by Elise B. Johnstone, Canon to the Ordinary, Dioceses of Lexington
First appeared in Diolex Link, used with permission
In getting around to serve in the ways I am blessed to serve in our diocese, I spend a decent amount of time in the car. So, especially on Sundays, on my way to a congregation, I listen to audiobooks. And my most recent listening experience was to hear again Harper Lee's heart-wrenching story of an African American wrongly put on trial in 1930's Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird, the words of the deeply reflective father and defense lawyer Atticus Finch have been ringing in my head over the last week: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
Over the last days and weeks, we have heard of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We have heard of the deaths of Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, who served in law enforcement in Dallas. For me, I cannot find words that express the sadness that I feel over these deaths that I have a problematic time getting my head and heart around in so many different ways. Why?
When I step outside of myself, I see that I am a woman: a white woman who grew up here in Kentucky in socio-economic comfort. I carry with me, without often knowing it, privilege-this privilege is purely of social construct, but it exists. I have not had to be afraid of a traffic stop, or any number of things. But it I am, just as all of us are, something else-I am a child of God-just as Alton, Philando, Brent, Patrick, Michael, Lorne, Michael, as well as Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, those who died in Orlando, and so many others who have died are children of God-we each are created in God's image. So, even though I have not necessarily had to consider the privilege that I carry with me as a white woman, because I am called in baptism to recognize the dignity of every human being, I consider the words of Atticus Finch: "until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
This is a heart-wrenching time in our society-and while my words feel paltry, something that I can always be doing is actively being aware not only of the privileges that I live with, but that I also can use that privilege, that power, and how I can most responsibly give that power away. For me, and I hope for all of us, our baptism calls us to climb into the skin of others and walk around in it-see how life looks from their perspective-for people of color, for law enforcement, for people who have differing levels of power, influence, or voice. We recall those words from the Baptismal Covenant: "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?" (The Book of Common Prayer, 305) In these days of confusion and sadness, in the tragedy in Nice, in the tragedy of mass shootings, and these recent deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the officers in Dallas, and so many more-now, more than in days past, we must step out of ourselves, and walk around in the skin of our fellow children of God. With God's help, may we break the cycle of violence.