The Privilege of Walking Away

Many years ago I was visiting a parishioner in a nursing home facility who couldWalking-away not communicate except through grunts. It must have been enormously frustrating. Her mind was clear.  She had a graduate school education.  But she could not speak or move her limbs.  This was a permanent condition she would endure for the rest of her earthly life.

After trying to talk with her and clearly upsetting her because I couldn’t understand anything she was trying to say, I prayed with her and then I left. I went home to my safe and easy life.

I distinctly remember feeling relief.  I could simply walk away.  I also remember feeling pangs of guilt because she could not walk away.  It was her reality and she could not escape it.

So, just last week, I talked with a stranger – a straight white man about my age  – who told me that:

  • He was tired of being called racist.
  • He was tired of being called sexist.
  • He was tired of being called homophobic.
  • He was not going to talk about those things anymore with anybody.

On the spot, I was speechless.  Later, I wished I’d said, “congratulations” to this man.  He can just walk away.  What an enormous privilege.

His daily life does not involve enduring flagrant racism.  It’s assumed he is always supposed to be wherever he is.

His daily life never includes cat calls or inappropriate stares.    His daily life probably doesn’t include name-calling if he happens to be holding his partner’s hand in public.  He doesn’t have to talk about daily injustices and he doesn’t even have to think about them because they don’t belong to him.  He can just walk away and not think about such unpleasantness any more.

The thing is, however, that – as followers of Jesus – we cannot walk away.  We have been commissioned – not only to think about injustice but to oppose it actively in Jesus’ name.

I get that things are changing for straight white men.  It’s not assumed that you are the smartest, most skilled, most important people in the room anymore. What you might be experiencing now is what people of color and women and LGBTQ people have known as their daily reality.

I don’t say this because I hate straight white men.  Five of my favorite people on the planet are straight white men.  I’m crazy about them.  (But they also get that they’ve had clear advantages throughout their lives.)

We who say we believe that “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” in the words of Eugene Peterson know that we can’t just walk away when we see people suffering.  We can’t save them (and they already have a Savior anyway, whether they realize it or not.)  But we can stand with all who experience injustice, especially when we don’t have to.

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