Touching my frizzy brown hair, artificially padded hips and wire-rim black glasses, I smiled into the mirror. This disguise would be perfect.
Navy Pier on a clear sunny day was the setting for the greatest church youth group contest ever: a human scavenger hunt. I altered every part of my appearance I could, even stepping into a new socioeconomic class. I borrowed a broom and dustpan from the janitor at the school where I taught and took up my new position at Navy Pier as a sanitary worker.
I walked through kiosks and tourists, sweeping up popcorn kernels and trash for the next hour, hoping no one would suspect I was not actually an employee. A few times I saw other workers and congratulated myself on the pure luck of choosing the exact right color polo shirt to accompany my khaki pants. I managed to sneak out of sight before they realized I was a phony.
I hadn’t accounted for the amount of times people would ask me for directions to the bathroom. I shocked myself with how quick I was to lie (*ahem* “act”): “This is my first day on the job,” I’d say. Or, “I haven’t been working here very long.”
But there was something else I hadn’t accounted for: The way I was suddenly, magically invisible. People only noticed me when they needed me. No one paid attention to the janitor with the frizzy hair.
My disguise was so convincing that I passed the youth group students numerous times without them recognizing me. When the set amount of time had elapsed, I swept my way over to the McDonalds we had picked as the rendezvous point. A group of ten youth sat at a round table facing the ships docked at the pier.
“Excuse me,” I said, indicating I needed to sweep under their feet.
“Oh, sorry,” they said, moving out of the way.
I swept around the entire table without a single student looking me straight in the face. Even when I was practically touching them, they didn’t see me.
Because I held a broom, I was invisible.
I’m learning that part of being “woke” means noticing the unseen systems and people around me. I’m taking shovel to rigid ground and excavating the soil of my whiteness to see what I find there.
Jesus loved and sought out the invisible people living in the margins of society.
Passing a homeless man with a cardboard sign recently, I suddenly thought. “God loves that man as much as he loves me. He knows his name, has plans for him and longs to be known by him.” And the thought surprised me.
The thought revealed my assumption that I am more deserving of love than those lower on the totem pole of society.
But God loves the the homeless man panhandling money as much as he loves me. He is enthralled with the janitor, factory worker and Taco Bell worker. He knows the teenager in the failing school in the inner city and the gang-banger selling drugs for a living. He adores the undocumented immigrant working 60 hour weeks to support his family. God loves the terrorist, murderer and rapist–as much as he loves me.
God’s love is boundless. There is no one who escapes His notice.
New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).
During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.