My phone rang yesterday and, on the other end was the voice of a dear friend of mine. I’d never heard her voice before yesterday, but that is the nature of some friendships, isn’t it? I just checked Facebook and found out we’ve been friends since October, 2011. But, we’d never actually spoken to each other, until yesterday.
My friend needed me to clarify some things for her. She was, in her own words, bewildered. Through the earbuds in my ears, I could hear the shakiness in her voice and, she told me, her heart was pounding.
I’ve felt like that before. It’s not fun.
So we stopped, and we prayed, and we took a deep breath.
Her words tumbled out in a cascade of breathless emotion. She wasn’t angry. She was, actually, bewildered. She told me she’d started to contact me nearly fifty times in the past few months, but she had always decided against it, until yesterday.
My friend asked me some deep questions about race in America, my experience of it, and the words I write about it. She told me when she reads the words I’ve been writing about race, she feels distant from me, where before, she’d felt closer. We talked for over an hour—her in her home miles from mine; me, lying on my turquoise picnic table on my deck.
This morning, I was still thinking about our conversation, so I messaged my friend to ask if she’d be okay with me writing about it. Because, I believe if I have one friend out there feeling the way this friend does, there are probably others out there, feeling the same way.
“Absolutely!” my friend messaged back.
Here are some things I want you to know, especially when it comes to the topic of race and racism in America:
- I have this crazy dream that the Church can be a leader in the conversation about racism. When I listen to us, however, I often hear us sounding just like (and sometimes worse than) everyone else. We are often polarized, defensive, and dug in to our way of seeing things. I believe we can be different. I believe we are called to be different. When I write about racism, here in this space, my goal is to help give us tools to elevate the conversation and help us find common ground. Then, when we leave this space and engage the conversation on social media, or around our dining room tables, it’s my prayer that we bring something beautiful to the conversation—something that makes people listening and watching say, “Wow, what you said makes me feel hopeful. I want more of that. How did you come to see things that way?” I don’t want the answer to be, “I learned this over at Deidra’s blog!” No. I want the answer to be, “I have seen grace at work. I have been part of conversations that generate forward movement. I have seen what happens when people of faith engage one another with kindness and love.”
- I deeply desire for the Church to establish credibility in the world when it comes to pressing back the oppressive element of racism. However, when our churches are divided along racial lines, I don’t think we’re giving those watching us anything to aspire to. I want us to think about this, and talk about it here. I want us to consider the reasons we remain divided by race when we worship on Sunday or Saturday or Wednesday, and critically consider what Jesus might have to say about that.
- When I write about racism in our country and our churches, I am writing about systems, not people. Back in 2012, I wrote a blog post titled, “You’re Probably Not a Racist.” I still believe that, and I stand by every word I wrote in that piece. When I write and talk about racism, I am talking about systems in our country—and, sadly, even in our churches—that benefit some people, and leave others out or, at best, on the margins. Because of the specific history of our country, many of these systems were founded upon racist ideologies and, despite the progress we’ve made over the years, many of the systems continue to perpetuate those ideologies because they have not been examined, challenged, and/or sufficiently amended or rejected.
- I am not proficient in the conversation. I have biases. I have blind spots. I sometimes say the wrong thing, in the wrong way, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. I have lots of room to grow. It is never my goal to offend or to make people feel as if they aren’t welcome to the conversation. I do have ground rules, and they include grace, kindness, and an openness to other people’s ideas. My ground rules allow for push back, but not for repeated attacks or stirring the pot simply for the sake of stirring the pot.
I realize there will always be people who, for various reasons, believe they are better than others. I agree that people of all races, cultures, and ethnicities are susceptible to bias against others. I believe our country has made great strides, but that we still have work to do. I am convinced there are people of every race, culture, and ethnicity who benefit from the systems set in place in our country. I am convinced there are people of every race, culture, and ethnicity on the margins in our country.
I applaud people of faith who speak up and try to elevate the conversation around causes about which they are passionate. Race seems to be the topic for me. It may be something else for someone else.
If my words, or the conversation here have made you feel pushed to the edges, or pushed out of the room, I want to apologize for that. And, I’d like to thank my friend for picking up the phone and pressing in yesterday. If you’re feeling some of what my friend was feeling, don’t ever hesitate to let me know. We are better together. We need each other. And, if you’re feeling squeezed to the margins of this space, I’d like to extend my hand, ask your forgiveness, and invite you back to the table.