A year ago, Dallas faced tragedy when police officers were shot and killed. And a conversation on race followed and continues. The below reflection comes from Christy Chermak; she wrote previously on the opportunity to improve our city following the shooting. (See the bottom of this post for another, larger resource on racial reconciliation.)
This Saturday, our monthly Awaken worship service at Klyde Warren Park will remember the events of last summer and pray for our city, alongside the usual worship, prayer time, and family fun. We hope you'll join us.
Today I will be going to a predominantly African American church to witness a friend speak at an album release party for a gospel music recording artist. My friend is from Pakistan, and beforehand we will get Mediterranean food. I am white, female, 30 years old, and single. A night like the one I’m about to have does not fit in the stereotypical white girl Friday night. But tonight my normal plans of dinner in Uptown or Netflix and take-out food have been interrupted.
And maybe, just maybe, I’m way more excited about it than I should be.
But this is not the first time I will sit at a meal with this friend. It is not the first time I will sit in an African-American church. And it is not the first time I will test my palate with Mediterranean food.
There were first times to each of those moments, and here’s the truth: They were awkward and uncomfortable, and I was pretty nervous. I was not excited about them like I am tonight. The first time I went to an African-American church there was a 10-minute-long interpretive dance that made me squirm - because I went to congregations growing up that would have considered even shifting your feet or swaying inappropriate. The second time I went to an African-American church, the service was 4 hours long, and in the middle, the pastor told me to slap my neighbor. In the churches I grew up in, you only addressed your pew neighbor during the “greeting” time in the program... so I politely turned and shook my neighbor's hand instead.
The first time my dear Pakistani friend and I had a meal, I took her to a restaurant that only sold dishes with meat in them. The first time I ate Mediterranean food, I didn’t know how to pronounce the word “gyro” and got a weird stare from the waiter. (And to be honest, I think I still get it wrong.)
Each of those experiences were pretty uncomfortable. I knew I stood out. I knew my norms were going to be pushed. I knew my anxiety would be high as I tried to figure out how to navigate new situations. But I dealt with it each time. By the end of that first African-American church experience, I was crying at the beauty of that interpretive dance. At the end of the second one, I had made a friend from a different part of town and got to meet up with her afterwards. In each of my uncomfortable, stretching, slightly uneasy experiences I learned something new about God and His people.
So what’s my point?
America appears to be blowing up on the issue of race, and we struggle to move towards something better. But as complicated as racial divisions are in our country, the solution starts in a pretty simple place.
Get to know someone that doesn’t look like you. Get out of your comfort zone. Enter into their world. Stop the monotony of your routine and bust out of those man-made expectations based on your skin tone. Find yourself on a Friday night eating Mediterranean food with a Pakistani friend before a gospel concert at an African-American church. The second I understand more about my African-American friends, my middle eastern neighbors, or my Hispanic coworkers, I’m much better situated to actually do something about the racial divide that exists in our culture…because I’ve already taken the first step of crossing that divide.
I think we don't take this simple step because of all the awkwardness and discomfort I experienced myself. You might be super anxious. You might even show up wearing the wrong kind of clothing. (Sometime I’ll tell you about the Indian wedding where I was the only one wearing typical Indian attire.) But you know what? I think that’s okay. There’s a “dumb tax” that each of us pays as we enter into new situations. Navigate your dumb tax with grace and patience and an apologetic smile, and you’ll be met with grace and patience as well.
The Lord designed us in his image and calls us to step into the messy situations that our world presents and bring order out of chaos. So how will we step into the mess, initiate with one another, and lead the way towards order and understanding?
For my white friends that love Jesus and find themselves reading this: We have a specific responsibility we carry in this reconciliation conversation. If you are white and live in the United States, our country’s history and socioeconomic structures have generally provided us with a perceived advantage, an easier path, and a platform - even when we don't earn or deserve those things. So if your own family of origin, community of origin, path through life, and, yes, skin color have provided you with opportunity and influence, what will you use it for?
Be bold, friends. Cross those invisible man-made lines that the enemy has used to try to box in the Church (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). We were never promised that following Jesus would be comfortable and easy. In fact, Jesus warned us of the opposite (John 15:18). We can’t expect our friends of other races to persistently be the only ones crossing those lines to talk about and do the work of reconciliation.
The Body of Christ in heaven will be a beautifully diverse thing (Revelation 7:9-10). What if we do the hard work now to make it look a little bit more that way here on earth?
What’s your first step in getting uncomfortable? Listen to a recent Training Day discussion of racial reconciliation, or read Christy's earlier blog to consider what it looks like for you to bring reconciliation. Or, join us on July 8th at Klyde Warren Park.