This follower of Jesus would love to wholeheartedly say that I am completely free of all racism, prejudice, bias but I know that would be a denial of the process to being more Christlike. As I reflect on my own journey from innocence to maturity, in relationship to the founding of the United States and Shelby Steele’s journey in his book Shame, I get this impression that we are invited to a celebration of humanity.
For there to be a celebration of humanity, as Steele points out there needs to be an embracing of the truth. That starting point of our identity. Mine just happens to be that of the eldest grandchild of Swedish immigrants. I am a byproduct of those hard working Scandinavian immigrants that shaped the Pacific Northwest. The privilege I received was built on the backs of those who left everything, not once, but twice to build a life in freedom. The freedom that opens doors, yet does not guarantee any results. The freedom to choose my direction regardless of the barriers, bruises, and setbacks. This became more clear when I began to travel to Europe and I learned how people in many of the countries determine their career paths. I quickly became aware that my early academic challenges would have prevented me from being an educator, not to mention that financial support I received to attend a private Christian university.
It is that very education, that expanded my world view and understanding to see that pure truth begins and ends with Jesus. I am tasked with mining those nuggets of truth from every aspect of my life. One of those challenging nuggets of truth was understanding that wherever evil raises its head, there are victims on both sides. Over the last thirty-five years I have been trying to understand and make sense of Nazism and the Holocaust. I have discovered that just because someone was Jewish does not mean they were innocent, anymore than someone being German was guilty. In and through it all everyone was marred. Their identity was changed and in many cases damaged.
The countless tours I have arranged to Auschwitz, Schindler’s Factory, and other Holocaust memorial sites have changed me. I am reminded of two specific films that illustrates the victims on both sides of evil. The first one is The Reader. It is about an illiterate woman, who was an Auschwitz guard. Yes, she signed the death warrants of many people but it was because she did not know what she was signing. Those individuals who were actually responsible for the mistreatment of prisons were never held accountable. This woman’s illiteracy cause her to be condemned by society not her actions. For me this woman was as much a victim of the Holocaust as the any one of the six million Jews. The second film is Schindler’s List. Oscar Schindler an opportunistic, Nazi, businessman ultimately uses all his deceitful skills to undermine the Nazis. He becomes the redeeming hope for over one thousand Jews. His transformation is that of a man who began to see the humanity in the forbidden others, and he chose to celebrate it at great cost to himself.
I am privileged. The privileges I have bought with the lives of those who have gone before me and I am grateful. It is also a part of my identity that cannot be separated from me anymore than my skin from my bones. I was taught that with privilege comes responsibility. There is a responsibility to see others for who they are, to spur them on as they conquer the obstacles on their own journey, and to celebrate the humanity they represent. My identity, all our identities are shaped by our culture, heritage, education, and life experiences. They define us. It is that very identity that Jesus is inviting to be presented in its redeemed form at His throne.
May we all respond to invitation to celebrate our humanity.