#GoingThere: What You Can Do

To say I’m surprised by the recent response to the #GoingThere conversation would be an understatement. I am grateful to you all.

It seems as if the #GoingThere conversation is here to stay for a while, and so I’m going to accept that for what it is and continue to make this  a safe place for conversations about race, culture, and ethnicity, specifically as it relates to diversity (or, the lack thereof) in the North American church.

Many people have begun asking, “What can we do? How can we help? Where do we begin?” All fair questions. I am not an expert, but I thought I’d share a few suggestions to help move us forward a few paces in the conversation, and maybe help get us closer to being a more accurate representation of the Body of Christ.

One thing I want to share before we get started is this piece of advice I’ve always gotten from H, and it has proven true in my life: “If you don’t have a clear sense from God about the next step to take, just keep doing what you’re doing in the place where you are, and wait for God to reveal his plan for you.” You may not have a strong sense that the diversity conversation is where you need to be investing your time. If that’s the case, that’s fine. Sit tight and keep doing what you’re doing. God will nudge you if and when the time is right. However, if God is talking to you about this issue, you already know it. You don’t need me or anyone else to point it out to you. You may be afraid to move forward, or apprehensive about where to begin, but once God’s got the seed planted in your heart, it’s going to start expanding and growing and I encourage you to let the Holy Spirit do what the Holy Spirit does.

The #GoingThere conversation is not a bandwagon or a trend. People may try to make it one or both, but, from what I can tell, this conversation is a movement of the Holy Spirit. I am not in control of it. Obviously. Some days, I am just as terrified as you. Some days, I am frustrated and disappointed and sad. Some days, I simply don’t want to be bothered. Please don’t join the conversation out of a sense of duty or obligation or guilt. Join the conversation as an act of obedience to God, and as a response to the work the Holy Spirit is already doing in your life.

OK, then. Here are my suggestions for next steps we can take in this #GoingThere story:

1. Pray. Prayer changes things, and the things prayer changes first is what’s going on inside the person praying. If you’re afraid, confused, or angry,  or feeling helpless or inadequate or uninformed or misinformed, take your concerns to God before you get on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and before you write a blog post. Pray before you act or speak. Prayer, for the Body of Christ is always the first course of action.

2. Listen. My mother-in-law always said we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen to people who have a perspective that is different from yours. Listen without trying to figure out how to convince the other person to see things your way. Listen to hear their story and identify points where their story connects with yours. Listen to the silence when it happens, and don’t rush to fill the silence with your words. While you’re listening, pray. Pray that God will help you hear Truth, and that the Holy Spirit will fill you with wisdom.

3. Integrate. If you look around you, and the majority of the people you see look and sound and eat and dress and think and smell like you, get up from where you’re sitting and get  yourself to an environment where you are in the minority. Integration is something you do. It is not something that happens to you. Sitting where you are, hoping and praying people will come over and integrate with you is not integration. Integration is not easy, and it won’t necessarily be comfortable. If the people in your social media feed and your Christian conferences and your blogging trips and your church look like you and see the world the same way you see it, you’re missing out on the rich diversity God created and intends for us to celebrate. Pray, and ask God where you can go to be in the minority (it’s probably not as far as you think) and, once you get there, don’t try to convince the people there to see things your way. Once you get there, listen.

4. Educate yourself. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not necessarily helpful. A lot of people contacted me to say they hadn’t heard about the events in Ferguson. “I don’t watch the news,” they said, “and no one in my Facebook or Twitter feed was talking about it.” My FB and Twitter feeds were both blowing up with the news about Ferguson, and so I turned to the news to fill me in. It’s true. We can’t count on the media to give us an unbiased report of current events, but we have got to start somewhere. A theologian once admonished preachers to prepare with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. As Christians, we are called to be in the world and not of the world, but we can’t be in it, if we’re not in it.

