Monday, May 4, 2015

on race, church, diversity, and all the love

For a long time now, a few thoughts have rolled about in my head, like a heavy load in the trunk of your car, waiting for a hard right turn to thump them against the wall of the trunk space so they can be remembered.

These thumping thoughts are about race and culture and the belonging birthed by the love God has given us.

I will start at the beginning.

I am a white woman, married to a white man, with white children, raised in middle class mostly-white America. Despite feeling a bit objectified by men at various points in my life, I have never known the disadvantage of being the "wrong" race or the "wrong" nationality or the "wrong" religion.

God has a great deal to say about race and culture and loving people who aren't like you. The whole of the gospel is wrapped up in God's own love for people very unlike Himself.

It would be easy for me, from the comfort of my suburban home, to live like injustice isn't real and everyone has been given the same kind of life I have been given. But I have heard too many people's stories to even consider that a real possibility.

Should I care to limit my world to those who look just like me, it would also be easy to make that happen. Staying with people who share the same cultural influences and ideals is easier than trying to understand someone who is different, and let's be honest- risking being misunderstood by someone who is different than you is scary as any hell-on-earth you can possibly imagine. 

The temptation to stay with people who are just like you is, I admit, alluring. We all seem to come hard-wired with the same desire: to be known and to belong. Frankly, the odds of achieving this goal are better with people who look like you, like what you like, eat what you eat, and do what you do. Commonalities breed comfort.

It has been a grace and a mercy that God has chosen to give me such a colorful menagerie of friends and influences in my life. Between college roommates who taught me words like "ashy" and "crunk", to early motherhood BFFs who shared their challenges in raising biracial children with me, to current friends who let me hold the pain and fear that racism has visited upon them and their families, I have learned there is more joy in loving and being loved by people with whom you have very little in common than having a million friends who are just like you.

Love like that changes you.

Love like that may mean that when your four year-old daughter asks for an American doll, you show her the catalog and silently pray she doesn't pick the one that looks just like her- especially if it just so happens that her genetics have given her hair and eyes that fall right in line with the media's ideal definition of "beauty", and you don't really want to explain the lie of that yet.

It also may mean that when your white son zips his sweatshirt up and puts the hood over his little blond head, you feel a stab of pain, and even a little guilty. It may almost feel like you're getting away with something, because your friend's black son has to be warned about where that "look" is appropriate, while your son can wear whatever makes him happy wherever he wants to wear it.

It may mean that when you're sitting in a Dallas restaurant waiting for your husband to arrive, and there is only one black family in the entire place, you notice. And it may mean you will want to go tell them you see it, and offer to buy them their dinner for being so freaking brave.

It may mean that you don't buy a house in a neighborhood because there are multiple Confederate flags waving proudly in yards and the sight of that symbol makes you nauseated.

It my mean that you intentionally give your children books to read with characters and people who are not like them, because sometimes learning empathy begins by caring about fictional characters who are unfairly persecuted for being different, or by admiring real historical figures who rode in front seats or fought wars for all the right reasons or peacefully marched to Washington to prove a point to the whole world.

It may mean that when you don't understand something that is not your own racial culture, you call your friend and desperately ask the vulnerable question, "Am I acting like a boring white girl?? Tell me the truth. I can take it." And then when she laughs and tells her husband what you just said, you will adore her. And when they tell you that they love you even though that's exactly what you are acting like, you will love them even more.

But most of all, being a white girl who has been blessed by the love of all these different shades of beautiful people has meant this, for me:  When, on the Sunday after the rioting in Baltimore, your pastor-husband and the other elders of your church pray for that city so far away, you get down on your knees and cry the deep, sobbing gulps that God Himself pours into your soul. Because in the end, you aren't a just white girl from middle-class anywhere; you are just a human who has only one thing of true value in life: LOVE

And you find that you love a whole city that you don't know. You love the broken souls, the tired fighters, the weary mamas, the dreamers of peace, the angry sons, the scared little sisters, and the daddies who simply don't know what to do anymore.

You will find that being a white woman from middle-class America is a beautiful thing about who God made you to be, but it will never be the most important part of who He made you to be. And down there, on your knees, you will feel so close to Him and His love for the world, you will know that He has His hand on all of us, guiding us through the chaos of our humanity.

There is no doubt, we are living in a painful time. We are experiencing the pains of many years of injustice, all at once, it seems. It's hard. And for those who have not realized that all of this has been going on for generations, it's shocking to take it in so fast.

I choose to believe that these are birth pains, though. My hope is that the tearing is making space for a new thing to pass into our world: a new empathy, a new justice, a new era of peace, a new day when love will change more hearts than we can imagine right now- because right now all we know is that it hurts so much.

I don't know what your racial background is, or where you grew up, or what has happened to make you feel the way that you do about people who are different than you. But I do know that you are loved. First, you are treasured and adored by God. Hopefully, you are also loved by the people around you. But I also know that you are loved by people who you may not even know, who are on their knees praying for you, for your city, for your family, and they can't wait to meet you and prove that their love is true. 

I know that for some people a love like that seems like a trap. It is the weak and humble who are able to receive that kind of love easily. Most of us feel the need to be harder, stronger, and brave enough not to need to be accepted by others. But, that kind of love is real, and it will be there, waiting for the day you are ready to test it out.

If you live in Austin, and you want to see a love like that up close; if you want to marvel at the way a bunch of people love each other despite the way they often don't agree on much besides how great their God is and how blessed they are to be together, come visit us at Mosaic Church. 

We certainly don't hold a monopoly on this kind of amazing love, though. Look around and you will find many churches like ours, who believe that what is different about us is less vital than what we have in common in Christ. Once you find those people, cling to them and love them and let them love you back. I promise, you will never be the same, and it will always be worth it.

Because we were all made for love, to be known, and to belong. And that is the thought that will thump the loudest for all eternity.

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