The Privilege Is Mine

It’s a privilege to write this.

No, seriously, it’s a privilege of mine. As I sit here typing on a Macbook at the beach during the spring break that I am given as a reprieve from my studies at a great academic institution, I recognize this luxury as a privilege. More importantly, I have begun to recognize the privileges around me, everywhere. Not just the ones that you thank God for in a cursory 10-second prayer of gratitude at Thanksgiving, for “a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food on the table.” No, I’ve begun to notice the privilege implicit in every crevice of my life.

Now, before I begin, I recognize that to even write the word “privilege” raises defenses, arguments, and frustrations from prior conversations. It connotes the idea that your success or mine is due to some “luck” outside of our power and that hard work is irrelevant. It carries the idea that all failures must be a result of some sort of systemic oppression enacted by “the man” to keep people down and anyone who has achieved any measure of success must be “privileged” enough to be complicit in this conspiracy.

If you’re expecting that argument, you certainly won’t find it here. I am as firm a believer in the power of grit and work ethic as anybody you will meet. So if you are like me and any of the paragraph above resonated with you, offended by the idea that your success was anything other than a result of your perspiration and determination, I want to invite you on a journey with me. Admittedly, it’s one that I’m still on. I too get irritated when people accuse me of “privilege,” as if it’s something I have control over. I hear you. Please hear me.

(If you prefer, substitute all of my ensuing uses of the word “privilege” with the word “blessing”)

I care about those less fortunate than I am. I really do. But I have realized in the recent weeks that I will never understand their plight. Once a week, I don my polo shirt, khaki pants, and dress shoes and drive in my Honda Accord with leather seats to a local health clinic, where I come as a “have” to a collection of “have nots” (or at least that’s how my thinking often goes). Throughout the night, I do my best to hear their stories, understand their plights, and pray that my heart be softened by their perspectives. But at the end of the night, I have the ability clock out (accumulating hours that will eventually go on my resume) and return to my decidedly upper-middle class lifestyle, forgetting about theirs until the next Thursday. The everyday realities for our patients are ones that I can relegate to a box, to which I am only forced to return once a week and whenever I need to write an essay about a “formative experience.”

 

Here’s the worst (or best) part about it- There is nothing I can do to relinquish my privilege. Nothing.

My privilege runs far deeper than my bank account, or even that of my parents. It runs deeper than my education, though it certainly encompasses that. I’ve come to realize, through the perspectives of some wiser than I am, that my privilege is something I’ll never be able to leave. Allow me to explain.

If I were to drop out of school right now, I would never be able to absolve my memory of the lessons, stories, advice, perspectives, or inspirations to which I have been exposed. I would never be able to change the fact that attending college was an expectation for my sisters and me. I would never be able to relinquish the fact that I speak “standard” English because everyone I grew up around spoke it. I will never be able to forget the literary techniques I learned in high school that I am employing even as I write this. The fact that I can write this is a testament to my literacy, and your ability to comprehend it testifies to the same. I will never be able to let go of the fact that even when I don’t know answers, I know how to find them and have been given the tools, both technological and psychological, to do so.

If I were to give away every penny that I possess, or foolishly lose it all, I would never be able to relinquish my intimate connections to loving parents, grandparents, sisters, and brothers-in-law (who stand firmly on the pillar of privilege as well) who would drop anything to help me back on my feet. I would never be able to forget their phone numbers, nor would they ever forget me.

If I were to commit myself to never receiving modern healthcare again (a reality with which many Americans are all too familiar), I could never turn back the clock to the critical periods of mental and physiological development in my life where my loving parents nurtured me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I will never know what it is like to have a disability. My body hasn’t been ravaged by addiction, alcoholism, or the abuse of someone whose body has. I will never be able to forget how to write a thank you note, how to finagle Microsoft Word, how to shake someone’s hand, or how to speak publicly.

As reluctant as I am to admit it, I will never have to worry about being stopped by law enforcement simply because of the amount of melanin in my skin or the dialect in my voice. I will never have to be taught how to keep my hands visible. I will never have to explain myself while participating in benign activities. Ever. More fundamentally, I will never be able to relinquish my perspective of the judicial system as one that works, that I have never seen treat me or a loved one unfairly. I will never know what it is like to distrust my country from infancy.

Even if somehow I were to manage all this, to somehow absolve myself of all privilege and fortune, I would know that doing so would have been my choice, that I would still be master of my fate, captain of my own ship, providing my life meaningful direction, and in doing so I would miss the very essence of poverty: namely, the inescapable trapping of a system that dares you to try and break it. That is a dare I will never hear.

 

Honestly, I don’t want to. I like my privilege and my comfort. And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong. My parents and grandparents fought hard so that I might enjoy these luxuries, but there are many whose parents and grandparents fought just as hard, but to no avail.