Watch the news. Read the newspaper. Discuss current events at the dinner table—with people who look like you, and with people who don’t. When you consume news about current events, pray and ask God to reveal Truth to you. When you engage with others about current events around your dinner table, in your church, and in your community, listen to their point of view. And have conversations about current events with people who don’t look or sound or eat or dress or think or smell like you. Please integrate your FB and Twitter feeds so you’re getting a fuller picture of current events in our world.

5. Test yourself.You can’t get very far these days without someone bringing up the Myers-Briggs, Strength Finders, or the Enneagram. Our friends on Facebook post results to random quizzes, telling us what decade they should have been born in, which author they’re most like, which denomination they should belong to, and more. We like to know things about ourselves and about each other. If you’re serious about moving forward in understanding how you and/or your organization rank with regard to cultural competency, I encourage you to take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

When our church began to take diversity seriously, we contacted Helen Fagan (now, Dr. Helen Fagan) to help us. An expert in cultural competency and diversity training, Dr. Fagan walked a group of us through the IDI and then explained our results to us—as individuals and as a group. Taking the inventory helped us identify our strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots and, as a group, we worked together to develop a plan for growth and development.

6. Keep talking. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It’s true. Let me share something with you:

I’m writing this while at a family reunion. It’s the first-ever Riggs family reunion, and our first gathering since we lost Nano last year. This morning, I woke up to these words my nephew posted on Facebook:

“Hello FB peeps…..my familia and I just got through talking with my son / kids for more than the four and a half hours. A very heart felt conversation. It appears that while visiting la familia and friends. My kids and their cousines asked to go to the neighborhood store. Walking back from the store, a white male pulled up along side my kids and their cousines, and called them all niggers. The children range from 19 to 8 years old…We pretty much talked to the teenagers and attempted to explain to them racism, it’s definition, origin and future. The teens pretty much new about racism. And had experienced it in some form or fashion. Unfortunately. But my eight year old, I have to try and explain it to her tomorrow morning.”

Those words were painful to read, it’s true. And, unfortunately, they are not uncommon for people of color living in America. I’ve been called a nigger in the past but I have to say, the experience of being called a name is nowhere near as painful as being part of a Christian church culture that continues to keep silent and to divide herself along racial, cultural, and ethnic lines. If you’re feeling a Holy Spirit nudge to “go there,” please don’t be silent. Keep talking. If the Church leads the way, I believe there will be fewer people in this world who feel it’s okay to point to an eight year old and call her a nigger.

Some of you have asked me the question I offered the other day: “I see what’s happening in Ferguson. I don’t understand it, but I want to. Can someone help me understand it?” You wonder why the people of Ferguson have reacted the way they have, and what is it about this particular incident that caused such explosive backlash? I’m going to give you my answer to those questions in the next few days. In the meantime, let me know if you’ve got something to add to these suggestions.

Thanks!

 

  • http://pollywogcreek.blogspot.com Patricia W Hunter

    Thank you so much for this, Deidra. I hope my silence is not interpreted as apathy. There is much I don’t understand. Much more I need to know. I am listening. Intently. To those who do know and understand. To you. For the Holy Spirit to speak to me. My heart is broken for so many. For you. For little boys and girls and grown up boys and girls wounded by racial slurs and hatred on both sides of this horrible divide. So grateful for you. Please keep #goingthere.

  • http://www.sharonbrobst.com Sharon Brobst

    Deidra, thank you for this. I have felt the tug of the Spirit for some time but just not sure what to do about it. I must be honest though I’ve mostly been frustrated and angry. Growing up I always went to very diverse schools, in fact when I was in 7th grade I was the minority, but as an adult I have lived in a very white community. I didn’t really think anything about it until 10 years ago my son married a beautiful, sweet young woman from South America.

    Through her eyes my spirit has been awakened to just how white my church was and to the prejudices that exist in the body of believers…my own prejudices. Today my church is becoming a bit more diverse which is wonderful, but it breaks my heart to see how they are often treated.

