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What are they seeing?

Friday, December 5th, 2008

I was talking with a friend one day and he was strugging. “John, people I work with treat me strangely. It’s like they don’t like my ethnicity. They must be prejudiced.” When I saw the way he was standing as he spoke to me, I saw his ethnicity – with an edge to it!


My response to my friend was, “quit putting your international heritage out front and just show them yourself without the edge.” I could see that instead of just being himself he was putting a spin of defense that was not appealing to relate to. Our discussion went from there to talking about his insecurities that were more present and that he was putting on the ethnic edge as a safety mechanism.


I have another friend who is professed to be gay. When I spend time with him, I don’t see “gay” anything and we really don’t discuss his personal sexual preference. He and I talked about how people present themselves and I told him he was easy to relate to because he didn’t present a public image of an issue, rather he just presented himself, the person, for others to know and appreciate. He is a great guy to be around.


Then, there are others who profess being gay that are really complicated to relate to because being gay seems to be more of their identity presentation to me and others. Being gay is really what is seen, rather than just being a person.


I often sense that I see gay, or ethnicity in someone because these things are covering up their heart. It is the heart that I believe we connect to in a person but when self protection wraps itself around the heart, it is harder to connect to the real person behind the issue.


In Memphis, there is a pretty divided racial climate. I have friends who are black that I must say, I don’t see as being black or any other color. They are just people and I see through any skin color to the person. They don’t live with a cultural edge as their presiding image; rather they are just people and friends of mine. Then there are others that I know around town that to be honest, when I see them, I see “black people”.


I had an experience with another young man at a conference who was wearing a strange shirt, a polka dotted tie, and brightly colored hair. He was asking me some questions about my life and seeking growth in his own life. At one point, I asked him, “Help me understand the strange combination you are wearing?” He said, “Well, if people are willing, like you have been, to press through this off-putting exterior, then I trust their sincerity more.”


My response to him was strong, “Don’t manipulate me like that”. “It is not fair to me or anyone else to cover yourself up with barriers to relationship that are offensive or just plain strange. It only robs you of the very thing you are looking for; it also prevents me from being able to know you, your heart, and your reality.”


1 Sam 16:7
“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”


I guess the bottom line of this is that responsibility lies on all sides when it comes to relating to people. It is true that God looks at the heart and we often struggle with seeing the outward appearance first. I believe we are all called to look deeper into one another’s lives and see that inside, we are all the same and that there are times when we all put on a false cover – especially when we are hurt or insecure.


We must be willing to let down our guard in deference to relationships. We must also be willing to love each other through our “strange” exteriors because we all have them!