People Matter

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A few years ago I received a call from my friend Pat. I love Pat. Have loved her from the moment I met her. A long time ago I managed a really cool service project called WorkCamp where youth from our diocese helped individuals who, for a myriad of reasons, were unable to help themselves. Together we built handicap accessible ramps for wheelchairs, rebuilt bathrooms, fixed kitchens, painted the inside and outside of homes, put on new siding, replaced or repaired roofing, etc. Our motto was to help keep people safe, warm and dry. We did not do landscaping or home beautification; HGTV we were not. But we had a passion for helping individuals who slipped between the cracks of society and found themselves living in conditions that were wet, cold or unsafe. Pat is a social worker with an agency which serves the elderly. Pat knows every elderly person who needs assistance in her county. Let me say that again. Pat knows every elderly person in need of assistance. She puts other social workers to shame. Pat is the Mother Theresa of the county where she works. Of course, she’d blush to hear such praise and deny such a categorization, but I assure you Pat is that good. And I adore her. ADORE HER. When Saint Peter is letting folks in through the pearly gates I want to ride Pat’s coat tail!

So, one day I receive a call from Pat-who-I-adore. Pat asks if I want to come to her house for dinner. To meet her girlfriend. I said yes, of course, thanks for the dinner invite and I want to meet her, what’s her name?  Pat tells me her girlfriend’s name is Valerie. We pick a date and time for dinner, and agree I’ll bring flowers and ice cream for dessert!

On the day of the dinner I pull into Pat’s driveway and walk up the path to her house. Pat greets me at the door as one of two cats runs through the living room to take up exile in the master bedroom, since a stranger has walked past the threshold. Pat and I hug and we begin to make our way through her living room, around the corner and into the kitchen where I am about to meet Valerie for the first time, and from behind me I hear Pat say, rather loudly, “And I’ll bet I didn’t mention she’s black.”

From my place in the room, the whole energy in the room seemed to shift from light and airy to weird to sorta okay to I didn’t know what the hell was going on …

… and then Valerie spun around, threw her arms open wide, embraced me and said into my ear, and loud enough for Pat to hear, “And I hate it when she doesn’t mention I am black.”

My head is swimming. I don’t know how to respond and then Pat says, “When I see Valerie I do not see the color of her skin.”  

To which Valerie responds, “And the color of my skin matters.”

I sit down at the table not really sure what my role is in this conversation which is happening around me and I’m not really a part of. But I am entirely digging it because it was so refreshingly out there – loud and clear for the whole world to hear – and it was raw and messy and real. Here we were, three people – two white, one black – in an ever-evolving relationship with one another, and I am thoroughly and entirely enthralled by how healthy this banter is back and forth.

hands_3I learned that night that the color of our skin could be discussed.

That disagreements could occur and that people could still be friends.

That we all view the world differently and through the lens of our own life experiences.

Fast-forward to today. The other day my friend Erin mentioned that she had had a deep and meaningful discussion with someone new. Naturally I wanted to hear all about the conversation and this person Erin found so intriguing. At some point in the conversation I found myself wanting to know more about this other person. What was their profession? Were they married? Did they have children? What was their ethnicity? Was this person Irish? Italian? Or Swedish? Black, white or Asian? I decided not to ask. Listening to Erin I discovered several tidbits of information that she chose to share. So, I chose to care about those aspects of this new person – the aspects which Erin found interesting enough to share.

I did not ask about the color of Erin’s new friends’ skin. I wanted to ask. Wanted to know. But I chose not to ask.

I remembered the experience I had had with Pat and Valerie. On one hand I really respect Pat’s opinion that the color of Valerie’s skin does not matter, that Pat loves Valerie exactly as Valerie is. On the other hand I appreciate Valerie saying, “Hey, wait a minute, my blackness matters.”

Recently we’ve all read the news reports about the Black Lives Matter campaign. And the retaliatory campaign that All Lives Matter. And I find myself agreeing with both. That black lives matter. That all lives matter. That everyone matters.

People matter. People matter to me. People matter to God. And people should matter to us all.

Jesus says we’re all connected. Saint Paul calls us The Body reminding us that the ear is as important as the knee, as is the eye to the nose, and so on. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”  MLK went on to say, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

We’re all connected.

I can hold both truths at the same time. This isn’t an either / or argument. It’s a both / and discussion.

Pat loves Valerie, including the color of her skin.

Valerie would appreciate it if the color of her skin is respected, called by name and that we all be treated equally and fairly.

It’s not one or the other. It’s both.

Black lives matter. All lives matter. Everyone matters. The Black Lives Matter campaign should not be dismissed too quickly because to dismiss the campaign is to choose to not see the individuals the campaign represents. It would benefit us all to take a minute and try to understand what it might be like to be a young black adolescent and to look closely at how we and the world treats young black adolescents. Yep, it would benefit us all.

In the months since the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, another human drama began to unfold just a few hours from there at the University of Missouri, “Mizzou.” Writer, activist Jim Wallis, describes well the events of Mizzou. If you’d care to read what Jim has to say about racial tensions please tap on this link to read The Power of Protest at Mizzou.

As Jim says so well, 

“White people need to learn to truly hear, acknowledge, understand, and act on the pain of black and brown people in order for our universities, workplaces, communities, and churches to experience the racial healing they so desperately need. But it is encouraging since the Ferguson movement gained national attention, people of color and their white allies have become increasingly aware of their power to stand up to oppressive systems, and have decided they’re done waiting for those systems to fix themselves.”

Black people matter. Yellow people matter. Brown people matter. White people matter. Red people matter. Am I unintentionally leaving out any shade of people?  

Gay people matter. Bisexual people matter. Straight people matter. Trans people matter.

Tall people matter. Fat people matter.

We all matter.

People matter, people.

Period.

Now, let’s act like it.

Peace friends, 

Chuck

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6 Comments

  • Kathy says:

    Truly well said….especially the end:

    People matter, people.
    Period.
    Now, let’s act like it.

    There’s the rub. 🙂
    Love and Christmas blessings,
    Kathy

  • Ed Reesman says:

    Well said Chuck!

  • Darlene Spurlolck says:

    Great words….Merry Christmas!

  • Ginny says:

    My friend Sharon and I competed in grade school
    Field day for 5 years. She mostly won! Sharon was black. We were in Girl Scouts t

    After HS Sharon had a tough life (2 yrs in state prison for check forgery).

    We reconnected 10 yr ago and enjoyed sharing our history. When my husband died
    She could remember him like no one else, as he was also in I
    Our grade school!

    She died of breast cancer 5 years ago. I am grateful for her friendship!

  • Margie Fransen says:

    Thank you, Chuck! Keep us focused on what is so important! Why can’t we all just get along?

  • Barbara says:

    AMEN, AMEN and again all God’s people say AMEN!

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