My church home undertook a nearly two-year process that included Bible studies and church-wide conversations about human sexuality and gender identities.

When this process concluded in 2020, we came to a consensus that our church would embrace individuals who are LGBTQ+ into the full life of the church.

It’s not that we did anything before to keep the LGBTQ+ community out of the church, but we decided we wanted to make it perfectly clear that we live our mission: to “journey through life with the inclusive Christ and embrace all with God’s transforming love.” For us, all means all.

David McDaniel, our pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, said it best in an article in The Martin City Telegraph:

“No matter what your past experience has been in churches, if you are LGBTQ+, you are not considered ‘less-than’ at Holmeswood. In fact, it is quite the opposite. You are a child of God whose full life story is a sacred story. At Holmeswood, we desire to hear and learn from one another’s story. In doing so, we each see a clearer picture of the Christ.”

Another way of saying that is, “We see you.”

The most common greeting in the Zulu tribe is Sawubona. It literally means “I see you; we see you.” It’s a way to make the other person visible and to accept them as they are with their virtues, nuances and flaws.

In response to this greeting, people usually say, Yebo, sawubona, which means “Yes, we see you too.”

I love this. To me, it’s difficult to tell someone you see them and not actually see them.

By contrast, in the U.S. we tend to say, “Hi, how are you?” and move on. It has the appearance that we care, but we never take the time to hear the answer.

How much more connected would we be if we greeted each other with, “I see you”?

If there has been one positive thing in the last several years, it would be the conversations people are having about race.

I have attended several community forums on race and at each one there is always someone who will say, “I don’t see color.” Although I can appreciate the words and thought behind such a statement, my wish is for people to see how hurtful that statement can be for people of color.

When someone tells me they don’t see my color, I wonder if they truly see me. My race, along with the history of my ancestors, makes me who I am. If you don’t recognize and acknowledge those parts of me, can you really know me? Can you really see me?

But I also don’t want the color of my skin to be the only thing you see. I don’t want someone to see my skin color and automatically think they know me.

People of color, as with any group of people, are not a monolithic group. We weren’t all raised the same way, we didn’t grow up in the same neighborhoods or attend the same schools. But there are some experiences that are unique to us. That’s what it means to truly see someone.

We see all the wonderful things that make someone unique, while also seeing the history in their culture and the experiences that have hurt their soul and may have made them guarded towards others. We truly see them.

Early in my career, I worked with people in extreme poverty, connecting them to the resources that would put them on the path to self-sufficiency. The hardest part of the job was building relationships with those who had gone most of their lives not being seen.

What I came to realize is that there are many groups of people who are marginalized in our society. Those who are on the “outside” are rarely seen and often judged as “less than” by those who create inaccurate narratives about them and their circumstances.

To build trust and help those in need, I had to show each person that I saw them as an individual by having conversations with them. We shared our fears, sorrows and desires for the future.

I shared mine because it was important for them to see me too. They needed to see and know that I was not going to judge them based on their scars and wounds, but instead would support them because of those scars and wounds.

That is what sawubona is between people – we see each other. It’s a dialogue. It’s an invitation to participate in each other’s life.

I once heard a counselor say that in schools, educators are quick to align a student’s behavior with the student as a person.

The typical response to a child when they make a poor decision is, “What’s wrong with you?” The counselor believed the appropriate response should be, “What happened to you?”

By asking what happened, you are acknowledging that you see that person and know that they are acting out not because they are bad, but because they are broken. They have been through, or are currently going through, something painful.

Sawubona allows us to open our hearts, see our mutual gifts and embrace another person’s soul.

I will be the first to say I am no saint. Truly seeing someone can be difficult. It may even trigger a feeling or response in you that is unwelcome.

We are afraid of that vulnerability. But isn’t that what true connection requires?

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