    I have seen my DIL hurt by the words and actions of those in my church and it hurts me, no it angers me. There have been times I have felt like a “angry momma bear” needing to protect her babies. But I can’t fix it…unfortunately there have been times I’ve tried and seemed to only make it worse.

    Sigh…sorry I feel like I’m rambling, but just know that I am here. I don’t always know what I should do, but thank you so much for the reminder to PRAY, Listen and keep talking…

    Thank you for being a safe place. I don’t really have a place to talk nor do I feel like I have a right to…I have never experienced racism and yet I most definitely have seen the effect up close and personal.

  • http://annieathome.com/ Annie Barnett

    I am so thankful for you, Deidra, and for the way you are leading the conversation in this. Thank you!

  • Kim Hyland

    The wisdom, grace and love of God permeate this post and your example, Deidra. Thank you! I have so much hope, because God is going there with us.

  • Dr. Helen Fagan

    Awesome stuff my friend! Keep up the great work!

  • http://redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

    This is what I love about you. You love people first and lead them to find their own conclusions by gently guiding them into truth, not your viewpoint or your pulpit but to the feet of Jesus for answers. This is such a practical post that is full of wisdom. I just shared it on my writer page in a thread of conversation. Thank you for exercising courage.

  • mamawest777

    I am devouring all the great voices that are #goingthere. Sitting at their feet.

  • http://www.justfollowingjesus.com Elizabeth Stewart

    Thank you! This was really helpful.

  • June

    “Join the conversation as an act of obedience to God, and as a response to the work the Holy Spirit is already doing in your life.” Thank you for this, and for the practical steps. Very helpful. Bless you.

  • http://tuningmyhearttopraise.blogspot.com/ ro elliott

    Deidra… For such a time as this… Blessings and grace as you walk with Him in these uncharted waters!!!! Thanks

  • Kendra Elliott Tillman

    #3 is the one I am most focused on right now. Thank you, Deidra, for continuing to go there. There are others standing shoulder to shoulder with you. Praying for you and using our voices in the spaces and places God has given us. Blessings!

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Helpful, brilliant, thought provoking. I appreciated especially your thoughts on what it means to ‘integrate’. I’m also going to pray about introducing the IDI to our pastor. More people of color are walking through our church doors and I don’t think it’s by accident.
    Thank you for this, friend.

  • Jillie

    Yes! Keep “going there”, Deidra, to help the ‘white as Wonder Bread’ crowd. I have always had a great interest in black history from pre-Civil War times to post ‘Eyes On The Prize’. I can hardly believe what still goes on today, especially such things as this racial slur against these precious children! When, oh when, Lord? How long?
    I am grateful for your voice, and for these helpful suggestions of where we can begin. Keep writing!

  • Meredith Bernard

    I’m still listening and will keep listening. I feel a stir in me, but I’m sure what it means yet. But I’m listening. And I appreciate these words on integration. They make me think and I intend to use them to help me act. I’m also going to show this to my pastor who has a true heart to have a more diverse congregation…and we are diverse in a lot of ways, but not so much in color and maybe this will be a tool in reaching that point. Graciously…Meredith

  • http://www.redletterbelievers.com/ David Rupert

    That’s just good advice. Let’s not march and boycott and yell. But pray and wait. As you know, I am part of team sponsoring a one-day writer’s conference in Denver next Spring. We live in the suburbs and go to predominately white churches. There are many other voices that could benefit from this conference. So — thanks to #GoingThere, we are purposefully reaching out to some of the larger minority churches to ask them to help us reach those in their influence. We will benefit — from the added voices and cultures, but in attendance. So, #GoingThere is not only the right thing to do, but a smart strategy

  • shawnsmucker

    Thanks you for writing this, Deidra. Your grace and kindness are so evident, and what you’ve said here has been very helpful for me.

