I’m a white guy from Oregon. I grew up in a small town on the Oregon coast, where the main ethnic distinction was between those of Scandinavian descent and the rest of the white people. There was one black kid in my high school, the adopted son of a white family.
I didn’t interact with black people until I joined the Army. That interaction was mostly amicable, but black soldiers and white soldiers didn’t socialize much.
After the Army and college, my wife and I stayed here in Corvallis, the home of our alma mater, Oregon State University. Corvallis, thanks in part to the University, is a pleasant and interesting place to live. There is broad (if not deep) ethnic diversity. I coach youth soccer and it’s typical to have kids who’s parents are from Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, South America, the Middle East, Africa, the UK, and Russia, but there aren’t a lot of African-Americans. According to the US Census, African-Americans make up less than 2% of the population in Corvallis.
It is from that background that I wrote a post recently about God’s desire for a multi-ethnic church. I discussed why I think Christians should be committed to coming together across cultural, ethnic, and national barriers. I expressed that I think this is one of the principal purposes of the church in the world – to demonstrate the radical power of Jesus’ work on the cross by bringing together those who were previously irreconcilable. Crossing those lines and loving the other, the different, the enemy – these are our part in the mission of God, which he modeled for us in the incarnation, crossing the most significant line imaginable.
I am no less persuaded of all of that, but I’m humbled by the knowledge that I don’t really know much at all.
That previous post flowed from my reaction to some comments made by Kyle Canty in an interview. I reacted to the difficulties he saw in achieving a multi-ethnic church, especially his concern about the black church having to give up something of its tradition and culture in the process. ‘It is more important,’ I thought, ‘to connect with other Christians than it is to hold on to some tradition of the black church.’ I didn’t write all of that, but it was there in my thinking.
Since that post, and following the non-indictment in the killing of Eric Garner, I saw repeated mention of a book called The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone, so I checked it out from the library and began reading it. I don’t doubt that there are many books and films that could tell this story, but I believe it would be a service to the country to make chapter one of that book freely available, and required reading. It is soul-opening to catch a glimpse of the hell of the black experience in the decades after the Civil War, and to see how the culture of the black church flows from that experience. I can’t summarize it here, but I encourage you to read at least that first chapter.
In the process of interacting, reacting, reading and learning, I was reminded that a huge part of crossing boundaries and expressing love is listening, hearing, and caring. That goes every which way, for all parties. But, there is a special responsibility – a weighty requirement – that those who have power and privilege listen best, care most, and strive hardest to hear. Currently, I think that is the responsibility of the still-dominant white culture – certainly in the government, but especially in the church.
Our connections and unity as the people of God will never come automatically. It is a choice. A million choices. They don’t come easily or naturally. It is in the process of humbling ourselves, giving honor, submitting ourselves, listening and seeking to understand that we have hope, by the grace of God, to experience the connections and unity that Jesus went to the cross to make possible.
So, I am humbly listening. I’m just a white guy from Oregon, and I don’t have answers. But, I desire what I believe God desires – that those who trust him will demonstrate that trust by following his lead and loving their neighbor. That is a picture this broken world needs to see.
Action: Try to learn the story of the irreconcilable other. What shapes their thinking? How might that understanding change your perspective of them? What keeps you from looking for connections with particular groups or people? What about you – is there something in your story needs to be shared, or needs redemption?
Update: I removed the last sentence from the second paragraph – “If it wasn’t animosity that divided, there was at least greater social comfort in staying with the familiar” – because it was an awkward sentence, and because I did observe some animosity, though that may have been more about cultural preferences than race, per se. And, there were friendships and social interaction, but it was typically limited in my observation.