so. Let me tell you how I found out: Shortly after Heidi and I were married, someone gave us a kitten. Now, this kitten was the cutest kitten, like ever. She was soft and cuddly and, like all other animals in the known universe, she loved me… We made her this nice little kitty bed to sleep in, but shortly after we went to bed, she hopped up on our bed, crawled up the comforter, and cuddled up right on top of my pillow against my head. SO sweet… Until I woke up about an hour later with my throat closed up and my eyes swollen shut. The next day, that poor widdle killer kitten went back where it came from…

Dogs are another story: I used to want a puppy more than anything in the world. Spent most of my childhood begging for one. Then, one day, my parents finally broke down … and got my little sister a puppy… But that little puppy had other ideas – she quickly made it clear that she was my puppy. She was cute and cuddly and sweet, and I loved her and she loved me – so much so that she loved to run back and forth between my feet while I was walking… until I accidentally stepped on her and broke her hip… And after major reconstructive surgery, she was not the same; we had to give her away. So puppies aren’t exactly my happy place, either.

Also, I should also probably mention that I have an innate fear of dogs that probably stems from the fact that I was attacked by a dog twice – before I was four years old.

I bring this up because I know that it is an area in which I am a minority. It simply does not occur to people with pets that someone else might not be totally cool with animals buddying up to them and doing what animals do. Nobody even considers that a man who looks like me might be secretly terrified of their furry little agent of destruction.

So every time I enter a house, I do so with a secret terror that I might either get attacked or stop breathing. And I know it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to most people, but it’s a reality I live with that is based on both knowledge and personal experience. And even if it’s only a reality in my own mind, it doesn’t make it any less real for me.

When we look at what’s happening in this country where race is concerned, it can be difficult to understand why so many people are so upset. After all, it seems like the situation has changed for the better for African Americans in this country, and yet people are as angry as ever over issues of race. It’s hard for many of us to understand why everything seems to be about race these days. We elected a black president – didn’t that demonstrate that racism is a thing of the past? And most of us don’t consider ourselves to be racists, so why does it feel like all white people are being accused of racism today?

Of course there are easy answers like the media, social justice warriors and “Cancel Culture,” but those are really just symptoms of the larger problem, which lies at the heart of every human: Sin. Sin separates us and divides us, and confuses and stirs up and blurs the line between perception and reality.

Back in 2016, former NFL quarterback Collin Kaepernick was the first to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality against black people in this country. Suddenly, people everywhere had an opinion about a football player they had never heard of, the NFL, and the national anthem.

Some said that those who knelt during the anthem were being disrespectful toward the flag and the country that gave them their freedom to play a game for a living.

Others said it was never about the anthem, the flag or even the country itself, it was about drawing attention to a major problem in this country.

And I’m not here to defend Collin Kaepernick or attack him, because it’s a matter of opinion; not a matter of fact – no matter how strongly you feel about it.

In fact, what many people don’t know is that before he knelt, Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem. And shortly after that happened, he was contacted by Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and United States Green Beret, who wrote to Kaepernick and told him that remaining seated during the anthem was disrespectful – but if he took a knee during the anthem… it would get his message across in a way that still conveyed respect – in fact, that is what members of the military will sometimes do to honor a fallen brother or sister: take a knee. The two talked, and Kaepernick immediately started taking a knee during the anthem to honor that advice from a U.S. veteran.

But then the whole situation gained national attention without any context, and the lie that there is a clear right and wrong to every situation won out, as anger took over and both sides stopped listening.

Our news media – on both sides – perpetuates the myth that there are good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains; that some people are pure of heart and others are completely evil. And nothing could make Satan happier than all of the hatred and division and self-righteousness and hypocrisy that is happening on all sides of every issue right now.

Satan is the father of lies, the master of deception. And in his lies and deception, he convinces us that we are the good guys… and everyone who is different is the bad guy. He wants us to believe that everything is cut-and-dried; that there is a clear right or wrong on every issue. But most issues – even the big ones – are much more complex than we might first think

Let’s try something: I want you to think about what you consider to be “normal.” Grow up, go to college, get married, have two kids, buy a home, go to church, have a pet?

Remember what I said – we don’t even think about realities other than our own, until we are confronted with them – and then because we don’t understand them, we don’t know what to do with them. So we look at someone who has been single all their life and we wonder what’s wrong with them. We look at someone who is married without children – or married with “too many” children and – again – we wonder what is wrong with them. Stay-at-home moms used to be the norm, but now we look at them and say things like, “Oh, so you don’t work, then?”

