There was a little controversy recently in the Dallas area. I live in a suburb of Big D so the story was a daily news item. Some of the seniors at an affluent high school in Dallas had a couple of rather unfortunate traditions. On senior Thug Day, students wore Afro wigs, fake gold teeth and baggy jeans. On Fiesta Day, which was to honor Hispanic heritage, one student brought a leaf blower to school. A few students at the school dressed as gang members, rap stars, maids and yard workers which offended many in our community. It was easy to throw these students of privilege under the stretch Hummer limo and many did. Words like insensitive and racist were thrown around.
But I think Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd got it exactly right. “It was less about racism than it was about rudeness.It was deliberately ill-bred behavior, the empty-headed mockery of people who got dealt a lower hand in life’s arbitrary card game.” Haven’t we all done that? I have. Have you ever told or circulated a joke about a minority or redneck or ethnic group or a certain Texas university? I have.
My family was from Kentucky. My dad came from the impoverished Appalachian area that PBS used to visit to produce documentaries about dirt poor Americans. But my Dad left Kentucky and I grew up in Southern Ohio. Trust me when I say that Southern Ohio was not a cosmopolitan mecca of sophistication. Yet we somehow felt we could make fun of Kentuckians and West Virginians. Other states made fun of Ohioans. It is human nature to need to feel better than someone else.
Jacquielynn Floyd rightly notes that being born into wealth doesn’t make you “better or worse people than the rest of us – it’s just the luck of the draw.” This view of less privileged people is disappointing in society and even damaging. But in a church that wants to be authentic it is deadly. In the book of James we find these words in the New Testament.
My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. James 2 The Message
I came across this story in Men of Integrity magazine. It was reported by a gentleman named Lew Gervais. I think James would have applauded wildly had he been there.
Bill was wild haired; his wardrobe for college was jeans and a T-shirt with holes in it. He had just recently become a believer while attending a campus Bible study. Across from campus was a well-dressed, very conservative church. One Sunday Bill decided to go there. He walked in late and shoeless. The sanctuary was packed so Bill headed down the aisle looking for a seat. Having nearly reached the pulpit, he realized there were no empty seats, so he squatted down on the carpet. The congregation was feeling uncomfortable. Then from the back of the church, a gray-haired elder outfitted in a three piece suit slowly started walking with help from his cane toward Bill. The worshippers didn’t know what to expect from a man in his eighties as he confronted some college kid on the floor. With all eyes focused on the developing drama, the minister waited to begin his sermon until the elder did what he had to do.
The elderly man dropped his cane on the floor and with great difficulty lowered himself to sit next to Bill.
“What I’m about to preach,” the minister begins, “you’ll never remember. What you’ve just seen, you’ll never forget.”
So I am not going to worry about a small number of immature high schoolers. I have a much bigger problem and I saw his image in the mirror as I shaved today. Every person I encounter is created in the image of God and Jesus deemed them worthy to die for on the cross. God help me to see them that way.