What I'm Reading Today: Acts 21:40-22:29
Not long ago I had a conversation with a friend who was African-American. While there are many things we share in common (including a faith), there are some things that we don’t share in common.
In the midst of one of our conversations about our different life experience, I was talking with my friend about the challenges I face as a gay man. I assumed my friend would be sympathetic since he had known his own set of challenges due to his race. My friend wasn’t.
He saw our challenges as completely different and unrelated. He didn’t explicitly say this, but he implied that his challenges based upon his race were valid while my challenges based upon my sexual orientation weren’t.
At first I was both hurt and frustrated by my friend’s indifference. No matter how hard I tried to sensitize my friend to the pain of exclusion I had known, he would not listen. In the midst of one sentence, I suddenly remembered a basic truth I learned long ago. The truth is this: every human being has at least one aspect of themselves that puts them in a place of power and privilege, and one aspect that puts them in a place of vulnerability.
Take me, for instance. On the surface, my identity as a white man gives me access to a great deal of power and privilege in our society. Much of that power and privilege, however, is immediately lost once I disclose my sexual orientation. My friend, on the other hand, has faced much discrimination due to his skin color. At the same time, however, as a heterosexual he enjoys a great deal of power and privilege that people such as myself do not.
In today’s story we met a person who lived this truth: Paul. At the beginning of the story Paul was feeling especially vulnerable because of his identity as a Christian – a religious minority in his community. Just as he was about to be physically abused because of his minority status, Paul pulled rank and identified himself as a Roman Citizen – a powerful and privileged segment of society. In his case, Paul was lucky because his place of power and privilege won out over his place of vulnerability.
All of this presents us with a two-fold challenge for the day. First, I would invite you to find those places in your life when you enjoy power and privilege. Second, I would encourage you to find ways of using your power and privilege to advocate for those who are vulnerable.
Til next time…