For all those people who live outside of the established norms in a community, there is a feeling of being weird; of being judged; of being looked down upon by the majority. I’m willing to bet that you, you reading this, have at one time or another felt that same uncomfortable feeling of being the odd one out about something or other, because nobody conforms to every view of “normal.” And that feeling – even if it only exists in your own mind – is still real to you. And that means you have to deal with it.

That is how many black people feel in this country. And it doesn’t matter whether you think they should or not, because it is real to them – and understanding that is part of loving them.

I want you to think about something you probably know, but have probably not thought about before: The United States of America was born when it declared its independence in 1776 in a document that famously states that

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Declaration of Independence, 1776

It took 90 years after that document was written for America to pass an amendment that outlawed slavery. It took 90 years for a person who was endowed by his Creator with the inalienable right to liberty – to actually have liberty in this country. And then it took another 100 years to give those same men and women the right to vote. For 188 years in this country, it was legal to discriminate against someone strictly because their skin had an excess of melanin. And the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 was only 56 years ago – it happened in many of our lifetimes.

We might think to ourselves that the past is the past and it’s time to move on, but most of us have no idea what it’s like to grow up surrounded by people who look different than us and judge us because of our appearance. We might think to ourselves that it’s ridiculous to think that you’re going to get stopped, arrested or assaulted by the police if you’re not doing anything wrong, but that’s because most of have never been looked at by anyone who thought we were “up to something” just because of the color of our skin.

And I want to stress again, that even if you believe it’s only a perception someone has in his or her own mind… it doesn’t make it any less real for them.

Look, you can think whatever you want about racism and racial inequality in this country and whose fault it is and the extent to which it is a real problem or a problem of perception – but it doesn’t change our calling to love – and to love everyone.

And everyone – including us – lives with certain perceptions of reality that are shaped by the people who’ve taught us, by our own life experiences, and what we see, read or hear in the media. Our own ideas are shaped as much by perception as anyone else’s.

So instead of spending our time judging, blaming and criticizing others for the way they think and believe, it’s time we heed our calling to love them where they’re at.

They don’t need to be more like us in order for us to love them – it’s up to us to step outside of our comfort zone and step into their world in order to encounter them where they feel safe, not us.

Because only then will they see that we truly care about them enough to make ourselves uncomfortable for them.

This is not just about black and white, either. The rich look down on the poor and the poor resent the rich. Labor mistrusts management and management mistrusts labor. The educated talk down to the uneducated as though they are stupid, and the uneducated disregard the educated as arrogant. Atheists ridicule Christians and Christians ridicule atheists. The Jewish people have been hated by others since God first made His covenant with Abraham, and they in turn have hated the Samaritans and the Palestinians. Because no one is immune from hatred or discrimination.

But we are called to be better – even when we are hated and discriminated against. Because you and I are Christian before we are black or white or German or Scandinavian or American or even Lutheran!

We are one people, united in our sinfulness and divided because of our sinfulness. But we can have true unity in Christ, where it doesn’t matter whether we are black or white, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican.

Our identity is in Jesus Christ, and He is the One true Uniter of all people of all tribes across the whole world. And whether our skin is black, white, brown or any of the myriad other shades of melanin, we are all one human race, and we are one together, united in Christ.

It’s time we step outside of our comfort zones; it’s time we challenge what we’ve always known and accepted as true; it’s time we stop waiting for other people to fix the problem and start living how we are called to live.

I might one day get over my fear and dislike of animals, and that is entirely up to me – you can’t change the way I think. But it’s far more likely and quicker to happen if pet owners stop to consider my discomfort, and instead of being defensive about their pets, take steps to make people like me feel safe and welcome.

African Americans might one day be willing to believe that they are safe and have equal opportunities to everyone else in this country, and that is entirely up to them – you can’t change the way they think. But it’s far more likely and quicker to happen if people like us stop to consider their discomfort, and instead of being defensive, take steps to make them feel safe and welcome.

That part is up to us. And it’s not political… it’s biblical.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”

Philippians 2:4 (ESV)

We are all one in Jesus Christ. And while we are divided here on earth, we are one in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the Kingdom of Heaven came down to earth in Jesus Christ, and it remains here in His Church. We can offer everyone a glimpse of what it will be like in heaven, when we are all united as God’s children.

It’s time we work to help others believe it – AND to make it a reality.

~Ever, RevErik

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