One of the books I’m reading this Advent season is a recommendation from Robert Cathey, professor emeritus at McCormick Theological Seminary. The back cover reads, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi is one Israeli’s powerful attempt to reach beyond the wall that separates Israelis and Palestinians.” The book is full of wisdom that transcends the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It shines a light on what it means to be human in any conflict including conflict with one another, a different nation, race, or even conflict within ourselves.
In the letter entitled “Six Days and Fifty Years,” Yossi reflects on the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. He writes, “…curfew became for me a metaphor for the fatal flaw of the settlement movement: the sin of not seeing, becoming so enraptured with one’s own story, the justice and poetry of one’s national epic, that you can’t acknowledge the consequences to another people for filling the whole of your own people’s dreams.”
As I read this, I am reminded of a beautiful testimony given by Joyce Perry at this pastPresbytery Assembly about her history with anti-racism work in the Presbytery of Chicago. Joyce currently serves on the Commission on Antiracism and Equity (CARE) and is the moderator of the Facilitators of Antiracism and Equity (FARE). She has spent over a decade trying to gain traction and make progress in anti-racism work. Steps have been small, and victories have been few. I wonder if the deeper issue of racism in the presbytery and Chicagolandis like the sin of not seeing that Yossi writes about. What does it mean when one race is so enraptured with their own story, that they can’t see the consequences and damages to the dreams of another race? What happens when we are so focused on making sure we live in the best neighborhoods and our children attend the best schools, that we can’t see others who are boxed out of the same opportunities? What happens when our job security means unemployment for someone else? What happens when our vision is of one slice of pie, and anything one has means less for another?
Maybe empathy is the answer to the sin of not seeing. To put ourselves in the position of the other could help us to see circumstances beyond our own and make us willing to address the disparities that exist. As we focus on the God who becomes flesh and comes to us this Advent season, may we also be present in the lives of others who are very different from us. In this way we may find bridges and pathways to help close the racial gaps in our community and our world.
Rev. Craig Howard