We want poor people to disappear. We don't want to see the folks who pick our tomatoes, die in the factories that make our phones and clothes or are forced to relocate because of our insatiable need for dirty energy. A gaffe by an activist here or a counter hashtag there and all of a sudden #BlackLivesMatter is minimized and we don't have to worry that 6 percent of the U.S. population (black american males) accounts for 40 percent of the homicide victims or that a database that actually captures the statistics for people killed in police custody doesn't exist.
Obama said something during his most recent State of the Union address that captures the American perspective of the rest of the world and communicates something profoundly troubling about ourselves.
"95 percent of the world's customers live outside our borders, and we can't close ourselves off from those opportunities."
The 95 percent of people who live outside of the borders of the U.S. are not billions of names and faces of women and men made in the image of God. They are just recipients of our charity, targets for our drones and are valuable based on what we can acquire from them or what they can communicate in our photo opps.
Unfortunately for us, I fear that this perception of those around the world is how we see those around the corner as well. If we can dismiss the needs of a hurting spouse or family member and look past the pain of the homeless man on our commute to work, how much more can we neglect the pain of barrel bombs in Syria and Ebola in Sierra Leone. But, oh if they have oil or will give us strategic position then all of a sudden their plight becomes our political agenda. If someone makes a Facebook page or Kickstarter campaign for them, then all of a sudden the Golden Voice is a priority. We are a nation built on capitalism and consumption is our cornerstone. It is not a wonder that selfishness, self-preservation, selfish ambition and selfies are what is shared and celebrated most broadly.
Yes, it's troubling that those abroad are not in our national interest unless they could bring profit or a threat, but still more concerning is that one in five children in this country don't know where their next meal will come from while more than one-third of our citizens are obese. Perhaps, the most disturbing reality though, is that this reflects most accurately how we see ourselves.
I have internalized the belief that I am only valuable based on what I can produce and acquire. If I don't have a job that provides me upward mobility and more extravagant vacations every year, then I must not be living. If I don't have a body like a model, then I must be deficient and not worthy of love. If I am not amassing a fortune for myself and ensuring the legacy of my family then I should be ashamed of myself and "get it together". If I am not married at 30 and able to have children, then I am on the nightmare side of the American dream.
Our broken systems reflect a shattered perception of ourselves that no person on the planet has the character and capacity to repair. My Momma told me when I was younger not to forget where I came from; but she wasn't talking about Allen Road, Brodnax, Virginia or the south. She wanted me to never forget that I am made in the image of God, I have a savior named Jesus and that every person on this planet is worthy of love and grace. I was created to flourish, work, rule and create and so was every other person I encounter -- American or otherwise -- so I must give my life to ensuring that happens because that is the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I am broken and sinful, but God is making me whole that I may accept myself, to accept others just as He, through Jesus has accepted me. My worth is not based on my salary or position so when I sit down with that farmworker or stay-at-home mom, her value isn't either.
Our perception of the world is horribly off because the scale we use to measure ourselves is skewed and it will never be stacked in our favor unless there is a radical transformation. And that transformation does not exist outside of an encounter with Jesus.
Only when a young woman looks into the mirror and knows her worth, beauty and acceptance is rooted in the love of God, can she reflect that reality to the sex-trafficked child in the Bronx or Manila. Only when a banker has had an encounter with Jesus can he meet the eyes of the homeless on Wall Street and offer unconditional love and sacrificial generosity every bonus season. And, most definitely, there is no way for the truth of every person's worth and innate dignity to be reflected in our voting and politics if we count torture, meritocracy, and American Exceptionalism as part of our strong union. Our system is broken because we are broken individuals. And only after an encounter with the God who made us in the first place will our systems be restored.
May His Kingdom come in me and every individual that our countries may thrive in peace, reconciled to one another and our Creator. Amen.