Truth: I don’t always like writing/talking about the black/white race relations Going There stuff. I imagine you feel the same way about reading it. I feel sometimes like Moses: “Really, God? THAT’s what you want me to talk about? Do I have to?” I get all agitated and start squirming in my seat and, like a fly caught between the window panes in August, the buzzing keeps going. So I cave in. This, my friends, is one of the cave in days:
When I got back from my bike ride yesterday, I planned to kick off my shoes, take a shower, fix dinner, and chill with H or a good book or some mindless TV. Instead, H said to me (after complimenting my new shorts, because he’s smart like that), “We have that thing tonight.” And even though, right up until that moment I had forgotten all about the thing, I knew exactly what he was talking about.
We have this really cool bookstore in town called Indigo Bridge. They are hip and cool and they host intimate seminars with local authors like Mary Pipher and they sell delicious coffee and they have a piano they encourage guests to play. One day a week, they pull up tables in the middle of the store, serve up soup for whatever you care to (or can) pay, and invite you to dialogue with your neighbors. Currently, the cool people at the bookstore are hosting a four-part film series called Race, Power, & Privilege.
Last night’s film was “A Time For Burning.” Rather than go into all the details here, I’ll let you click through the link to read more about it. The main thing you should know (courtesy of Wikipedia) is that “A Time for Burning is a 1966 American documentary film which explores the attempts of the minister of Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, to persuade his all-white congregation to reach out to ‘negro’ Lutherans in the city’s north side.”
It was a tough movie for me to watch, I’ll be honest. It made me angry, sad, and frustrated. I kept shifting in my seat, stifling gasps, trying hard not to get up and walk away.
When the movie was over, the sweet moderator scraped a folding chair across the cement floor and sat down with a spiral notebook on her lap. “Oh no,” I whispered to H. “Is she going to make us talk about it?” I wasn’t sure I could take it. But she was good, and the group was kind, and when I left that session, I felt as if I’d been to church with a group of hipsters, retirees, atheists, and educators. Here’s the stuff we learned together:
- Integrating churches is hard work, but that’s no excuse to keep from doing it. Yes, there are language barriers. Yes, there are prejudices. Yes, it’s easier to keep doing what we’ve been doing all these years. But that’s not what the Gospel is about. I can make excuses all day long about how we should just let time take care of it. I can tell myself we’ll all come around some day. I can say there are more pressing things and haven’t we already come so far? I can blame it on other people and say they’re just not ready; the time just isn’t right. But those are the exact same arguments people were making in 1966. Yes, 1996. It’s time, people. It is time.
- Repeating a myth does not make it true. Throughout history, we have latched on to certain myths, repeated them over and over again, and come to believe them as fact. We believed interracial marriage was taboo. We believed “separate but equal” was a real thing. We believed all white people were the enemy. Today, we have a black President in the White House, so we’d like to believe we live in a post-racial society and that we’ve moved beyond a need to continue conversations about race — especially in the church. We tell ourselves, and one another, we’ve already dealt with that stuff. “We can move on,” we say. But our churches (for the most part) remain divided along racial lines.
- Everyone has to give up something. The issue of race in America is not just something white people need to figure out. It’s easy to blame everything on white privilege, and — don’t get me wrong — white privilege is a real thing, with real consequences, requiring real self-evaluation and course-correction. But, in this world, if you have a pillow on which to lay your head, a roof over your head, and food in your refrigerator, you are a person of privilege. Recognizing that, and then being willing to lay privilege aside for the good of the Gospel is the responsibility of each of us, no matter our race. I need to be willing to give up gospel music and saying “Amen!” out loud in church if necessary. Someone else may need to let go of the organ or the fifteen minute sermon. And we all need to let someone who doesn’t look like us serve in leadership capacities in the church.
- The work of the Church is not the same as church work. The work of the Church — the Body of Christ, the called out ones, the ecclesia — is to love God and love people. It is to make disciples. It is to care for widows, immigrants, and orphans in our midst. It is to do justice to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. Church work, on the other hand, is paying the church’s utility bills, maintaining the structure of the church building, putting fuel in the church vans, cutting the grass at the church, keeping the stained glass windows clean. We mess up when we confuse the two. If fear of people in the congregation getting upset, leaving, and taking their money with them is ever a reason I give for not doing the work of the Church, shame on me.
We still have a long way to go. That’s the bottom line. I don’t like it any more than you do, and that’s the truth. I don’t really want to roll up my sleeves and make it happen. I want to let someone else deal with it. I want to cheer from the sidelines while some brave, wise, brilliant group of people do the hard work of reaching across the lines that divide us. But guess what? In the same way Gideon was a mighty warrior, WE are the brave, the wise, the brilliant. God knows what He can do through us when we let Him. And here’s the million dollar question: Will we let Him?