Book Review: I See You by Terence Lester

“Privilege has a way of blinding us to the realities faced by those society has made invisible, and in true incarnational fashion, Terence takes us with him on a journey to uncover the true experiences of our most vulnerable neighbors.” (Chad Wright-Pittman)

These words were written as an endorsement for the book I See You: How Love Opens Our Eyes to Invisible People by Terence Lester.

Terence Lester is a storyteller. His book weaves personal stories with biblical principles and practical ideas to help us look at poverty and people in a more dignified way. It challenges our conventional ways of thinking.

Honestly, how do we accept a system that says a family of four is in poverty if they make $28,290 a year, but not if they make $28,291?

Are all who are poor lazy and uneducated? Do they choose to be poor? Are they all criminals? Is it their own fault all the time that they are in poverty?

What are our basic human needs? For Lester, a key definition in “home”. Home is a basic need. He defines it as a place you feel safe. It is a place of unconditional belonging.

How do we define “poverty”? Lester sees it as a lack of access. It’s not about the dollar amount. People have different levels of poverty when they lack access to good education, clean water, job opportunities, healthcare, healthy food, and other basic needs. These are things we too often take for granted and just assume it’s available or, if needed, you MOVE to those areas where those things are available.

Lester offers these key ideas with some fundamental understanding of what poverty means, but then moves to US. Our problem is this: we don’t see others. Often we don’t see because we don’t want to see. We don’t want to know. And what we don’t know, we fear. The key is to start seeing people. The book walks us through stories as examples to help us get better definitions of poverty, of access, of health, and of worth. Lester also tells his own story and how he chose to walk in poverty for small lengths of time to live out what others go through daily and have no ability to escape.

He also learned about their worth. The key is often to simply engage people in conversation and listen.

At the end of the book are discussion questions for each chapter. This is good for personal use or a group study. And the questions are piercing at times.

This is a book that needs to be absorbed. We have a lot of re-learning to do in our lives. We need to understand the difficulty of getting things done just to get a job in some places and how easy that truly is for us.

I reflected back a year ago to when we had first moved to Alabama and the high level of frustration in just getting my driver’s license switched over. It was a long process that was drawn out needlessly by a bureaucracy putting silly obstacles in the way of people. As I went back four times to complete this process I realized how difficult this would be for people who didn’t have good transportation and couldn’t get off of work easily. Then, to realize how this was also the way voters would be counted on election day and in certain areas of the state it was even harder to get a drivers license, I became infuriated. I could easily walk through the frustration of four separate visits and still get a license (and thus gain access to voting). But it was like going to the moon for others in the state.

We need to walk through systemic issues and confront our biases. It’s a journey. Lester offers us a way to think through this journey. It is simple. Start seeing others. Start engaging others. Start thinking in a new way.

This book was sent as a review copy from Intervarsity Press. I am under no obligation to give a positive review for this book.

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