Thursday, June 18, 2015

black and white

When I was around ten or eleven years old I watched a TV drama that depicted life during the civil rights movement.  I was equal parts disheartened and inspired.  I declared out loud that I wished I had lived in the 1960's so that I could have been a part of that fight for freedom and equality.  It would be several more years before I realized that fight was still going on.  And yet, what have I done about it?

I've been aware.
I've been interested.
I've wanted to bridge gaps.
But have I really?
In elementary school when I was asked to write a paper about someone famous I chose Jackie Robinson.  I chose him mainly because he was black and I didn't know a lot about black people and that didn't seem right.  So I read his story and wrote it in my own words and I've always carried it with me, but has that really made any difference?

I am white.
Most of my friends are white.


Most of the people in my church are white.
Most of the people in my neighborhood are white.
That has been the case for most of my life.
There is nothing inherently wrong with being surrounded by a bunch of white people but for as long as I can remember I have felt like there IS something wrong with it.

Some of my favorite friends in elementary school were black.
Danny was always making me laugh so hard my stomach hurt.
Pam was always so kind and gentle and easy to talk to.
But I never really got to see them outside of the classroom.  I always wished I could.

When I graduated from college I took a job as the Education Director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  I was placed in a small rural town in South Carolina.  For the first time in my life I spent most of my time as a minority.  All of the kids at the club were black.  The club director was a black man named Vincent who would become one of my dearest friends.  The other employees were black. There were many days that I didn't see a white face unless I went in the bathroom and looked at my own.

I loved that job.
I think those kids taught me more than I taught them.

There was a beautiful, tall, slender, full-of-grace girl named Leah who would braid my hair on Fridays.  There were a gaggle of little boys who educated me on the meaning of words and expressions that I didn't understand.  There was a first grader named Tyler who asked me one day in complete seriousness - Miss Elizabeth, we've been wanting to ask you, what happened to your butt?  I mean, where did it go?
I laughed out loud.
I guess I had some physical differences that were more obvious than my skin color.

I spent time in their school and their neighborhoods and their homes.  I went on a peace walk around the whole community one time, holding hands and singing songs.  We prayed together, laughed together, and cried together.  But I wonder - did it really matter?

As much as I would like to turn a blind eye to it,
as much as I am ashamed to say it,
there is still significant racial tension in my country.
Has their been progress?  Of course.
Is there more work to be done?  Absolutely.

But sometimes things happen, like those riots in Baltimore and that shooting in Charleston and I feel overwhelmed and discouraged.  I wonder if we aren't just completely neglecting an issue that could slowly and quietly destroy us.

This whole business of black and white - it's not really black and white.  It never will be.
I think that we have a choice.  We can decide it's too complicated or too overwhelming or too difficult.  We can decide that it really doesn't have anything to do with us.
OR
We can decide that it does matter enough to get messy and that it has everything to do with us.
We can acknowledge that every little step we take towards someone who is different than us matters.  Every step brings us closer.
And the closer we get the more clearly we see each other and the more clearly we see each other the more difficult it is to hate or hurt or hurl threats and accusations.

The closer we get to each other, the closer we get to
understanding
accepting
forgiving
healing,
and the further we get from
judging
rejecting
blaming
hurting.

Maybe the most significant thing we can do - black or white - is to reach out and grab somebody's hand and say
   I want to know you better.
And the reason why?
   Because you are a child of God, created by the same divine hands and made in the same divine image and given the same divine mission.  And so I love you with the same divine love.

For all the things that are different about us there are dozens more that make us the same.

I promised my husband that I would finally get the mountains of laundry all over our bedroom put away this morning.  It's almost time for me to go pick up the kids from VBS and they are still piled high.  Hanging dresses and folding underwear does not seem like an appropriate response to what happened last night.  I think we are all wondering - what is?

Maybe it's this simple.
Take a step.
Make a connection.
Offer acceptance and understanding.
Be intentional about moving closer and closer to one another
until our differences are met with appreciation and not opposition
until we are less often offended and more often offering grace.

There is a man named Ambrose.
We 'met' on social media, of all places.  Ambrose has a friend named TyWanza who was killed last night in Charleston.  Ambrose says that his friend had worked hard to make big changes in his life, changes that were leading to great things for his future.  Tywanza's most recent post on Instagram was made last night just before he was killed.  It was a quote by Jackie Robinson.
     A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.

And under the post was the hashtag #giveGodcredit

So in honor of Tywanza and the other eight victims, let's do.  Let's live a life that impacts others.  And let's give God all the credit.  In life and in death.  In the black and white and gray seasons of life, let's do that together.