  • http://www.hollybarrett.org/ Holly Solomon Barrett

    Deidra, I’ve read your posts (and others) with interest over the last few weeks because I currently live in the least culturally diverse area I’ve ever lived in. It’s kinda bizarr-o world up here in these mountains! So when a black woman walked into my Sunday school class yesterday, I breathed a sigh of relief. When I saw a little black boy with a white woman in the post office last week, I smiled. I honestly didn’t realize how much I missed the diversity of a larger city. I’m not sure what God may be calling me to lend to this conversation (if anything at all), I just wanted to say I’m so appreciative of you #GoingThere and look forward to a day when all races and genders are celebrated for who God meant them to be.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    I TRIED NOT TO WRITE MUCH, AND DID ANYWAY JUST TRYING TO PROCESS, AND I APOLGIZE.
    Deidra, I’ve greatlly appreciated your opening up your space yet again about this “going there” topic of great concern to so many. I wanted to comment on your last blogpost (and want you to understand that my lack of response in no way indicates lack of empathy with your angst), but I also realized I would likely have crashed the site with my verbosity. I have so many thoughts and feelings about all of this, one reason being that I live here in St. Louis. Ferguson is considered a part of St. Louis County. I’m not a blogger, and sometimes others have told me (not disparagingly I don’t think) that I have written mini blogs in response to real blogs. =] It’s surely not my intent. It’s just the writer in me coming out from the shadows, and most often in an attempt to be supportive and encouraging to all you marvelous authors, or because I so resonate with something someone says, that I simply exude! It’s in my blood, I’m afraid. But because I have truly unintentionally waxed long so often, I am sensitive to the fact that in some odd way, maybe I *am* blogging, and in no way do I want to wear out my welcome or monopolize others’ space. So . . . that is all to say, this is one reason I have not commented on your other post. Plus, being a St. Louis resident with a vested interest in our community and realizing that Facebook,Twitter, blogs, newscasts, soundbites can’t possibly delve deeply enough into a deep subject and that they can also skew both facts and feelings, I have not wanted to go there till I sort this all out in my own mind and heart. Also, I believe that while some of the bloggers are writing certainly with great passion and good intentions, because they do not live here and are relying often only on distorted news, they are not ultimately in a position to comment accurately. Still, I am grateful to and for you for opening dialogue, and also for your related post here about “what we can do.” Tis is a breath of fresh air. These are heartfelt, profound, and practical suggestions. They provide tangible and constructive guidance for prayerful involvement. In fact, wisely, prayer is your first consideration. I think that we can safely assume that prayer–prevailing upon the Lord God for wisdom and help in our time of need–is ultimately the only real solution any of us has. We will need His omniscient guidance and abiding grace if we are ever to move forward in race relations or anything else in this life for that matter. So I love that you ask us to pray. Thank you! I love that you ask us to integrate. And I think that this is counsel that cuts both ways. I lived for many years in a neighborhood where the balance of races was weighted with far more Blacks than Whites. My parents refused White Flight as it is called. (My mother only moved seven years ago when Daddy died, because she really couldn’t possibly care for a house alone–she is now in a condo). But she loved her neighbors. My father taught for many years in an all-Black school. And my husband and I attended a racially mixed church for years, leaving only because I had a call to work in another church. I also worked as a minority in a ministry in the inner city for four years, and I have had and do have Black women friends, of whom I count you one. But you are making me think: I now live in a White neighborhood and attend a church w/ just a sprinkling of Blacks. I was so encouraged by my pastor’s comments Sunday about Ferguson, and I intend to ask him how he will help our church follow up. I am saying all this to say that I have integrated a number of times in my life, but maybe need to do more of it. I will also say, harkening back to that comment about my mother and her neighborhood, after White Flight, my parents little church did try to welcome Blacks, but they preferred to go back from their homes in the county to attend their all-Black churches in the city. Again, it cuts both ways. Finally, some Blacks did join their church, and it was one of the most precious little congregations I have ever known, Blacks and WHites worshiping together the God who created them both. I am rambling…..so sorry. But yes, let’s integrate. Oh…..on the cutting both ways: I just had another thought. I am very sorry for the disparaging names you have been called. And when I was the minority White in a building where mostly Blacks worked, I too, was called disparaging names by them and also encountered prejudice. It wasn’t right. It never is, whichever way it goes, but I’m grateful to have experienced it, because it makes me understand how it feels.
    You asked us if we would add anything? I would add that re: the Ferguson issue, people should not rush to judgment. We need to hear all the facts. Both Blacks and Whites are assigning guilt, and we do not yet have all the facts and all the truth. We live in a nation governed by law and a process of investigation. It takes time. In fairness to all concerned, things have to unfold in an orderly manner.
    And w/ re: to going there? I would also add that we all (no matter what race), need to fall on our face before Elohim, our Creator God, and repent of any prejudice we have felt or shown toward any person whom He has created who “looks” different from us. We need to weep and repent and ask God’s forgiveness and each other’s.
    I swore I would not wax long, and I have done just that. I’m so sorry, Deidra! I have barely stratched the surface of all that has transpired in my community and what I am feeling about all of this. I’ve not even really addressed that here and took way too much of your blogspace to say why I haven’t. But just know, I’m grateful for your encouraging dialogue and I grieve over what has happened to Michael Brown, his family, our community, people living and working in Ferguson and nearby areas who are at risk, those police officers who are risking their lives too. . . . and I could go on. I just grieve. Maybe once I really think and pray on this more I can write to you personally. But I want to encourage you yet again (you and I have spoken on this) to live out the purpose God has given you. I think you know what it is.
    Love
    Lynn

