By Patrick Scriven
I recently read about a teenage boy who went blind because of the lack of diversity in his diet. Pringles, white bread, heavily processed meats, and french fries were his staples from elementary school onward. He was 14 years old when he first saw a doctor because he was perpetually tired.
Despite presenting as relatively healthy, medical staff noticed that the boy had low levels of vitamin B12 and anemia. He was given injections of the vitamin and offered dietary advice. Despite these interventions, he soon began to experience issues with his vision and hearing, and by the age of 17, he had permanent vision damage and several other ailments to contend with.
There is a lesson here that extends beyond the food we place into our bodies. Too often, we find ourselves comfortably surrounded by the familiar. Our desires to fit in and belong can isolate us from the different life experiences, and ways of understanding the world, that could bless us (and stretch us). This lack of diversity in our lives impacts our vision just as it did for this young man.* It takes intentional effort to break free of the comfort food of our social media echo-chambers, monolithic social networks, and, yes, political parties.
One of my earliest memories of United Methodist ministry beyond the local church took place at a CONVO (our Annual PNW Youth Convocation) nearly two decades ago. The speaker that year was not a United Methodist, but he knew that we were fighting over human sexuality even then. Three talks in, the speaker made some pointed comments about homosexuality in the Church, and several youth participants (and adults) were upset enough to walk out while singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Honestly, I can’t remember what he said from the stage precisely, but I do remember his words from a conversation later that day. When pressed why he thought it appropriate to poke a proverbial wound, he began to describe himself as a doctor. He asked us what a good doctor should do if discovering cancer in a patient on the operating table — his clear implication was that he was supposed to cut it out.
Rather than advocating for holy curiosity, this speaker believed that we could only see the light by shutting the door. Unfortunately, that remains one approach folks take to diversity. If something disturbs or unsettles us, causing us to think too much or lose some of our power, we find a way to ignore, disenfranchise, or completely excise it.
Despite my example, this is a sin we are all quite capable of. It is also one we most often do without thinking about it in ways far less conspicuous.
This week, the General Commission on Religion and Race released an online workshop on Implicit Bias. With handouts, short videos, and readings, you can move through this workshop at your own pace by yourself or with a small group.
In the introduction to the training, we are reminded that: “The United Methodist Church is a worldwide church called to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people for Jesus Christ and the transformation of the world.” It also notes that we often fall quite short of this laudable goal.
For the Church to answer this calling well, the ability to see the world around us has rarely been so critical. It’s almost cliche to say that we are living amid unprecedented change; this moment requires us to be both attuned and nimble. We need to engage practices that help us to embrace those who are different from us. And we should thank God, especially, for those who are willing to step into a space that may be uncomfortable for them.
May we all resist the temptation to mistake comfort or ideological purity for good health and vision. And may God continue to bless (and stretch) us with new encounters with the diversity in God’s good creation, and shower grace upon us as we stumble toward understanding.
* Blindness as a metaphor, however Biblical, has its limits. While those without sight may encounter a world poorly designed for them, that is not to say that they are helpless or without ability. In contrast, they actually may ‘see’ some things more likely missed by others.
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.