Los Angeles in December is beautiful to me. Sunny skies that backdrop the bustle of dense 405 North and South traffic along with cool nights that rest upon the city’s shoulders make space for just the kind of reflection my introvert soul enjoys. I spent six days in the City of Angels a few weeks before Christmas 2018, serving as a cultural competency consultant and facilitator with The Lenses Institute. Being on the west coast and seeing the breadth of ethnic diversity that looks a little different from living in Orlando is incredible.
Lenses is an initiative of Cru that exists to help the people of God fight for Oneness by influencing the way Christian leaders see, understand, and act in our ethnically and culturally diverse world. We hold several institutes annually in Phoenix, New York City, Raleigh, Atlanta, Lexington, Orlando and Los Angeles.
Serving with Lenses, as a part of my ministry with Cru, is an intentional way I can influence our organizational culture. Our team of Lenses facilitators serves to help others understand the value of cultural awareness and cultural identity, recognizing how both shape who we are in the Church and beyond.
During the five-day LA Lenses experience, our cohort of 42 people dived into deep waters around race, power, culture and the gospel. We heard from four thought leaders—Pastor Mike Gunn, Dr. Robert Chao Romero, Dr. Jody David Armour and Dr. Kristine Ho—as they broadened our view of diversity: how the migration of people groups biblically has shown the grace of God, what it means to consider morality in situations, and how unequal educational systems create opportunity gaps that often are mistaken as achievement gaps in communities of color.
Dr. Ho challenged our group to consider many things, including the powerful difference between equality and equity, especially in conversations centered on race, power, and marginalization. She shared the image below with us and asked us to make observations about what we saw.
Our room buzzed with perspectives, insights, and also judgments about this scene and why these three individuals experienced this ballgame in this way.
The image stuck with me. I wanted to share it with my community of friends and followers on social media, so I posted it a week later on Instagram and Facebook. The resonance I felt intersected with others as I asked people to tell me what they saw.
Instagram interactions encouraged me. People processed this photo in ways that made them really think about it. One friend commented, “A WORD. Thanks for posting.” Another friend shared, “Did you see the one where you take down the fence…Inclusion. Then in the game…Participation. It can always get better.”
Facebook surprised me. The interactions with this photo created 32 powerful comments that showed how some were wrestling with what they saw and how it mirrored injustices they experienced in real life. Some could see the strategy equity has in taking the opportunities equality produces just a little bit further.
And some people saw things from a very different lens.
One friend shared his dismay that it appeared the three individuals were actually stealing views of the ballgame. He saw the fence as a barrier designed to keep them out, and the boxes they stood on gave them unapproved access to an event that others paid to see. They were stealing and he adamantly felt that it was wrong.
My Facebook page soon became a game of comments being thrown back and forth, like a ball swooshing quickly between rackets over a tennis court. People simply did not agree with my friend and showed frustrations to his comments.
I quickly saw this online conversation for what it could become: a chance to see differences and speak understanding into the disconnect. And I wanted to respond gently but intentionally to my friend who saw stealing at the core of the photo—a response that could help him consider something that he had not before.
I commented, “It may be…the picture is not about stealing game admission…what if those outside the game have never been permitted entry? Even though they’ve tried and have money to pay. What if they’ve never been given access. At all? It could also be…the access they have been given is permitted…as the fence view. And it’s worth the question why? for both situations.
“If, indeed, they are not stealing, but instead have been denied the opportunity to experience the game the way those in the stands are, why is that and why are those inside the stadium (seemingly) unaware of what’s happening outside the stadium?
“As I look specifically at the three at the fence, and their boxes, I see that equality is not the same as equity. As a taller person my height gives me advantages over shorter people, so this picture resonates with me. I see that equity leans in more deeply past equality, and asks, “Is this situation fully right, not just in everybody getting what’s equal but everyone able to exercise what they’ve been given in a way that gives each person a healthy, effective, and thriving opportunity, or in this case a fuller view, at ‘the table’?
“Equity pushes into the opportunity to make it most effective. Equality opens the door so that everyone has the same opportunity. This is what I see and understand.”
My friend held to his stance about the theft he saw. He felt that equality and equity under theft is still theft. What’s interesting to me is the role of perspective in all of this. My friend saw theft. But I didn’t. And even though we saw things differently, I wanted to communicate that I heard him and I valued his experience.
I wrote back, “Thank you for your perspective. Seeing different angles in conversations like this helps to increase learning and processing.”
He didn’t reply to my response but he did share more of his thoughts about the theft he saw with others who continued to comment on the photo. I didn’t agree with my friend. But I also recognized that responding graciously in the midst of disagreement would communicate love from me to him as many others on Facebook saw everything unfold.
I know people were watching because they privately texted me by phone and messaged me on Facebook. They saw how I responded with respect to my friend, even though we did not share the same perspective. And it moved them. My gentleness toward another person affected them as observers.
I’m learning more each year that compassion for others not only helps me grow in empathy, but it gives me the traction I need to learn how to be patient instead of pounding my fists from the pain I feel.
The pain and its causes are valid. And yet I’m learning I can honor my pain and trust God with healing as I also walk in patience with others who are at different points of experience than I. There’s something about patience that changes us: “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing,” James 1:4 KJV.
There’s a perfection that’s a supernatural work of God through his Holy Spirit that happens in me through patience. The rhythm of patience slows me down so that I can see the opportunity empathy affords to connect to another human being.
I’ve learned that empathy matters because it gives me the chance to enter into and be willing to understand someone else’s experience, which helps me to develop and mature.
Being open to see my friend’s perspective about the way he viewed the photo gave me the opportunity to develop greater empathy.
And perhaps, just maybe, my earlier responses lingered with him later. Maybe they caused him to consider what else could be happening at that ballgame—just beyond the fence.