Two, very long, years ago I got gut level honest with myself, on the internet. It was never intended to be anything more than that. The thing about being really honest, though, is that it tends to encourage people to do the same. As a result I have been able to interact with people of every race and ethnicity from all over the world on issues of racial inequality, injustice and just being a decent human being. It has been eye opening, to say the least. What started out as a basic awareness that something wasn’t right turned into genuine heartbreak. The kind you can only feel when you come to the end of a very long path to find yourself standing at the foot of a mountain too high to climb with no where to go but forward.
What I mean is, there is no situation I have ever stood before that God had not already made a way through.
Fortunately for me, I have spent a lot of time standing at the foot of a mountain like that; enough to realize that when I am, I’m actually standing at the foot of the cross. What I mean is, there is no situation I have ever stood before that God had not already made a way through. All I had to do was follow his lead one step at a time. So that’s what I’ve been doing. One step, one conversation, one opportunity at a time, I have been following Him over this mountain. It is very likely that I will spend the rest of my days on this earth doing just that, but every now and then I catch a glimpse of the view and it takes my breath away. Last night was just that for me. Let me explain.
Since this whole thing started a lot in my life has changed. My family grew, I moved to a new state, started a new job and found myself planted in a whole new community that just happens to be in an area of the country that, while diverse, is thick with racial tension. The community I’m in however, my tribe, is filled with people just as heartbroken by injustice as I am. Men and women who are not content to scroll through the brokenness of this world and do nothing. So we decided it was time for action.
Everything worth anything starts small. It starts with me.
To be clear, I’ve never been a political guy, nor do I ever want to be. I follow Jesus, and if he didn’t think it was a good use of his time to mess with politics, neither do I. You see he knew what I am only recently finding out: everything worth anything starts small. It starts with me.
In the middle of my gut level honesty I realized that if I want to be a part of the solution, “I have to build genuine relationships with people of color and stop the whole ridiculous ‘I don’t see color’ BS. I need to see color and learn to appreciate it for what it is. I need to allow myself to participate in and grow from and enjoy a culture that is not my own. One that has its pluses and minuses like all others. I need to be willing to get close enough to applaud when there is a victory, mourn when there is a loss and call it out when there is a shortcoming. I need to actually see my brothers and sisters of color as family.” So that’s what we set out to do.
The church I work for has a great relationship with an African American church in the area so we started there. We decided to host a night of joint worship, good food and real talk. 90+ people participated in the conversation. They shared from their hearts and listened well. It was a powerful experience, but was just one night. One step. One conversation.
A couple months later our churches came together on a Sunday for service. Not one of those “we have guests today let’s make them feel welcome” situations. I mean white folk with electric guitars AND a gospel choir, this white dude from Jersey rockin’ a spoken word and the home team pastor giving up the pulpit to his counterpart. Anyone who was there will tell you it was amazing. One more step. One more opportunity.
Three weeks later, we started the thing that would make it real. A group from our church and a group from their church committed to spend every Tuesday together getting real about issues of race. It started slowly, as you might expect, but the longer we met the more natural the conversations became. We began to feel more and more comfortable in our differences, and more and more aware of the similarities that out weighed them all. We got close. And then it happened.
I took my 8 year old son to see Black Panther (which is a stellar movie even apart from its historical importance) and as we walked to the car he leaned over and whispered to me that Black Panther was now his favorite superhero. My heart leapt. I found myself genuinely celebrating that my boy was able to see a black man in a movie that he wanted to be. That he had that feeling of awe and admiration that little boys have for their favorite super heroes for an African American man. (Yeah, I know, he’s Wakandan.)
That brings me to last night. It was Tuesday and I was spending some time with my friends talking about how we had been affected by the time we had been spending together and it hit me. I got close. Close enough to a culture that was not my own to applaud when there was a victory and mourn when there was a loss. I was genuinely seeing my brothers and sisters of color as family. I’m not going back next Tuesday to start calling out shortcomings though…one step at a time, right?
I know that our country is just as filled with racial inequality and tension as it was before. I know that I’m still in the process of following my way up this mountain one step at a time. But just for a moment, my world got better. I got to stop, take a breath and enjoy the view and what I saw, was hope.