Heal what you can
Love who you can
I wrote the following after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson last year, but in light of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, felt led to re-post it. This is not an opinion article, it’s a personal reflection:
Of course we are. We’re all a little bit racist. And sexist. And speciesist. And dozens of other-things-ist. I’m motivated by the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri. But not to add my suggestions to the “what they should do” pile. Because, 1) too many people are already doing that and, 2) they are by definition not me.
I want to talk about what I’m going to do. And about why I say we’re all a little bit racist.
An ist is simply a bias or leaning away from something, or toward it. Hence Botanists lean toward botany, not away from it. So don’t worry, if you’re a botanist, I’m not going to ask you to renounce botany (though you may want to lighten up on those anti-biologist jokes). We avoid what we do not understand. We are drawn to what we understand. And we all understand our own race better than anyone else’s. Still, the way it is isn’t the way it has to be. Or should be.
The church I attend is trying to become multiracial. To that end, our leaders visited another church that is much further down this road, and asked, “What’s the key?”
“Intentionality,” they answered. Two former congregations, one black, one white, merged into one. The former pastors became co-pastors, the black choir and white worship band became one worship team. Sound inspiring? It was. Eventually. But initially—for the first two or three years—it was frustrating, jarring, and for many simply too much to bear.
The word “they” was used with sickening regularity. More than half of the members of both former congregations left, uncomfortable over the loss of their style, their traditions. What remained was a reduced body of dogged believers who were willing to sacrifice what was for what could be.
The real change came not from policies or preaching, or even multicolored pew sitting, but from small groups. Groups intentionally made up of black and white members began meeting in homes. They shared and prayed. It was awkward at first, so they shared and prayed about that.
Eventually they began to weep and rejoice over each other’s tragedies and triumphs. They became part of one another’s lives, attending weddings, funerals, birthday parties, grill-outs. The need for intentionality didn’t go away—it never does. But now they are an us, and when they have issues they are “us issues.” In other words, they are family.
Fear, not hate, is the opposite of love. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Of course, fear, left untreated, can fester into hate. But the cure is still the same: love. The more you know someone, the more invested you become in them, and the more invested you become, the more you love them.
So this is what I intend to do about my own racism: I intend to become more deeply invested in the lives of those who are not of my own race. How? I’m not certain. To join or start a small group like the ones described above? Probably. My wife and I are also looking into a local mentoring program that walks with kids all the way through graduation.
Whatever we do, it will be an intentional effort to become part of a new us.
Only, we may not let any botanists in.