One of my earliest memories of church when I was a little girl was peering over the rows of pews in front of me to watch our pastor passionately slap the pulpit with his hand. His tears flowed freely as he begged sinners to come to Jesus. When the sermon ended, our small town church people started milling around, hugging, chatting, no one in a real hurry to get home to their dinner tables. I decided that I would put my head down and search for my dad, using only the style of the men’s shoes as a guide. I was playing a game by myself, testing my own knowledge of my dad’s well-worn brown dress shoes. Finally, I spotted the familiar feet of my dear old dad and impulsively grabbed his hand, thinking nothing of it. It was only then that I looked up to see the very surprised face of my elementary school principal. He smiled warmly at me and held onto my hand as if it were an every day occurrence. I left church that day thinking about those two men in particular: my teary-eyed pastor and my smiling principal. About passion for Jesus. About kindness and comfort.
Through my years growing up in that church, old white men made all kinds of impressions on me. One spotted in me a love for music. He taught me bygone songs from the shape note hymn books and treated my mediocre musical ability like a rare commodity. Another one laid out the gospel as plainly as it had ever been shown, and asked me why not today? A few weeks later he led me into the baptismal waters and called me his sister. Another old white man showed me what true zeal for the Lord looks like. Another prayed prayers that seemed to bring all Heaven down around us while we listened in awed reverence.
I grew up and left home. I’ve lived now in lots of cities and have had the honor of knowing other old white men. Men whose families took Chad and me in when we were young and silly and far from home. Men who have rescued us, mentored us, guided us, loved us. Men who have shown us what it means to have integrity, to love honestly, to build a life on the foundation of Christ. I’m not sure where I would be today without old white men.
When I see the memes and the hateful posts about how old white men have ruined things, how they are not to be trusted or honored or respected, but instead demonized and hated, it’s only natural that I would feel a little bit dubious. I don’t know about the old white men who sit in rooms at the White House or the Pentagon, but my heart and mind are filled with the faces of one man after another who made a true, lasting, loving, kind, generous impact on my life. Many of them happen to be white. Many of them happen to have silver hair. Many of them now have gone to be with Jesus.
Today, the old white man’s loudest detractors seem to be young white women, most of whom have benefitted immensely from knowing, loving, being raised by, and being loved by their own fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and pastors. I wonder if they ever stop to picture the faces of the loving men in their lives when they are spilling vitriol against men all over social media? It reminds me how very quickly we apply our hatred to strangers–much more quickly than to those we know personally. In their minds, those women aren’t speaking about THEIR old white men. Just those other ones. The ones who are far away and one-dimensional, the ones who don’t even seem like real people. They are the problem.
And maybe in the end that’s the truth of the terrible racial climate of the country: a plain old refusal to see other people as real, all made in the image of the one true God. We don’t see each other as real, and we speak words that help us to keep it that way. And then the young black men and the old white men start to look like obstacles to a better tomorrow instead of key components.
It’s a hard thing, understanding the “real-ness” of a person you don’t know. But not impossible. When our hearts begin to blame those far away old white men or those far away young black men, when we start to harbor hatred in our hearts toward people we’ve never met, maybe it would help if we stop, pray, and picture the people we DO know. Those who have cared for us, loved us, changed the world for the better right in front of us. Our little spot in the world, wherever we are, doesn’t have the market cornered on great men. It could even be that there are some in Washington or in a protest line someplace.
I’m thankful for the old white men, the young black men, the Karens, and all the other labeled people who have been precious individuals in my life. I pray that I will be able to see those who aren’t necessarily precious to me as precious to God, made in His image, multi-dimensional, maybe far away, but still real. I think that would go a long way to curing some of the sins and prejudices that live in my own heart and mind.