Kriss: Trying to see from another’s view

Jan 15, 2018 by

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The final project of our Christian Ethics class last semester was a field trip rooted in the implications of what we learned. My small class of four students chose to focus on learning African-American history experientially.

Stephen Kriss

Kriss

On a cold December Saturday we visited the African American Museum in Philadelphia. We took a walking tour including the slave market at Front Street and the President’s House, which tells of George Washington’s tricky slaveholding maneuvers during his presidency. We had walked this historic Independence Hall neighborhood before, but this time it felt different.

We talked about the challenge of Colin Kaepernick and kneeling NFL players. We watched the transformation and assassination of Oscar Romero. We watched a documentary about French Protestants who hid Jews during World War II. We read and were challenged by the words of James Cone and Miguel De La Torre. We tried to do the simple but seemingly impossible act of walking in another person’s shoes. The goal was to learn, even in a small way, a perspective and experience different from our own. No one in the class was African-American.

There are many ways of learning the history of a place and a people. Each individual tells that story differently. Consider the story of George Washington from an African-American perspective: The legacy of the first U.S. president includes treacherous behavior that circumvented Pennsylvania’s laws by rotating slaves back and forth between Philadelphia and Virginia every six months to avoid their emancipation, as required by Pennsylvania. Washington was astute in keeping the law but also keeping control of his slaves.

We watched the movie Quest, which chronicles the life of the Rainey family over a decade in North Philly. It’s an honest, hopeful and heartfelt glimpse into African-American life and has garnered national attention. The film is produced by Jonathan Olshefski, who attends a Breth­ren in Christ congregation in the city.

For many Philadelphia African-Americans, the movie portrays everyday life. The Raineys are real people. Their struggle is both inspiring and not abnormal in this city of 1.6 million, which is about half African-American. The Raineys have been accompanying debuts of the movie to engage movie­goers beyond the screen.

February is African-American History Month. For African-Americans, it’s an opportunity to tell stories and to celebrate culture and resiliency. For those of us who are not African-American, it’s an opportunity to engage differently, to learn the stories of our own places and situations differently.

For Christians committed to Christ’s peace in a time of tension, an ability and desire to listen is essential, even when stories disturb our status quo.

Listening to the experiences of others who know a story differently, who notice different details, gives us a way of validating the incarnation of Jesus.

Human life was valuable enough that the Creator took on the experience of being human through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Every time we listen with openness to change, we reflect that divine desire to know, to experience, to accompany, to move toward the fullness of redemption that Paul describes as the renewing of the mind.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.


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