One of the more frustrating aspects of my day-to-day life is dealing with people who do not see the world as I do. I realize that this can come off as sounding arrogant, foolish, or ignorant. Admittedly this is sometimes the case. Dealing with people whose world is small can be frustrating. If a person only associates with people who share his or her values is it possible to grow, change, or mature? Is it even possible to have empathy for someone or something you have no experience with? I am convinced this is how racism still exists. If you only hang out with “your own kind” it becomes very easy to demonize anything that is different.
A number of years ago I was feeling pretty good about my theological knowledge. In the middle of my bragging my friend asked who I was reading, a simple question. I began to rattle off a long list of names. Before long he stopped me again and asked whether I noticed anything about my list. My quick response was that they are all great theologians. He shook his head and said that I wasn’t even aware. That impressive list was all white men. Then he went on to ask where the women and the writers of color were. In less than two minutes my friend had moved me from pride to embarrassment.
Empathy, deep heartfelt empathy, demands that we open our eyes and hearts to the other, to that which is different. I am white; I will never fully understand the pain and horror of racism. Having friends of color, not token but true friends, has helped me develop empathy for the racism they continue to experience on a daily basis. Today when I read theology for every Anglo author I read I make a point of reading three authors of color. This practice has done more to shape my understanding of who God is than almost anything else I do.
In the last few years a raging debate has escalated in the church about sexual orientation. One of my newest practices is to read theology written by my gay brothers and sisters. Once again I find myself understanding that God is so much more than the white, straight, male world I was born into.