Not too long ago, I was sharing with someone about the church my husband and I were at for 16 years before we moved. It wasn’t perfect because there is no such thing as the perfect church, but there were some significant areas where this church got it very, very right.
The one I perhaps miss the most is that it was a dazzling kaleidoscope of color, so racially diverse. And I’m not talking about a church that’s like 80% white with a few token black and Hispanic families thrown in so they can pat themselves on the back about being multiracial. Not even close. This was the real deal – a congregation with a strong African-American presence, a strong Hispanic presence, a strong Caucasian presence, plus a smattering of all kinds of other backgrounds and nationalities along the way.
I remember once hearing our pastor there mention how other pastor friends had commented on this characteristic and wondered how on earth we made it work. And I remember thinking, “Why on earth would it not work?”
The context of this conversation was set against the deep racial wounds being exposed by the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial. Truthfully, the depth of it all surprised me. Not because I’m so naive as to think racism no longer exists in this country, but because I forget what a unique thing it is to grow up in an environment where racial differences were secondary to shared faith and purpose, where friendships were forged by what we had in common. And when challenges did arise, they were navigated in the context of covenant relationships – we were committed to each other no matter what.
I have been blessed with friendships where we could frankly, lovingly and respectfully discuss issues of race – challenge each other or repent to each other when necessary. We were able to say to each other, “Help me understand.” We could face the hard things and walk away, not divided, but further unified.
I’ve had parents say to me, “Would it have been easier to go to an all [insert ethnicity or color] church? Maybe, but I don’t want my kids growing up that way. They would miss out on so much.” So they made a deliberate choice to enlarge their boundaries.
This is the world I grew up in. So yes, I forget that it’s not normal. I said as much and the response I got was basically, “Yeah, you really need to get in touch with the rest of the world.” And for a moment, I felt shamed and guilty, like I had done something wrong.
But the more I thought about it, I’ve concluded perhaps it would be more effective if the rest of the world got in touch with the reality I experienced. We can stand in our monochromatic corners all day and shout, “Racism!” from afar at each other, but in the end, we will accomplish nothing. There is no law, no trial verdict that can fix this.
The only way barriers come down is when we refuse to be contained by them. If we actually want to mend this wound, we have to stop coming at each other insisting on being understood and instead lean in towards each other with a desire and willingness to understand. And we absolutely must leave our all-(choose-your-color) corners of the universe and do life alongside each other.
And yes, I get that this is easier said than done. It does get bumpy and difficult sometimes. But it’s worth the effort and the messiness. We have to stop imparting to our children the messages that “they’re just too different from us” or “they’re out to get us” or “they’ll never understand us” if we ever expect to make progress. Instead the message needs to be, “There are people who are different from you, and that may be hard sometimes, but you will be wiser and better and richer if you will soak in everything they can teach and show you about the world.”
I’m crazy enough to believe this is possible. Because I’ve lived it. One person, one choice at a time, we can see this wound healed.