Yesterday morning, I was reading the following in St Pauline’s first letter to the Corinthian church that she helped to start back in the first century. After talking about worship being enacted in an orderly way, she wrote:
As in all the churches of the saints, men should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their wives at home. For it is shameful for a man to speak in church.
As a man, I read that and stopped in my tracks. What? I need to be subordinate in the church to the women? Aren’t I created in the image of God just as a woman is?
Now, you may be aware already that there’s no St Pauline who helped to start the church in ancient Corinth and in fact the passage above says the opposite… it says that women are to be silent and subordinate. But reading it the way it is above gives you pause. It makes you stop to think about how we are so used to reading scripture from just one perspective and, by extension, how we get to used to taking in the world from a limited perspective.
Yesterday, I was at a meeting at a congregation when I saw this stained glass in the entry way. Look closely…it isn’t a Jesus that many are used to seeing. His hair, his features, his skin – they are all different from what many are used to seeing. I absolutely love it. It is a truly gorgeous depiction of the resurrected Jesus and I am so grateful for the creative vision and gifted ness of the artist, Ashley Bryan. (Side note, check this article for another amazing stained glass image by Mr Bryan – stunning and beautiful and so meaningful).
This depiction is Jesus through the eyes of another just as the scripture above is trying to read Paul’s letters through the eyes of another.
I had another experience of this in the last few days. Yesterday morning, I came to this article that a friend shared about the African-American male experience of Kobe Bryant’s death. It was a powerful article (written by an African-American woman) to read as it was trying to help others understand Kobe’s death through a different lens. There was a lot to take from it but these two sections really stood out to me…
The last few days have revealed that Black men don’t feel any less than the rest of us, or hurt any less than we do either, they just have much less freedom to show it.
Let’s be real, this world and particularly this country isn’t known for giving Black men second chances, or even first ones. Since enslavement, our men have been seen as property; sexually deviant brutes with no humanity or tenderness to speak of. They’ve been portrayed as unfeeling caricatures and dismissed as emotionally unintelligent aggressors who only seek to pound their chests and assert their dominance while instilling fear in the hearts of their women and white counterparts.
And the saddest part is many of them have bought into this image of themselves. Black men are supposed to be things not people, with the only exception being made for the Ivy League, super articulate, Obama archetypes who are so perfect in their presentation that even the mainstream has to begrudgingly acknowledge their “Black Excellence.”
If the above is not your experience, your first reaction might be to dismiss it, argue against it, or push back against it. But take a moment and reflect upon whether you could possibly imagine these quotes (and the full article) being an accurate assessment of the experience of black men in America? As I have been blessed to be let into hearing the stories of friends, I can say that these words likely ring painfully true.
I know that I may be sounding very high and mighty here but that’s not my intent. I wish that I was able to do this perfectly and consistently. I’m far from there. I continue to be reminded that I don’t have the sole and completely accurate view of the world. I can and need to learn from others.
A few years ago, a woman in the congregation I was serving at the time challenged me about whether I was considering the perspectives of white people in rust-belt areas that have seen their towns wiped out by manufacturing departures and feeling that they were not being heard any more. And she was right – that was not a perspective that I was paying a lot of attention to at the time and I have since tried to start learning more of. But by the same token, I challenged her to be willing to engage the perspectives of religious, ethnic, and economic minorities that she was pushing against. We all can and need to learn from others.
I feel I keep going back to this same book – Rising Out of Hatred. I wrote about it a few months back. But here’s the thing…all of the people in the story were willing to try to learn about the experience of one another. Derek sought to understand why Allison believed what she did. Allison sought to understand how Derek had come to the place that he was in life and the beliefs he held. Matthew was willing to open up his life to people who saw the world very differently. As a result, something new and beautiful emerged and the story is truly one of rising out of hatred.
One last thing…a book I am currently reading is called Living the Quaker Way by Philip Gulley. In the chapter on community that I read this morning, Gulley wrote:
It is because of our participation in the we that we learn to be an I.
I think we have turned that the other way – we think that a focus on the I can lead to the we. But when we are primarily focused on our selves, our own needs, our own perceptions, then it is very hard to see through the eyes of others.
You don’t always have to agree with others but at least be seeking to understand…that’s the starting place. Be willing to be challenged by others. Read books and articles by people different than you. Listen to podcasts that stretch your understandings. Watch a different channel. If you are a church-goer, take a Sunday and visit a congregation of people very different from your own. It is by engaging different perspectives that we can read something like 1 Corinthians 14 and be able to ask ourselves, “how would someone else experience this?”