Each summer, the women in our church read and discuss a book together. It’s a slow, easy way to stay connected in the laid-back pace of the season. Some years, we meet every week and other years we meet once a month or so. It depends on our schedules. No pressure. You don’t even have to read the book. Just show up and join the conversation.
Usually, I pick the book, or I offer a few options for the group to choose from. One year, I suggested two books. One of them was The Help. We decided to read the other book and go to see the film version of The Help at our local movie theater. The women didn’t like the book we chose. The movie, however, was a different story. I know people have their opinions about The Help, but I have to say it was a catalyst for change in our little downtown congregation.
On the night of the movie, we found ourselves in a packed theater, so we separated and sat in the available open seats. When the movie was over, and the theater emptied, the women in our group stayed in their seats. I looked around me and behind me, and saw them all still sitting in their seats. Eventually, we all gathered around one woman in those cushy, fold up theater seats. “What did you think?” I asked.
They were stunned.
“Do people really treat people like that?” they asked. They were shocked by the prejudice, the racism, the inequality portrayed in the movie.
“Is this still going on?” they wanted to know.
And then, someone asked me straight-up: “Do you experience things like this?”
We sat in that theater and talked for a bit and, the next week, the conversation continued. I don’t remember everything that was said, but I’ll never forget when one woman looked across the table at another woman and declared, “We need some cultural sensitivity training.”
That was the beginning. We’ve done a lot since that night, and we keep going. One of the women gave our group a name: ICU. It’s a multi-faceted term. It’s an acronym for Increasing Cultural Understanding. It also means Intensive Care Unit, because we believe this issue is critical to the health of our small downtown congregation and to the Body of Christ. ICU also means I See You — because everyone deserves to be seen for who they are, and not for who we wish they were or who we assume them to be.
There are seven women in our group, and, as they give permission, I’d like to introduce them to you over the next few weeks. In our group, we talk about the hard things. We talk about our prejudices and about racism and about how the Body of Christ can do a better job. In the beginning there were two women of color in our group, but one woman has moved away, so now there’s just me. At 49 years of age, I’m also the youngest in the group. The oldest person in our group is 92. Each woman in the group has taken the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), and we’ve met with a professional who helped us to understand our results and who gave us recommendations for growth — as individuals and as a group. We all have room to grow.
I believe the church should lead the way in conversations about race in America. This is our moment to step up to the plate. Either we will, or we won’t. No matter what, we’ll look back on this moment and say that we did or we didn’t. Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to figure out where to begin. Maybe, by introducing you to our little ICU group over the next few weeks, you’ll be encouraged to find your own starting point.