A few weeks ago my family and I came to a stop at what is usually a busy intersection. There stood a guy with a sign requesting something—money, food, a job, I don’t know; I don’t remember, but I felt compelled to give him some money. This was an unusual encounter, not because the man was white in our mostly black city or even clean-shaven, but because he talked beyond the beg. In the few seconds between lights changing, he asked my husband how he was doing, told him how he had commented to another motorist about that man’s muscles and then told my husband that he likes to engage people in conversations to help him feel “a part of society again.” Right then my heart broke. I imagined that he was a shoe salesman, a family man, a baseball coach, a company man. Perhaps his company down-sized, shut him out, and the pain from not being gainfully employed took a toll on his self worth. Maybe he didn’t want to remain at home, having his family see him in such a rut and their presence reminding him that he could no longer provide the way he had. He figured he would just leave; they would be better without him. So he ended up on the street but quickly realized that people see you differently when you’re on the street.
When you’re on the street with a sign, you’re an outcast, someone not seen as worthy of conversation, of hopes, dreams or taking up space on the earth. You know this by the piercing stares, the closing windows, and, if walking, the clutching purses. Sometimes they pull their children tighter, hold them closer and warn them about “people like that.” We think we need to be saved from people like that. George Zimmerman classified Trayvon Martin among “people like that.” And Trayvon’s sign? He didn’t have one, but when you are “people like that” others give you a sign: “I’m up to no good;” “I’m going to rob you;” “I want to rape you.” And when others see these signs, they see you as dangerous, someone not worthy of life and they many times decide it’s their job to eliminate you. George Zimmerman may have been acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin under the guise of defending himself, but he saw Trayvon—a 17-year-old in a hoodie walking alone with a bag of candy and ice tea—as a threat to him just because of Trayvon’s presence. Zimmerman claimed that he shot Trayvon to defend himself from Trayvon hitting him, but when you target someone who only has a sign—real or imagined—you are the perpetrator no matter what the laws of the land say. And if you are a Christian who has given others signs and sought to eliminate them, you may be okay with manmade laws that say you can stand your ground with a perceived threat, but you are in gross violation of God’s Law when you target and eliminate “people like that.”
“For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:12—KJV).
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28—KJV).
These verses speak about Christians from all backgrounds being the same in Jesus Christ. We who are believers cannot see another believer who doesn’t have the same skin color, same socioeconomic background, same education, same way of dress, or the like and decide to eliminate that person from being fully integrated into the church—the committee, the outreach ministry, the elder board, the children’s field trip. We may not pull the trigger of a gun, but our lack of hospitality—downright rudeness and meanness in some instances, come from us seeing “people like that” as a threat and is our way of eliminating them. “For the time [is come] that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if [it] first [begin] at us, what shall the end [be] of them that obey not the gospel of God (1 Peter 4:17—KJV)?”
We have to be the church as God instructed us to, first among ourselves and then to the world (Matthew 28:18-20). No longer can we target and eliminate the Trayvons of the world but we must embrace them for God’s sake, for our sake, for the world’s sake.
Take a Risk Challenge: Examine how you have targeted and eliminated others among your Christian circles and do one thing this week to set you on a course to change that forever. Include someone in your social outing. If you have hiring power, seek to hire someone. Maybe those are too much to begin with so start with making eye contact and saying hello to someone. Doing something to embrace the Trayvons of your world indeed is a radical act of love.
One Thousand Gifts List
Nate’s fat thighs
Enjoying being a mother
Chevelle getting Joshua to go to the movies with Joseph and Dwayne
Taking the boys to the playground and library
Joshua telling me unsolicited that he had a great time with me this week
For a partner in parenting
Time watering/gardening alone
My purse still being in the bathroom stall at the library and nothing was taken
One month of vegetarianism
Flynn’s safe return from the RZIM Summer Institute