I have visited the birthplace and childhood home of scientist and educator George Washington Carver.
I have been to the location of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
I have driven down Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, site of the 2014 race riots following a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer for his shooting of an African American.
I have driven down a street in Kansas City, Missouri, where I felt out of place as the only white man in a black neighborhood. I have walked a street in Baltimore, Maryland where I was the only white man among hundreds of people of color, only to be told by workers at the local tourism office that I should not be there and that I should return to my hotel room immediately.
And yet, I am foreign to the racism discussion. I'm afraid I don't speak the language of racism, that I don't understand the nuances of other points of view. I do not know what drives a man to join the Ku Klux Klan, to torment families, to burn crosses, to lynch another human being, or to spew hate-filled speech aimed to segregate and injure. I likewise do not understand how hundreds of black people can form an impromptu mob, burn cans and businesses in their own neighborhood, attack innocent bystanders, and steal from and curse out their own neighbors, all in response to a perceived injustice in a single case. Either way, I am a foreigner in my native land.
In the same ilk, I do not understand the Muslim who believes he must kill non-Muslims in order to defend his own "faith" - a "religion of peace" that murders others in order to further the cause?
I don't get the Atheist who believes Christians must be silenced before they offend him - a godless man offended by a God he does not believes exists?
And I'm not buying the whole idea that a homosexual can openly express sexuality, while Christian beliefs of one man/one woman are suppressed as "offensive" statements - equal rights for everyone who shows tolerance for same-sex marriage, but no rights for everyone else?
I find it very hard to wrap my mind around what some people think is fair.
I teach my students that fair is not a prize to be won or earned. In fact, we come to understand that fairness really doesn't even exist. Instead, one must only keep living, keep searching for liberty, and keep pursuing happiness. It is every man's simple responsibility to improve, to learn, and to serve others. The humility that comes along for the ride is a virtue that benefits all humankind. How can a person reflect the Lord if said person is not humble and committed to servitude?
No, I do not understand the idea of Live and Let Die, but I do understand my own responsibilities. I know that I am to love the Lord, my God, with all my mind, heart, and soul. I know I must love my neighbor as myself. I understand that I cannot force a person to adopt my faith as his own, but that I can influence a person to adopt a similar faith through education. I understand that I can be wrong, but that I can learn from my mistakes and make changes in my life. I understand that facts and vocabulary do matter. I believe that attitudes can be transparent, but that perceptions are not always true.
I believe that music reflects and transforms mood, and when properly applied can drive my worship. I believe I communicate with a higher Power when I study my Bible and when I pray. I believe I must remember the Gospel every first day of the week, and that I should do so with both my physical and my spiritual families.
I know that I must avoid all forms of idolatry, whether in the form of sports, celebrity worship, material pride, or racism. I understand that people are bull-headed and difficult to positively persuade, while at the same time they are soft and easily tempted to engage in destructive activities. I am under the impression that I can easily to go along with a crowd in order to avoid conflict, but that in doing so I may cause conflict. I know that I should treat other people the way I want to be treated. I know it is not as much the way I act, but the way I react to the hazards and detours in life that make me the person I am.
I simply must train myself to make the right decisions, train my children to do the same, and respectfully influence neighbors and strangers to adopt mannerly attitudes. I teach. I preach. I write. I speak. I engage the community.
But my struggle remains: that communication gap that I have with people who do not understand me. While I sit with a quizzical expression on my face, not understanding irrational racists, violent religionists, adamant disbelievers, and fornication mongers, I must understand that the lack of communication is a two-lane highway, and people often do not understand me either.
How do we speak each other's language? How do we bridge the communication gap?
How do we understand the emotion? The fear? The anger? The hatred?
What part do I have to play? As a parent? As a husband? As a teacher? As a deacon in the Lord's church? As a Christian? As a man?
I have stood at the foot of Geronimo's grave.
I have walked on the Trail of Tears.
I have visited the Crazy Horse monument.
I'm just afraid that proximity does not always translate to understanding.