We said good-bye to Jason’s cousin who had stopped by to visit. As the door closed, I said, “I can’t in good conscious agree with the criticisms you both were making about Harvard’s black student commencement.” Jason read a headline about Harvard convening its first commencement just for black graduate students and that tipped off a litany of criticisms by him and his cousin. The whole thing felt misunderstood even though I had not read the article. “What if it’s to celebrate the graduation of those students who historically had been discriminated against? What if this is a way to make amends and lift those students?” I asked. “That adds to the divisiveness of race issues, it makes things worse.” he retorted. I felt my walls of defense around me begin to rise, it felt like an attack on programs created to promote opportunity for students from underprivileged backgrounds. Affirmative action comes to mind, my entry to University of Florida comes to mind. I snapped back “I got in to UF because of a minority recruitment and retention program and it gave me special tutoring just for the minority students. Is that wrong? I needed that tutoring. I am not going to apologize for receiving that! I am just as deserving of an opportunity as anyone else and I am living proof that the program works. My life is a testament to that!”
This isn’t the first time Jason and I have discussed or argued about issues surrounding race and social justice. We could not have been raised in more different circumstances. He is your quintessential farm-raised, country boy from a small town in middle America. I am from the transient bustling melting pot that is South Florida and my roots are firmly anchored in the mountains of Panama and the mountains of Puerto Rico where my mother and father are from, respectively. I was born in Panama but raised in the United States. He is white non-Hispanic/Latino and I am white Hispanic/Latino. Our life narratives reflect, among other things, what people see and what society values.
We carried our discussion from the living room to the bedroom, it was late and I had work the next day. Jason came around to the foot of the bed to stand in the way of my gaze. I had began tucking myself in for the night. He was trying to reach me. “Would Jesus be ok with that?” I just looked at him. That didn’t resonate because I was too new on my path of light to even appreciate the gravity of what he asked. Then he said, “Would Martin Luther King Jr. be ok with a black student only college graduation?” That got to me and he knew it did. But all I said was “Goodnight Jason, I love you” as I laid down and turned off the light.
My morning drive to work began with me ruminating on whether Martin Luther King Jr. would be ok with a black student college graduation and it took me only a few minutes to know in my heart that he would not. Dr. King was a Christian man, an icon for social not just racial justice. I endeavored to read more about him and his sermons. I visited a used book store and found not just books on Martin Luther King, but also on Frederick Douglas and W.E.B. Dubois. I figured Dr. King might reference those two and decided to read on them as well for better context on his material.
Issues of social justice and race have always mattered to me but I needed to know how to see these issues through my new lens which I also refer to as the God lens. I hope that reading Dr. King’s work and the bible would help bridge my understanding of racial issues through God’s laws.
This new lens is a salient acquisition, bestowed by the Holy Spirit. I see things differently. It is much easier to see how depravity is so adroitly woven into our cultural norms and social morays that Christian views are seen as extreme, prude, and even bigoted. Music that was once ok and played often is now off-putting and offensive because of what it values or glorifies. The scripture that comes to mind is Luke 6:45 which says:
A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.
Essentially what is in our heart will come out in our speech and behavior. So intentionally selecting what is read, listened to, watched, etc. determines what we fill ourselves with and hopefully what we will exude. For lent this year I gave up candy, news shows or radio stations (e.g. NPR) and social media. In trying to simplify my life, I began with purging my closet and drawers and began reading daily devotionals every morning and evening (I like and recommend Our Daily Bread and The Upper Room). If the scripture spoke to me, I would look it up in the bible and read the notes and other verses referenced.
In seeking to strengthen my relationship with God on a daily basis this new lens was brought to my attention and to the forefront of my thoughts as I processed a sermon or scripture. This put forth a dichotomy I had not previously considered seriously.
There is the “worldly lens” and the God lens through which to examine happenings or circumstances. The “worldly lens” is the lens I have examined and pondered everything through, it was my proverbial default lens. The measure of right and wrong in the “worldly lens” are as transient and changing as the times. Cussing, for example was once deemed inappropriate and even taboo in day to day interactions and forbidden in mass produced entertainment. Cultural norms of today include cussing. Evidence can be found in television shows, movies, music, visiting your local grocery store, etc. The “wordly lens” accounts for this shift of what is tolerated and acceptable and changes the standard of right and wrong accordingly. This is viewed as flexible and even more palatable as it provides more latitude in what is considered right and wrong. Tolerance of bending and stretching norms of right and wrong is a virtue.
In contrast the God lens delineates right and wrong by the word of God as recorded in the bible. The standard of right and wrong and what is tolerated doesn’t change, it remains the same and applies always. For this reason God’s lens is often judged as rigid and dated (I am guilty of holding these notions about Christianity). In applying God’s lens, discernment of what is right and wrong and how to respond is a virtue.
I am in no way saying that I have it all figured out. Far from it. The things I don’t know far outnumber the things I do. But I continue to seek God and understand more of what He asks of me. On seeking, Jesus said in Matthew 7:7-8-
Keep on asking and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking , and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
What have you sought and received? What doors have been opened for you?
I hope to write more on my opened doors:)