In his extraordinary letter written from prison to the people of the church at Philippi, the Apostle Paul prays that their love would abound, that they would discern, make good decisions, and that they’d be sincere and without offense “till the day of Christ.”
Paul describes the spectacular humility involved as Christ laid aside all of his glory. He made for himself no reputation by taking on the form of a lowly servant. Jesus hungered, hurt and wept. Lord and master? Yes. But look at Jesus there, as he washes his own disciples’ dirty feet like a servant. Debased and of no repute, indeed.
Jesus made himself. In Greek, ekénōsen. It is the concept of emptying oneself as seen in the acts of Jesus. Want an example of what to do with your privilege? Look at what Jesus did with his, and with deliberate humility, lay your “Me first” thinking aside. Begin to esteem the interests and welfare of others above your own. This is challenging.
The word, “privilege” irks a lot of us. It speaks of special rights, benefits, advantages, or immunity granted only to a particular person or group. Many white people look at our own struggles to get ahead, and we don’t feel so advantaged, or immune to difficulty. Our math is simple: hard work was rewarded. We achieved by our own merit. When police stop us, most of us know what to do.
But we have so much to learn, and it is not required that Black, Indigenous, or any people of color educate white people. Truthfully, we will never understand some things or be complete without hearing their voices. Some things will be hard for us to hear or confess. It takes humility to acknowledge that for generations and centuries our beliefs were misinformed and manipulated by our own voices, often reinforced through religion and contemporary sources.
In his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”
Imagine how beneficial it would be if we were the dinner guests of those unlike ourselves. If that opportunity ever presents itself, bring a gift in hand as a gesture of respect and goodwill. Sit down and listen to their reality.
Make yourself of no reputation. Resist every reflexive urge to protect your own image. Prepare yourself to hear a different story than what you’ve heard in the past. Human nature does not appreciate exposure, or cooperate with giving up power or privilege. So, before anyone else gets angry or defensive, commit yourself to discover first if what is said is true. This kind of listening confesses that we do not know it all. This humility may help us begin to find our way.
A respectful, listening dialogue is an educational process. It cannot happen in one setting or two. God gives us light to walk in, to rightly inform our beliefs and our actions, personally and collectively. This is going to take a lifetime. But if we empty ourselves, our love will abound, we will make better decisions, we’ll be sincere and without offense, “till the day of Christ.” May God convict the hell out of all of us.
By Frank Robinson