  • Dina

    I, too, have been called a nigger. I’ve been detained by the police, pulled over by the highway patrol on my honeymoon, followed by security in high-priced department stores, asked if I’m paying for my groceries with food stamps and on and on. As your nephew posted, these experiences as painful as they are — continue to be our reality and I stand proudly with you as you continue this conversation.
    And may I add to your list: Be honest. If you have a “secret” fear of people of color, admit it and work from there. If all you know is what you see on television or what you read, be honest about it. If your parents or grandparents are/were racists, acknowledge that. Confess one to another… and let the healing and cleansing begin.
    Dina (causerie.typepad.com)

  • Jan

    Deidra,
    I am pained to hear about these children’s/teens’ experience. We still have a very long ways to go. Thanks for writing these blog posts during the reunion and stimulating our thinking about how to view the events in Ferguson and the implications for the Christian church and the nation as a whole. This is such a painful time. I will look forward to your answers in the next few days. Thank you for being you!

  • Kathy Schwanke

    Thank you for speaking grace and wisdom. We are so desperate for them both. May the Lord move in our hearts to give all to Him – to turn fully – that He may heal our land.

  • Patricia van Essche

    Your courage to share and “go there” with each of us is not only full of grace, but a desire to connect, to listen, to embrace and to lead others to a better place where our differences become our strengths. You are a “doer” and that is what inspires me. Thanks for opening up and doing the right thing, to pray, to listen, to educate, to test and to talk. Great steps to turn things in the right direction.

  • http://www.rachelbritz.com/ Rachel Britz

    Eugene Cho said, “Silence, in itself, is a statement.” I love your encouragement to respond out of obedience to God and a prompting from the Holy Spirit. This is a Holy Spirit movement, indeed. Standing with you, sister!

  • http://poetsandsaints.com Sara Ward

    Thanks for encouraging so many in the #GoingThere conversation. Inspired by this, I wrote a blog about trying to understand what my daughter’s black experience will be like and how she will not experience “white privilege.” I’m trying to keep this conversation going and keep listening hard. Hopefully, people out there are listening too.

    “What Christians need to know about race and white privilege”
    http://poetsandsaints.com/what-christians-need-to-know-about-race-and-white-privilege/

  • soulstops

    Deidra,
    I’ve been meaning to comment after I read your words…thank you for how you combine prayer with practical tips from a humble loving heart :)

  • http://withlove-simplybeth.blogspot.com/ Beth

    Listening and quietly offering my hand in prayer. Much love. Beth