Amid these heartsickening days, I was reminded of a book of photography on my shelf. It’s titled, Touching Strangers. Photographer Richard Renaldi asked complete strangers to pose together for a portrait in ways normally reserved for family and friends. The photos include:
• An Orthodox Jew hand-in-hand with a young African-American in dreadlocks and jeans;
• A lithe gay kid standing with his hand on the shoulder of a very serious cowboy;
• An average-looking white guy with his arm around a woman in elaborate African dress, and holding on his lap the smallest of her three dark-skinned sons.
Some of the pairs embrace readily; others are clearly stressed, pushed past their comfort levels. Renaldi’s goal is to get people to think past the ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic divisions that often go unexamined. The concept sounds elementary, but the resulting portraits are complex, strange, beautiful.
II. Birds of a feather have always flocked together: that’s the way it is. As a result, we shrink from responsibility for someone of another tribe. However, in today’s parable, Jesus pulls us past our comfort levels, and asks us to touch strangers: to stand in the gap with those who are wounded or, if necessary, to get into the ditch with them; to risk reputation, wellbeing, or status, for the sake of healing. Being a neighbor means recognizing and reverencing another’s human dignity. “Go and do it,” Jesus says.
III. In an opinion piece in Friday’s New York Times, Michael Eric Dyson writes,
Black people protest—to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen—that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope—emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality. People usually murder where they nest; they aim their rage at easy targets. It is best not understood as black-on-black crime; rather, it is neighbor-to-neighbor carnage…[To have] interracial killing, you have to have interracial communities.
Isn’t it also the case that you have to have interracial communities to have interracial healing?
As people of faith who stubbornly believe in the inevitable victory of God’s righteousness, it’s time to get off the couch and Facebook, stop saying that we’re not racist, beg God for wisdom and courage, and work for justice and change. Violence and vengeance are easy, and talk is cheap. We must do the harder work of bridging the distance between knowing what should be done and doing it, and the costlier work of getting into the ditch, and daring to touch strangers.
– Father Dale Korogi
Hat tips: Charles Blow, Tom Fiebiger