By Steven Norris
“Don’t take it so personally.” How many times have I heard that phrase uttered in my lifetime? Usually, it is followed by something that feels extremely personal, not to mention painful or offensive.
Over the past couple of months, I have been privileged to participate in conversations with clergy from the Griffin area to discuss issues of racism and prejudice in our community. Those conversations have opened my eyes and helped me see issues, not from the perspective of abstract ideas and policies, but through the lens of personal stories.
I have been honored to listen to personal accounts of childhoods, not all that different from my own. I have also sat in horror, listening to narratives almost too dreadful to comprehend. Stories that literally made me sick to my stomach. Experiences that have shaped these brothers and sisters in Christ in ways to which I have no comparable parallel.
One of the biggest dangers that I have seen over the past few months is the temptation to make these broader conversations about “those people” over there. Too often, we fall into the snare of removing ourselves, making it about events happening somewhere else, or to talking about issues in the abstract.
To talk about racism is vague. To describe experiences of racism is personal. To talk of reconciliation is abstract. To describe friendships and healing between real people, in a specific place and time, is personal.
If the biblical narrative teaches us anything, it is that the Gospel is always personal. In the Hebrew scriptures, God’s identity is revealed through a very specific group of people in a specific place and time. God calls Abram, leads him to a new home, and initiates a covenant relationship with the Israelites through him.
Christians affirm that Jesus of Nazareth is the clearest and fullest revelation that we have of God’s nature and character. In Jesus, God’s fullness “took on flesh” in a specific place, at a specific time, under the rule of a specific oppressive political power. In other words, the Incarnation, as Christians call it, was intensely personal.
Likewise, to be a follower of the way of Jesus is to learn to take it personally. It is to hear the message of Jesus, not as abstract rules or suggestions about how to live, but as an appeal of how to let God “take on flesh” in my life and my situation. It is to hear the message of salvation, not as an escape from this world, but as an awakening to the presence of God within this world.
The Bible’s antidote to the brokenness and division of the world is not abstract laws, but a deep personal communion with God and one another through the person of Jesus. Therefore, the first fruits of salvation, healing, and true reconciliation will be experienced by those willing to sit down over a cup of coffee with someone different than themselves. It will be experienced by those willing to take a chance, be vulnerable, and make it personal.