So I sit here, explicitly confronted by the fact that, as much as I wish it were not so, there have been forces at work behind my success far deeper than my own character or agency. I must decide what to do with it. At this point, I remember the words of the great philosopher Uncle Ben from Spider-Man who once declared, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It strangely echoes the sentiments of Jesus Christ when He proclaimed, “To whom much is given, much is required.” The point is the same: I have been blessed so that I might be a blessing to others.

 

So I pick up my privilege, like coins in a heavy sack. It has burdened my back for far too long, threatening to crush me underneath the weight of guilt, underneath the weight of pride, underneath the quiet nagging in the back of my mind that the successes I’ve achieved are not my own doing. I’m done toting it around. I’m done denying that it exists. It’s time to cash it in, not for my own sake, but for the sake of others.

I know what I’m doing with my privilege.

What will you do with yours?

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An Open Letter to the Men Outside the MLC

Dear sirs,

You gathered a large crowd of people this week with your large signs and vehement message. I’ll spare people some of the comments you made. Suffice it to say they were misogynistic, arrogant, and hurtful. I stepped into the fray to talk to you, attempting to point out some verses you had not mentioned, but it appeared you were uninterested in engaging with me.

Your comments grieved me. As I stood there while people laughed at you and put you on their snapchat stories, I cringed that some people might think you actually represented the position of Jesus.

Yes, there is an objective standard of right and wrong. Yes, we will be held accountable for how we meet that standard. But I think you missed the next part of what the Bible says about that standard; none of us meet it. You don’t and I sure as heck don’t. That standard of honoring your parents, not lusting, not lying, rejoicing constantly, being content, only saying what is useful for building up- Yeah I broke that in the last 20 minutes.

The thing is, I’m in good company. Jesus said that the standard of righteousness is perfection. That means y’all don’t measure up and neither do I. None of us do. We’re all on the same ground, separated from God because of our wrongdoing. Every human ever.

Except one.

That’s the point of Jesus coming. He came to be the good person we couldn’t. He came to meet the standards we don’t. All He asks is that we acknowledge our need for Him and let go of whatever we’ve been holding onto. That includes my sin, and that includes your sin. While God is loving, He tells us that He opposes the proud. That’s scary. Because, sirs, y’all have been prideful, and so have I. But, He promises to give grace to the humble. So if anyone is broken, God says those are the people He welcomes.

So when you boldly declared that the problem with America is lazy Christians who don’t do what they should, I agreed. I raised my hand higher than anybody else.

I’m a lazy Christian. I don’t do what I should. But again, I’m in good company. Paul, one of the authors of the Bible, stated in Romans, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

The good news is that Jesus said those are the exact people He came for. He tells us that healthy people don’t need a doctor. Sick people do. And we’re all sick.

So when I’ve come to Him, He’s taken me just as I am. He just loves me too much to let me stay where I am. Sin dishonors God and it hurts me, so it’s no surprise that He graciously takes hold of my grasp of my sin and pries my fingers off, placing something else in my hand that’s far better. He’s changing me, not because He doesn’t love me, but precisely because He does. In the same way that good parents would never let the children they loved go on drinking cyanide, God refuses to leave us where we are. He loves us too much for that.

But before I disagree with you entirely, I have to agree with you on one point. When you said that the problem with this nation is sinners, I think you’re right.

Sincerely,

The worst of sinners

Has the American Experiment Failed?

“The land of dreams”

That’s what they used to call us, isn’t it?

The land of opportunity, freedom from tyranny, and rights

The right of life, because all men are equally endowed by their Creator with the very life that we all breathe

The right of liberty, because a free society flourishes when people are deemed capable of defining their own destinies

And the right to the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of that which we ourselves deem worthy of pursuit.

“The land of dreams”

Not too long ago, our progenitors flocked from their lands to this one, in search of what they were told was an “American Dream”

Not a guarantee of well-being, but a guarantee of a chance

A shot, just to try your hand, and, if you succeed, oh the wondrous thought of that freedom.

Our ancestors emigrated from many lands, across oceans, to this land of opportunity. In doing so, they created a melting pot.

This melting pot was not the first melting pot in humanity’s history, but it certainly was the most extensive.

E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.

Millions of people, of countless ethnicities and languages, followed the trail to this new land, beckoned onward by the scent of freedom

This nation has had its scars, but ultimately it has stood as a beacon of light for the world, a testimony to the intrinsic value of every man and woman and a wager that they can coexist in harmony, regardless of race

While its scars have been numerous, it has stood tall nonetheless, unwavering as a flame of freedom and equality, resolute and resilient amidst tyranny and oppression.

 

Until now.

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An Open Letter to the LGBTQ Community

In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, which marks the worst shooting in our nation’s history, I want to communicate something. To the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, one thing has gone unsaid. On behalf of Christians of many denominations, geographies, and political views, I want to say this:

 

I’m sorry.

