This weekend was the big fall cleanup of our property at church. We trimmed trees and hedges, put down mulch in flower beds and around trees, cleared out debris, and pulled weeds. Because I had one of the youngest workers with me that day, we were put on “stick patrol,” clearing out the sticks that had fallen from the enormous trees in the front of the property. When I first glanced at the area, I was not too worried. You could see some sticks, but not a large amount. I remember thinking the project would not take long. But all too quickly I realized that the more I got down in the grass, the more small sticks I saw. A scan of the grass from a distance was totally different from getting down in the dirt and seeing what was really there.
I have been thinking about how my quick scan of the grass that day is a lot like living with the benefit of privilege. I realize that talking about privilege makes many of us anxious. We feel like we are being blamed for something we cannot control and we can probably name multiple hurdles we have had to overcome in life that do not make us feel privileged at all.
While all of that may be true, one the signs of benefiting from privilege is that we are able to scan the grass without really looking through the blades for sticks. Just today, on what was an otherwise beautifully wooded drive, I passed by a community of mobile homes, a nursing home, and a domestic violence shelter. If I had wanted to, my privilege could have allowed me to keep on driving and listening to music without thinking about the poverty and its impact on the individuals and families in the mobile homes. If I had wanted to, I could have smiled at the lovely sign of the nursing home without thinking about those inside who are homebound, lonely, or sick. If I had wanted to, I could have driven by the unmarked domestic violence shelter, never once thinking about the emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual effects of violence on the women and children who live there. My privilege in life, whether racial, socioeconomic, or age, allows me to scan the grass without seeing the sticks.
Jesus ministry was all about seeing the sticks: the Samaritan woman at the well, the blind man by the road, the hemorrhaging woman who touched the hem of his cloak, the demoniac on the hill. Jesus could have easily passed all of these by, staying focused on teaching and preaching. But Jesus rarely scanned the grass – he was always rooting around for the sticks. In fact, he was rarely interested in how pretty the lawn looked. He wanted to tend between the blades. That is the kind of attention that Jesus invites us into every week. Jesus invites us to let go of the comfort and satisfaction that comes from scanning the lush lawn, and instead, invites us to get down on our knees, to get dirty rooting around in the blades, and to always hold in tension how our privilege lures us into much more comfortable work. I look forward to hearing what you find as you cede some of your privilege and start playing in the grass.