I was standing at the check-in counter for a routine medical appointment a couple years ago when I heard those words. They came from an older gentleman standing at the check-out counter not far from me. I guessed he might be a decade or two older than me. There was in his voice what I interpreted as a sense of grief and frustration. Something had happened, I don’t know what, that told him he didn’t know the rules anymore.
Let me very cautiously say I understood the phrase. I grew up in that world. A world where ‘black and white’ TV’s with 3 channels (and VHF) gave way to color and cable and a myriad of choices. I grew up with John Wayne and cowboys smoking cigarettes, shooting bad guys and riding white horses and wearing white hats. I grew up in a world where ‘anyone’ could pull themselves up by the boot straps and climb the corporate ladder from mail clerk to president with enough gumption and sweat. As we say in Racial Justice Training, “I ate the food, breathed the air, and drank the water.” And without realizing it I absorbed the ethos and mythologies of that “man’s world” deep into the DNA of my soul and psyche.
There were others at the counter. Women of various ages checking patients in and checking them out. I glanced at their faces when those words were spoken. Those closest to him kept a professional demeanor. Others offered an expression which I interpreted as a blend of amusement and dismay with more than a tinge of the pain of recognition and remembrance just a little bit deeper. They seemed all too familiar with that world. They seemed to be longing to consign it to history.
I don’t know exactly what that phrase meant to that man at the counter. But I know it from the world in which I lived. That world came at a cost that I, too often, did not perceive (and am still learning to perceive). If you were not the type of human portrayed in the ethos and mythology and TV shows of the era you did not have equal (or, often, any) access to resources, opportunities and protections afforded to those who embodied the men of “the man’s world”. (And if you are not quite sure what that describes, get yourself and your church to a Racial Justice Training.)
I believe I heard that phrase again echoing from shouts in the halls of a confirmation hearing. And here is what I believe I know or what I know I believe; Jesus spent his time outside that world and calling that world out. He lifted up the dignity of those who were excluded and wounded by the culture that used, marginalized, and abused them. He listened to their stories, empowered their voices and condemned the abuse that was normalized in the culture. And he listens still to the stories of women who dare to reveal the pain and shame they have endured and will continue to endure because they dared to speak. And he understands the fear triggered in those who hold and hide their stories because the painful consequence of speaking is more frightening than the unhealed unspoken wounds.
So, when the shouts from those halls, the angry indignant tones from a confirmation hearing, perpetuate that pain and fear, Jesus calls us, me, into the making of a different world. It is a world that can only be fully realized when it is shaped by all the voices and stories of those who have been ignored, threatened, excluded and marginalized. And it is our responsibility as a conference of churches to create the safe space where people can share their stories and know that they will be heard, held and honored.
Because I believe that living the Love and Justice of Jesus will transform our people, parishes and planet, I want to live in and take responsibility for my part in the unfolding of Christ’s realm.
I want this to be Jesus’ world.
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