 

I’m sorry that our eyes have remained dry when yours have no more tears left to cry.

I’m sorry that our hands have been idle while yours have been clenched.

I’m sorry that our ears have been closed when yours can’t seem to drown out the noise.

I’m sorry that our gazes have been averted, while yours have looked upon agony.

I’m sorry that our tongues have remained motionless while yours can’t find words.

 

I’m sorry that our speech has often come across as hurtful, rather than helpful.

I’m sorry that some wave the flag of Christianity while spitting in your face.

I’m sorry that we have alienated you.

I’m sorry that our words have been careless.

I’m sorry that we look like we couldn’t care less.

 

I’m sorry.

 

But I hope you’ll take my word when I say that we’re not all silent.

Some of us care.

Some of us recognize your humanity and your dignity and we hurt with you.

Some of us are willing to break tradition to serve you.

Some of us recognize the tragedy of this and want to do our part to right the wrongs of this broken world. Our Lord commands us as much.

Some of us bring good news, not pickets.

Some of us care for people regardless of religion, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender, or language.

Some of us decide to give our money and time, rather than our opinions.

The words of pastor Martin Luther King Jr. ring true now more than ever, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Where there is crime, Christians must demand justice the loudest. Forgive us when we don’t. But I assure you, some of us do.

 

We don’t worship a God of hate. While our God is just and holy, I hope we never come across as haughty or condescending. He reserves the right to judge us, which is sobering, but we are no better than anyone else. Forgive us if we forget this. I ask that you seek to understand where we’re coming from just as we seek to do the same.

Ultimately, Jesus didn’t just preach love. He lived it. We believe that Jesus’s mission wasn’t just to tell us to love one another, but to personally save us from hate and sin. I don’t have to tell you that people are messed up. This tragedy speaks for itself. What He did in dying on the cross was to offer us all life. We are all in need of His love. You don’t need me to point out that we Christians are just as broken. We are all in need of His grace. All of us.

 

So I, for one, refuse to keep my eyes dry.

I refuse to close my ears and hold my tongue.

I refuse to avert my eyes.

And I hold out my hand, inviting you to take it.

 

So I, on behalf of Christians who don’t hate you, want to tell the LGBTQ community this:

We love you. We’re sorry. We want to help. Forgive us when we don’t.

We stand by you in solidarity and in mourning, because the shooting didn’t just hurt gays. It hurt all of us.

So we don’t stand with you as Americans. We stand with you as humans, all made in the image of God.

 

We love you.

 

To the UGA Class of 2020

Well, my freshman year is officially over and they haven’t kicked me out yet. Amidst the nostalgia and denial that it’s actually over, I’ve been reflecting on some advice that’s been passed to me along the way and some that I wish would’ve been passed down. And so, here we are, as I attempt to help you avoid the pitfalls I stumbled into and pass down some wisdom (or something like that).

They say that hindsight is 20/20, but unfortunately, that’s when you’re graduating, so let’s try and get some mistakes figured out before then. Unfortunately, the guy writing this is still trying to figure it out, so these are by no means perfect. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have a long way to go on most of these. I’m just inviting you into the journey.

Without further ado, the twenty things (I’ll try to keep them brief) I want to say to the class of 2020 (besides the fact that you’ll never be as awesome as the class of 2019, despite beating us in all academic metrics).

And to the people whose ideas I completely ripped off for this, thank you.

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It’s the Little Things

This post is for the high school seniors deciding where to spend the next 4 (or 5 or 6) years of their lives, and maybe UGA is in that mix. For those of you who have been asked 10,000 times “what are your plans for this fall?” and have had to rehearse an answer that may or not be completely honest. Truth is, you’re still trying to figure it out. And that’s ok. I hope this post might lend a hand, though I don’t promise to be unbiased.

This post is for the UGA out-of-state student regularly asked why he or she went so far from home. It’s for anybody who doesn’t meet the SEC stereotype and sometimes questions why they came here themselves.

This post is for dawg fans who bleed red and black through and through, who don’t question their allegiances for one moment.

Ultimately, this post is for me, because I too have had to answer the question, “Why UGA?”

 

“Why would you attend such a large, impersonal school?” “Why choose such a party school?” “Why not go to a more elite institution?” “Why didn’t you try to get away from home?”

At that point, I usually begin a well-rehearsed speech beginning with my rearing as a Dawg fan, the money working out well with HOPE, and pointing out UGA’s bountiful academic successes.

 

But honestly, I lie.

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The Enemy of Empathy

Maybe you’ve read about it. Maybe you haven’t. But empathy is kind of a big deal.

As research is quickly discovering, the ability to understand and feel what other people feel is incredibly powerful. Data is quickly unearthing what writers have been saying for years. Empathy is correlated with success. It deters lawsuits. It defies stereotypes. It makes money. It is the very building block of human civilization.

