When I was 9 years old I went on a Brownies camp. It was around the time of independence in Zimbabwe and it was the first camp that was integrated in my community. To cut a long story short, teaspoons went missing and I said (very matter of factly) that it was obviously the black girls who stole them. The ‘Brown Owl’ (leader of Brownies) freaked out and, not so wisely, shouted at me for being a racist and stormed out the room. I watched her go and frowning, said to my friend, ‘Shame, she is crazy! It was obviously the black girls, so why is she shouting at me?”
If she had sat me down and asked me some questions to challenge my thinking, she may have saved me a few years of unpacking deep-seated prejudice in my life when I was older. The way she handled that has often come back to remind me of how not to do it when I see the ugly face of prejudice. Like her, I often get it wrong! But when I remember the lack of insight that was shown me, a 9-year-old who was merely reflecting the values of those around me, I am challenged to find more loving and honest ways of engaging around these issues. And as always, it starts with my own heart.
These past few weeks have been hard for engaged South Africans as we realised how scratching what looked like a small superficial wound, revealed a deep gaping hole in the flesh of our nation’s soul. I have read things posted on Facebook walls about people of all races that have hurt and shocked me. I have been confused between real issues and red herrings, and it has reminded me that one of the enemy’s most effective weapons against us is division – along whatever lines can be sold to vulnerable people – like me.
I think we all know that prejudice is everywhere around us. Last week I saw someone shout at a man old enough to be her father for parking in the ‘wrong’ place. I have seen how differently well-dressed people in expensive cars are asked to move their vehicles from the same spot. I have driven around with a black friend and been stopped by police more in one week than in a lifetime of driving my blond self around. I watched the same friend struggle to find a place to rent as the places we had phoned were mysteriously always ‘taken’ by the time we got there to view the property, sometimes within the hour. I have felt the subtle but restrictive effects of being a woman in circles where men are respected and valued more, for a variety of reasons.
Yes, I have seen prejudice – it is all around me — but where I have seen it the most clearly is in my own heart.
I so often judge people without knowing the full picture or taking the time to listen to their hearts. I have allowed the world’s value system to shape me, instead of ‘not conforming to the patterns of it’. Sometimes I meet someone and take on the lie that they are worth more than me, for whatever reason. Sometimes I feel more important than others, believing the lie that my life is worth more, or what I have to offer in terms of thoughts and opinions is worth more. Or that I am entitled to more.
God has made His values pretty clear throughout the Bible, from Genesis where we see that humans were created in His image and it was good (Genesis 1: 27,31), to Proverbs 22:2 that tells us that rich and poor are all created by God. Jesus went to the woman at the well, colliding with so many entrenched values of that time. James was very clear about us not showing favouritism to someone dressed in fine clothes, compared to someone in filthy ones (James 2:2-4). And Galatians 3:28 is as radical today as it was back then: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
God created one race – the human race. As I have grown in my understanding of God’s heart for all people, how differently Jesus sees things, and the ‘upside down kingdom,’ I despise prejudice more and more – in my own life, and in that of my community and country. Asking God to change my heart has meant He has, in His kindness, shown me some of what is really in there. I have seen how my values so often collude with the worlds and not with the One I committed to following nearly three decades ago. I want my values to collide with the world’s values, not collude with them.
And so I am in an on-going process of transformation with the Holy Spirit as my guide … but, as in many attempts to change, I often start with ensuring that my behaviour is in line with God’s truth, and not necessarily my heart. That may not seem like a bad thing on a surface level, but it’s not freedom. God invites us to go much deeper into truth that sets us all free! God invites us to join Him on an adventure of purifying our hearts and learning to see the world and the people in it as He sees.
I dreamt once when I was much younger that I was on a stage in front of thousands of people holding up a water bottle filled with skanky water and slime. I, rather dramatically, squeezed the water bottle; the slimy water spurted out the top and I said, “What is inside comes out when pressure is applied.” I chuckle when I remember it, but the truth of that dream has stayed with me. When the pressure is on, what is inside comes out, as we have seen reflected in our newspapers, social media and radio conversations recently.
Jesus said it the best in Luke 6:45, “A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and an evil one brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of …”. So when the pressure is applied and what comes out is not pretty, it’s a good sign that we need to go deeper into our hearts and ask God to show us what needs to change.
I don’t want to change my behaviour, but I want my heart to change and then my behaviour and how I treat all people should follow naturally. When we truly believe that all people are equal, it will influence how we live and how we treat others. If we truly believe that we are not worth less or more than anyone else, in our hearts, it will seep out into our lifestyles, choices and behaviour towards those around us.
Simon Pettit, my leader and spiritual ‘father’ for many years, said to me once, “You can tell the size of a person by how big or small you feel when you leave their company.”And I think he was right.