At the store where I work we put up a sign at the beginning of the month, letting customers know that September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It’s been up now for a few weeks and I’ve yet to have anyone suggest that, really, we should be aware of all cancers. Nobody who has seen the sign has felt the need to declare that “all organs matter,” or even to point out that September is also the National Awareness Month for thyroid cancer, leukemia and lymphoma, and prostate cancer. To say nothing of Baby Safety Month, Classical Music Month, National Italian Cheese Month, or National Blueberry Popsicle Month. To name only a few.
In general, people seem to grasp the idea that sometimes one might single out a cause or an issue, not because it’s more important than anything else but because it’s something we maybe don’t think about nearly as often as we should.
And yet, in the less than a week that our store had a “Black Lives Matter” sign out front, at least one customer felt the need to declare that “all lives matter.” Apparently black lives can’t get the same accommodation as blueberry popsicles. Which is, of course, the point this customer refused to see.
In my recent write-up of Father Jim Martin’s book Building A Bridge, about working to create common ground between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community, I mentioned that it actually struck me as a good blueprint for trying to work through other problems in our current hyper-divided society. Most of these divisions seem to come down to one group that has long been ignored, silenced, looked down upon, persecuted, and/or discriminated against; and a dominant culture that doesn’t see the problem (or if they do now, hadn’t until very recently.)
Father Martin shares a story to illustrate in part his prescription for finding an understanding.
When I was twenty-seven, I told my parents I was entering the Jesuits. I sprang the news on them with absolutely no warning; I hadn’t even told them I was considering it. Not surprisingly, they were confused and upset. They saw the decision as reckless. And that confused and upset me.
I wondered, “How could they not see what I was doing? How could they not understand me?” In response, my spiritual director said, “You’ve had twenty-seven years to get used to this, Jim. And you just sprung it on them. Give them the gift of time.”
He goes on to point out how the LGBT movement is a relatively recent phenomenon (really only coming into mainstream public view within the thirty years of my own adulthood so far) and maybe the Church and some within society at large need time to adjust. He fully admits that this can be a difficult and even painful idea to accept.
Especially in looking at our current racial divide, I find even I get short of patience. We white Americans saw the Abolitionist movement really rise to prominence in the 1830s, the Civil War in the 1860s, the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, and the Civil Rights Act almost a hundred years later, we’ve had close to two-hundred years to get used to the idea that black lives are deserving of respect. I think it’s time we stop making excuses.
Father Martin’s book suggests that all it takes to bridge a cross-cultural divide is respect, sensitivity, and compassion. These are good and basic Christian virtues, to which I would add a healthy dose of humility. If those of us who profess the Christian faith commit ourselves to more fully embodying these traits, we might just start to change things for the better.