I would argue that it’s Biblical (Romans 12:15, Hebrews 4:14-16, and Galatians 6:2)

You didn’t really need me to tell you all this, though. You know it intuitively. We like hanging around people who listen to us and care what we have to say. The old adage “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” rings true now more than ever.

In our modern day and age, it would seem that we have an incredible empathy deficit. Everywhere we turn, we see partisanship, name-calling, and an apparent inability to resolve conflict. This shows up clearly in the political arena but can also be readily found in theological conversations, academic disagreements, and even athletic debates. It seems that in every arena, there are always at least two sides unable to even conduct a civil conversation. How did we get here? Surely both sides aren’t entirely composed of ignorant buffoons as is suggested. But where does this incessant disagreement come from?

1 Peter 3:8 gives us the prescription, then the diagnosis.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart…”

That sure sounds like empathy to me. The ability to agree, sympathize, love, and gently listen to another person is the exact opposite of what our culture naturally creates. So how do we get there?

“…and a humble mind.”

What Peter is saying is that the reason we lack empathy is because we lack humility. We are prideful.

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Everybody Has a Story

Frustrations are all around us in this modern world. It’s so easy to become upset at the simple inconsideration of other people, especially when they seem to come at the most inopportune times.

A pedestrian walks at the pace of a lame turtle across a crosswalk as you’re late to class

A child in your class won’t do what you said for the hundredth time

A man in a car blazes by you and cuts you off in traffic, not even turning his head to see if you were there

The man in the apartment above you stomps around in the middle of the night…. again.

That kid in Sunday School keeps cutting up and taking the rest of the class down with him

That woman blatantly runs a red light right in front of you

That little girl you’re supposed to be tutoring won’t look you in the eyes, despite all your attempts to get her to listen

That man bagging your groceries is sloppily throwing everything into a bag, taking no care to make sure all the products are gently placed.

It’s so easy to become cynical or frustrated. After all, we seem to be the only sane ones in society (especially on the road).

Why is that? Why does everybody think they’re the only sane one? Because we know we have a story. We know that we have a legitimate excuse for driving fast. We know that we have more important things to think about. But other people, they should just pay attention to their daily tasks. Surely they don’t have a story.

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My Heart of Stone

This is a poem I’ve written over the last few months as I’ve come to see God’s faithfulness in spite of my faithlessness. It’s not the best poetry ever, but I hope it helps somebody.

The human heart is a fickle thing,
Subtle in all its ways
It has changed its fruit, but not its root
Since the beginning of its days

It seeks for joy in joyless things
Grasping for fullness and hope
It looks for love in a brothel and beauty in the awful
Unsure of where to go

Its cold and lifeless hollow beats
Despair of warmth and breath
While its stoney apathy and pride
Reek of sin and death

But this abstract heart of which I speak
Is not too far removed
I see it from the dusk to dawn
And in the night I see it too

You see if hearts are hard, I fear it’s true
None is as hard as mine
If hearts are dead in need of life
Mine needs the most divine

If dead things can suffer from suffocation
I see it in my chest
My hearts grasps for air all and anywhere
Seeking where it may find rest

Yet in the darkness, I hear the silent whispers of
My Lord who bids me come
And lay down all my striving
At the cross whose work is done

But at the offer, my heart recoils
Insulted by charity
My pride refuses to cease its toil
And in blindness spurns clarity

My heart is hard and my hands are hurt
Scarred and numb to feeling
These callouses cover gashes and wounds
Convinced that numbness is the only healing

My heart I fear will never hear
The calling in the night
To drop my chains and replace them with
The burden easy and light

I love my chains. They hold me tight
And never let me go
I somehow find painful delight
In a cell so dead and cold

But like a river, strong and persistent
He erodes my stone away
And, even yet without my permission
Pours life into my veins

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The Air We’re Gasping For

Several weeks ago, I wrote on the critical spirit that so often pervades the church and got a substantial response, which makes me think the problem may be bigger than my simple experience.

As I started thinking about the post, I realized that while I diagnosed a significant problem, I didn’t provide an antidote of any kind. So it got me thinking, if we aren’t supposed to be critical, what are we supposed to do? If a critical spirit is suffocating the church, what are we gasping for to replace it?

Encouragement.

Just think about it. What if, instead of nitpicking every little thing people do, we publicly praised people for their strengths?

What if every time you walked into a church you felt like people were glad to see you and they let you know it? Not in a fake “oh let’s all act happy” kind of way, but in a genuine appreciation of what you bring to the table.

What if other people recognized your strengths before you did?

Wouldn’t that be a place to be… So why doesn’t it happen? Well, first, I really think the critical spirit that pervades the church suffocates it, but I think there are at least 3 other reasons it doesn’t thrive as well.

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