3 Ways to Change The Conversation

It is frustrating to watch the national conversation on race relations devolve into empty rhetoric and self-righteous chest pounding. Yet again, it seems that nobody is really listening to anybody. It is hard to have a conversation when everyone is shouting.

Part of my personal commitment this week, as the national conversation gets pushed and pulled by various voices, has been to do something to impact the local conversation on racial relations. Few of us have a national platform from which we can guide the national conversation. However, each and every one of us has a local sphere of influence which we can, and should, use to impact the local conversation.

Here are three simple suggestions I would offer to practically and personally impact the local conversation.

  1. Intentionally schedule and eat a meal with someone whose racial background andblack and white experience is different than yours. No agenda and no pressure, simply take time to engage personally and intentionally with them. Ask them to share some of their favorite stories from their family or neighborhood. Do your best to listen more than you talk during this meal. And don’t forget to pick up the tab!
  2. Perform a “random act of kindness” for someone whose racial background and experience is different than yours. Pay for the meal of a family at a restaurant, or bring a bottle of cold water to the guys cutting the grass in the medians in town, or offer to roll the grocery cart to the corral for someone in the parking lot. Any small act can have an inordinate impact when it is unexpected by the recipient. As my friend Nathan Crietz pointed out, “Being a good neighbor in a world where people are not good neighbors is a powerful witness.”
  3. Take notice of the positive contribution of someone whose racial background and experience is different than yours and verbally express your appreciation to them. The writer of proverbs states, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11). A simple, “I noticed you holding the door for that elderly gentleman. Thank you for caring for others!” can serve to strengthen their resolve to continue making a positive contribution. Furthermore, the fact that someone who is “different” noticed their actions is a powerful neutralizer of divisive rhetoric.

So while the nation rages, be a local instrument of peace. Amid the storm of words claiming “nothing has changed,” be the calm evidence that something is, in fact, different.

Maranatha.

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25
Advertisements

I Saw Jesus Today (and I am not the only one who did)

20170813_183508

I did not quite know what to make of the unusual visitors who quietly slipped into our sanctuary this morning. Frankly, the timing of their entrance disturbed me more than a little, and I was not alone. It was evident that the attention of our congregation was divided: seeking desperately to focus on the weighty and solemn thoughts I was sharing from the pulpit while attempting to ferret out what our furtive visitors were doing provided a dramatic script which demanded our utmost attention.

I felt compelled to begin our service by speaking to the unsettling and heartbreaking events which unfolded in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend. Even as I began to speak of the inherent evil which presents itself in every form of racism, quoting 1 John 4:19-2,

“We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, whoever loves God must also love his brother” 

the back door slowly opened, revealing a young African-American girl and an African-American woman carrying a large, white plastic bag filled with something red. Their entrance was uncertain as they sat first in a pew near the back only to quickly make their way to the front of our venerable sanctuary. All ears were on me as I spoke of the challenge of racial reconciliation, but all eyes were on these two strangers who had come among us. Why were they here and what were they doing?

Please understand, people of color are welcomed among us with regularity, so it was not their color which demanded our attention. There were people of color already present in our sanctuary this morning; African-Americans, Latinos, Phillipinos, and Asians. Serving a church in a community which boasts two colleges affords our church family an unusual opportunity to engage with, and love, individuals from every corner of the world. Our church does not have a “spotless record” when it comes to race relations, few do, but we are increasingly known as a place where all are welcomed. But these two were an evident anomaly and the evident purpose of their presence remained a demanding mystery.

I carried on my denunciation of the evils of racism in places near and far and shared my personal horror at seeing this evil so clearly on display in our country. To help our church understand that this evil exists right outside our doors, I made known to them the difficulty which one of our dearly loved African-American members regularly encounters in our community, from both black and white, for daring to join the “white church.”

As I was sharing these thoughts, the purpose of our guests became clear.

They had come unannounced, and unexpected, to bless us.

Even as I stated that “racism is alive and well in Marion, and perhaps even among the hearts gathered here this morning,” these two beautiful saints began handing each person in our sanctuary a gorgeous rose. I continued to speak while they completed their joyful task and as they finished I invited those gathered to “stand and greet one another, acknowledging the presence of Christ among us.” The stunned joy was palpable.

No living man, woman, or child has ever seen the incarnate Christ; we don’t know what He looks like. However, I know for a fact, on this Lord’s day at Siloam Baptist Church in Marion, AL, He looked like a black woman and a young black girl handing out roses.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

Maranatha.