Nobody Knows

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory Hallelujah

Sometimes I’m up and sometimes I’m down
Yes lord, you know sometimes I’m almost to the ground
O yes, Lord, still

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory Hallelujah”

-Traditional African-American Spiritual

I have about a hundred trains of thought running through my head, and I’m trying to get behind the wheel of two or three of those trains (do you drive a train with a wheel?) and see if I can pull it together into a cogent reflection that I THINK I’ve had floating around in my head for some time now.

One of the most obvious (and timely) trains of thought right now deals with the issue of racism in America.  My point here is not to prove or disprove the extent of its existence, nor is it my goal to propose a solution to what I feel is a SERIOUS American issue right now.  My point today is this:  Unless you are a black American, you do not know what it is like to experience America as a black American.  Period.  I think it is also worth emphasizing this:  Unless you are a law-enforcement officer in America, you do not know what it is like to go to work every day and face the reality that someone you will encounter might pull a gun on you.   Does this excuse the officers in some of the video images we have seen who are clearly abusing their power to the point of using deadly force on unarmed and/or defenseless detainees?  Absolutely not.  Does this excuse angry black Americans from taking “justice” into their own hands by shooting police officers?  Absolutely not.  Again, my point is not to catalog racial injustice (from either side).  My point is (whether you are a black American, a white American, a police officer, or ANYONE ELSE outside of those categories),  Nobody knows the trouble I’ve [he’s/she’s/you’ve/they’ve, we’ve] seen”, and to presume that we know is downright foolish and dangerous.

This, however, is not my primary soap box of the day.  I want to broaden it by following another one of those trains of thought I mentioned at the outset. It follows the previous paragraph in tone (if not in circumstance), and it’s simply this:  You don’t know me.  Many of you know some things about me,  a few of you know more, but just the smallest fraction of my friends, acquaintances, and family know most of me.  Heck,  several years of quality therapy have taught me that even my wife and I don’t COMPLETELY know me, although I’d like to think I’ve become pretty self-aware over time.

And this observation has a converse:  I don’t know you, either.  Even among those I would call my closest friends, I’m sure I barely know a scritchy-scratching of the surface of who you really are.  And that’s OK.  I think.  But I’m not sure – hence the blog.  In case you don’t follow my blogs, this is often where I try to work out some of the things of which I am not sure.  It benefits me, and if you get something out of it in the process – BONUS!

Last year I read a book that really forced me to look deeply into who I think I am, and also to contemplate to whom and how much of that “me” I choose to share.  The book was “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown, and I highly recommend it, even if you think you’re already perfect (you know who you are).  A lot of the book deals with getting to the point where “you being you” is “enough”, which is huge in itself, but another recurring theme had to do with “telling your story” and “living life authentically”.  And while I feel like I do as well or better than most at being the same Ben at home as I am at work as I am at church as I am when I’m blogging, etc., there is a definite “Ben narrative” that only the tiniest fraction of people get to see.  My question to myself, having been challenged to “tell my story” and “be authentic” is, “Really?” Well, the question is considerably more complex than that, but “Really?” is a good place to start.

You see, I’ve “told my story” and “been authentic” over the years with a select few whom I thought would be a) supportive, or b) compassionate, if not completely supportive or understanding.  In several instances, sharing with those people turned out badly, and I lost friends and jobs over it.  Ironically, all of those missteps were with Christian friends in church settings; the places and people with whom you would most expect to find grace.  By now, those of you who haven’t been trusted with my full narrative are thinking “what the HECK has he done?”  Sorry, not going there yet.  Still working it out – RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF YOU.

Let me step away from my personal narrative for a second and broaden things out.  What have we learned so far?  You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, no matter how completely we think we know each other.  Now take it outside of you and me:  We don’t know anyone’s full story, and realizing that is the KEY to NOT BEING A BLOCKHEAD. Take social media, for example: Let’s say someone posts an update or re-posts something they’ve found that resonates with him or her.  We (I, anyway) immediately draw conclusions about that person based on the posts (come on, you do it, too).  This is NOT GOOD, and here’s why:  You and I have no idea (or maybe just a scritchy-scratch) of the life experiences that brought that person to write that post at this time.

Life is complex, and it’s messy (you may notice this is an ongoing theme in my blogging).  Each of us makes our journey in our own way and experiences the world each in our own unique way.  To wax behaviorist for a moment, each person’s behavior is a naturally occurring reflex produced by stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual’s history, including especially reinforcement and punishment, together with the individual’s current motivational state and controlling stimuli.  I also believe we are at least partially pre-programmed genetically so that we will respond to certain stimuli in certain ways, whereas others may respond differently to the same stimuli.  Now, before my Christian friends jump all over me, YES, of course, I believe that faith in Christ makes us a “new creation” and we are no longer who we once were.  But my experience simply doesn’t bear out that my life experiences are erased by the love of God in my heart.  Some will say my experience is invalid in light of what scripture says, but my 49 years of life (and observation of other Christians) says it is not either/or, but both/and.  It all goes into the mix.

I had an interesting discussion with my brother last summer about how our postmodern/post-Christian society has “lost a common narrative” with the fading of church and Judeo-Christian values at the center of culture.  He suggested that the relativity of “truth” has undermined the church’s ability to stand effectively for “Capital ‘T’ Truth”. I suggested that perhaps we still have a common narrative across the entirety of culture that the church needs to embrace in order to remain an effective witness to Christ in the world today.  The church calls it “grace” and “mercy”, but to the rest of the world it SHOULD look like kindness. My children brought home bracelets from school that say “Kindness Matters”.  I put mine on right away and have not taken it off for even one minute since.  Both kids have asked, “When are you going to take it off?”  My answer:  “When we’ve made the world a better place.”  I bought a whole bag of them and are handing them out as part of my “Kindness Crusade”.  If you’d like to join me, let me know, and I’ll try to get one to you.  BETTER YET, get your own bag and share, share, share.  Last year, when they went to church camp, their camp t-shirts said “Kindness is Never Wrong.”  So this kindness thing has been percolating for a while.  I’ve watched churches and Christians showing “love” in ways that are far from kind.  I think this is incompatible.  I know some well-meaning people who withhold grace from people with the intention of “loving” them back to the “Truth”.  I’m sorry, I just don’t see this in the life and love of Christ.

My point?  Back to the top:  You don’t fully know me.  I don’t fully know you.  We don’t fully know anyone else.  And, I’ve decided while writing this – I’m OK with that.  I can love unconditionally (as much as possible in my limited humanity) without knowing ALL of anyone, and I am going to ask that you love me as I am, hidden warts at all.  This is the love of God for us through Christ, and it should (no, MUST) be the way we love each other.

Kindness matters, and it is NEVER wrong.

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