go there

I usually think there are far too many people running around the Internet saying “you’re privileged so shut up.” But if I were ever willing to risk being seen as one of those people, it would be about this. About all the thousand invisible things separating class from class from class.

I read this post last week, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Really, it’s been on my mind ever since it came out. The basic premise is, the author doesn’t “want diverse friends”, because searching out “diversity” is kind of using people; instead, she just has friends for various reasons, and they have turned out to be pretty diverse.

But I’ve tried and failed not to be annoyed by this one paragraph. Here it goes:

“I want to be open to friends. Just…friends. The kind of friends who gets excited about the new season of Arrested Development. The kind of friends who can argue about feminism with me and then go for coffee. The kind of friends who stay up late at night quoting movie lines and sharing a bottle of wine. The kind of friends who know what pictures on Facebook will crack me up and is sure to tag me in them. The kind of friends who see what I’m not saying and don’t let me get away with that.”

Arrested Development, feminism, going for coffee, movie lines, bottles of wine, and the right pictures on Facebook?

All. So. Middle. Class.

During Lent I led a discussion series on poverty based on the Sojourners video series Justice for the Poor. I watched Jim Wallis talk for twenty minutes every week for five weeks, and there is one thing I remember, the thing he said that struck me as powerful and true and world-changing. He said if you want to do justice, if you want to see things change, if you’re ready to break out,

then you have to go to the places you’re not supposed to go.

This world is designed to keep you where you are. It is stratified and segregated so that you do not have to feel uncomfortable or out of place, to keep you satisfied and sedated so you will not bother the people in power. Do I sound Marxist enough for you to dismiss me yet? I’m just saying, the places you live and play and work and buy are probably set up so that you do not encounter people much richer or much poorer than you because either way, that could be embarrassing. If they are there, they are not “normal”.

Giving money and volunteering to serve people turkey on Thanksgiving are real nice things to do. They’re also real easy things to do, and they are calculated decisions you make to enact a Good Deed. They can also, if you squint long enough and hard enough, be just the balm you need to stop worrying about the poor. And then again, if you do a lot of those kinds of things, you can wear yourself down to a little nub of striving anxiety, wondering if you’ve done enough yet.

Do the words “social justice” light a fire in your heart? Do you really want to buck the system? Or even – do you want to know what you’re talking about when you talk about welfare moms?

then start being friends with the poor.

Do you want to fall in love with the oppressed the way God does?

then you have to go to the places where you’re not supposed to go.

There are about a hundred catches, though. At first – and by that, I mean for weeks or months or years – you won’t be in any kind of control, you won’t be any kind of comfortable, and you may not even be particularly welcome. You will be confused, angry, sad, shocked, and offended. This is because you are experiencing culture shock. You have entered a different world.

Bad things – mean words at the least – will most certainly happen to you, because that is how relationships are, because they don’t understand you any more than you understand them, because the poor do not live lives of safety.

But I’ve also seen beauty and life and laughter, and I’ve wondered if I could ever stand so resilient, I’ve admired a kind of resourceful smart you don’t see anywhere else. I’ve cried with my friends and been hurt by them and laughed and laughed and laughed, and I’ve learned everything I ever knew about honesty and authenticity, swearing when I’m upset and standing up for myself and being loyal like nothing else to those I call my family.

Let me say, I’m 80% in agreement with Alise. I don’t think her friendships are wrong; in fact, you have to have a support network of people with whom friendship is easy and safe. And even when I decide who I want to be closer with from the food pantry and soup kitchen, I don’t choose people who I don’t already like for some reason – any reason. In some ways, I’m even repeating one of Alise’s own comments after the post – she writes: “we need to put ourselves in situations where we could meet someone who is different.” I appreciate that.

But when we stop crossing cultures – when we get too comfortable saying “I like people who are just like me” – we lose big. And eventually? Maybe we stop looking like the God who left, the God who became us, the God who likes people who are very, very not like him –

God who went where God was not supposed to go.

[other people write about this better than me. My favorites are J.R. Goudeau, D.L. Mayfield, and Jamie the Very Worst Missionary.]

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1 Comment

  1. Morgan Guyton

     /  April 10, 2013



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