Our conversation this week is our third and final week of our Into the Unknown series.
It’s fascinating to think the catalyst for this series was Covid-19. Or at least that is what we thought. But what has become true is the recognition of the failings of society and culture, failure of systems and governments, and ultimately failure of the person.
The “into the unknown” moments for me have been overwhelming to put it lightly.
I have run the gamut of responses to the unknown. Hiding. Pretending to have the answers. Avoidance. Just putting my head down and working.
After anxiety levels started to fall and I could look at reality objectively I decided to lean into the suffering around me. I had conversations, read books, made phone calls, spent a lot of time praying.
One thing that has echoed in every conversation I have had recently is this idea of value. Before we get into the hard conversations we will be having in a bit, I want to start by getting us thinking about this term.
The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
Value is often something subjective that we each quickly assign.
Think about the process of selling something on Craig’s List or FB Marketplace. When you set a price for something, where does that price point come from?
We in the US live in this western capitalist culture which assigns a monetary value to everything.
You can buy anything you want, as long as you have enough money. Even illegal things can be purchased with legal tender.
Even human life has a price on it. Life insurance. Court cases involving death.
I had a conversation with Jazz Hampton this week to prep for this week and he told me in his legal profession that there are mathematical equations for the cost of body parts. If a body part is lost on the job, an amount can be assigned to that for compensation. Crazy.
Where does value come from?
We have experiences that shape our perception of value.
If it’s an iPad or a human, our past learned and taught experiences have the ability to affect our perception of value.
We can not change our own broken perception of value without first confronting it. By discovering where it originated and what has been used to reinforce it. Implicit bias is something you may be familiar with.
"Thoughts and feelings are “implicit” if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people. Thus, we use the term “implicit bias” to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it." - https://perception.org/research/implicit-bias/
If implicit bias is the house we must tear down in order to see the inherent value of every human that surrounds us, then where it originated is the foundation and our learned experiences are walls holding up the roof.
I learned from a young age that people different than me had inherently different value.
These experiences of growing up in the almost completely white suburbs laid a foundation bias in my life.
In the last six years I have seen unbelievably horrible violence.
A 3:00 in the afternoon shootout ending in the execution style shooting of an unarmed boy.
A man beating a woman on the porch of our house.
The shootings and death in uptown last week.
Being spit on by a woman who was homeless at the coffee shop.
Tips being stolen from Uptown on a near constant basis.
It can be easy for me to make a list of the harms I have experienced at the hands of people.
As I reflect on those moments I can use those experiences to reinforce the walls of my implicit bias.
Some would even argue that my reactions would be justified, and in a life separated from the grace of Christ I might even be convinced to agree.
My influences and my experiences have caused a breakdown in me in the way that I perceive the value of people different than myself.
This brokenness of value has changed the way that I treat my neighbors and friends.
I do not want to stay or live in this brokenness. I think the only way out of it is to be honest about it and to recognize what it is doing in me.
Look forward with hope. Reflect on where you need to have values shift in your own heart.
Think about people who it’s hard for you to want to be around or to invest in.
How does your perceived value of a human affect your thoughts and actions?
I had a conversation with my friend Michelle that changed me.
She explained that for much of her life she “achieved” as a way to hide her blackness from people who do not value it.
She was very clear that she loves being Haitian-American, but has also realized that people around her tend to not value her simply because of her skin.
I am so thankful for my Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour in my life who have been patient with me, as I have struggled to understand.
I don’t deserve their patience or their kind words or affirmations when I finally get something right. I am sorry I have lived in a place of ignorance for so long.
For me this has been a season of recognition, empathy, and compassion led action. For me this has started by self education, reading, learning, asking questions, admitting where I’ve failed, and committing to grow.
How does a person go about changing the way they see value in others?
I have been doing a lot of reading trying to learn, to better understand how humanity has dug itself into this hole.
How did we get to this place where there is an inherent difference in the way human beings are valued? It has caused me to look a lot into the history of this nation, and the systems created to build it.
While race is a construct developed to oppress we also need to acknowledge that the ramifications of race are real.
When I hear the story of how “race” was created it is in the same vein as the labels we use today to dehumanize.
It’s the same as identifying people by life’s struggles. Homeless. A drug addict. Alcoholic. Criminal.
These labels are used to replace the humanity of the individual with a single, often negative descriptor.
John chapter 8 tells this story of the religious authority confronting Jesus with a woman who had committed adultery. A crime punishable by death. They bring this woman forward and throw her at Jesus’s feet. They want to stone her to death. This adulterous woman had lost all of her value because of her actions that she was no longer deserving of life. They said:
Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?
They were making the claim that because of her sin, justice must be served by her death.
They were making the claim that the system of the day no longer saw this woman of having value.
Jesus responded by getting down on her level. He moves from looking down on her with sympathy, to joining her in her shame in empathy.
And just like Zach talked about last week Jesus then moved from empathy to compassion with his action.
He begins to write in the sand. We have no idea what He actually writes, but I like to believe that He is writing the names of the Pharisees standing there. In doing so He is inviting them to see their value on the same plane as this woman. Jesus then says:
The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.
Jesus then continued writing in the sand.
After hearing Jesus' response they slowly begin to walk away, one at a time, and again I like to imagine they walked away as Jesus wrote their names in the sand.
Jesus then turns to the woman and says:
Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?
No one, Master.
Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.
These religious teachers saw the value of this woman by the worst thing she had ever done. They saw her value in terms of societal value and what culture says her life is now worth. She was viewed as less than, undeserving of life.
The system of the day said there was no hope left for her.
But Jesus looked at her with hope, with eyes that saw true value, not in what she could do or accomplish or become, but in who she was right in that moment.
The bible is a collection of stories of God seeing value in the invaluable, the imperfect, the messed up, the screwed up, and using them to serve the world. I believe the promise God made to Abraham of “blessing the whole of humanity through him” still exists today for the church.
That we are fulfilling our purpose as the Church when all the families of the earth are blessed.
When North Loop and Uptown and Camden are blessed because of the presence of a church that cares for them and values them.
Value is inherent. It can not be removed, it is God given.
We are made in God’s image, we each have inherent value and worth.
It’s easy to sit back and blame the “system”. It’s easy to see the bias in others (especially on facebook). It’s easy to see where lack of perceived value exists in organizations.
I am not talking about that today.
In fact I really think those things are always going to be a reflection of what is going on inside of me. Inside of you. Inside of each of us.
If we want to see real change, we must change the only things we have the freedom to change and that is ourselves
If in this moment you are sitting there thinking I don't have implicit bias. I am not racist. I don't have a perceived value problem
You are wrong. You are lying to yourself. I love you, but you are wrong.
I know this because in my conversation with Jazz I hesitantly shared my experiences living in North Minneapolis, and the fear those experiences have instilled in me, and his response was “Yeah, me too.”
Implicit bias is part of the human experience. Things won't change in a day, but I also know that they won't change passively
What needs to change in me to see the inherent value of every human?
Things to Read
How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram Kendi
Take It Deeper Questions
What are some things in life that you value, that other may not?
What problems arise when perceived value is lacking?
How does someone change their perceived value?
What are the consequences of refusing to change the way you perceive value in different groups of people?
How can you increase your own perceived value of people who are different from you?
When confronted with a broken system what is your personal responsibility? What are you, or can you do?