Lunch with a Black Pastor

Charles Kiser —  September 1, 2016 — 9 Comments

Every once in a while I become acutely aware that I am in sacred space. The ancient Celts called it “thin space” — where God’s world and our world come into contact and even merge.

My recent lunch meeting was one of those times.

I had the opportunity to share a meal with a friend who is a Black Christian pastor. I was most eager to talk with him about his perspective on recent events in our nation: the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castille, Black Lives Matter, and the shooting of five police officers in Dallas.

The truth is that I have long observed from the sidelines. I haven’t engaged the conversation because it hasn’t been urgent — because I haven’t been subjected to oppression. But it’s time to engage. I have so much to learn, so much to become aware of, so much growing to do.

The question that’s been rumbling deep in my soul the past couple months is: how do we — the church in Dallas, in all its diversity — enact the gospel of King Jesus?

At lunch my brother in Christ started by sharing a historical comparison: White folks come into the world with the mentality of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” There’s a sense of confidence that things will work out well if you apply yourself and try hard. Black folks don’t often enter the world with that sense of confidence — it’s a mentality they have to fight for, to live into everyday.

My friend went on to ask me if I knew him to be a person that spoke the truth. I said I did. He shared a few instances in which he was treated unfairly by police officers because of the color of his skin. “This is not just a series of isolated instances…this is a systemic problem. Events like those that have occurred recently shake the Black community at a deep level.”

I could tell he was being very careful in what he said, the kind of care that was probably the result of any number of conversations about race with White people that didn’t go very well. For all he knew, I didn’t believe racism was a systemic reality in our country, or that he was mistreated because he was Black.

But I do.

When I told him I believed that systemic racism exists in our country, and that there is such a thing as White privilege, which has been largely invisible to me my whole life but that I have benefited from in significant ways that I didn’t earn or deserve, I immediately saw a sigh of relief and his facial features loosen. “So few of my White friends see it. I have served under White church elderships who told me that racism no longer exists.”

I felt deep sadness.

I asked his advice for what a White pastor like myself could do to help. He mentioned two things.

First, listen. Listen to the Black community. Seek to hear and understand their experiences. Learn from them.

Which is really gracious of him. I’m learning to be careful about imposing upon my Black brothers and sisters in Christ to teach me about racism as a way of leveraging my White privilege to try to fix things or feel better about myself. They are under no obligation to instruct me and so I must seek their gracious permission even to listen in the first place.

Second, talk to my White friends for him. He asked me to be an advocate and conversation partner to raise awareness about racial dynamics and issues of privilege, and to share what I’m learning with other White friends who need to learn, too. Because there are White folks with whom I would have a voice, but with whom he would not. That is a big reason I’m writing this post.

As our conversation wrapped up, it occurred to me that perhaps we had, in some small way, enacted the gospel of King Jesus around the table at lunch. We had sat down together and shared and listened to each other and embodied reconciled relationships of God’s kingdom. Jesus had been the host of our meal.

It’s a start, but it can’t end here. The glimmer of light must become a flood. There are more conversations to be had. Communities to bring together. Healing that needs to happen. We can’t be satisfied with lunch conversations alone and think we have played our part. Neither can we be misguided to think that we’ll bring the healing and breakthrough by our effort alone, or even that we know on our own what to do next.

Make no mistake — God is on the move. The mission of reconciliation is God’s, not ours, and we have the great opportunity to partner with the Holy Spirit as he renews the world and forms a new humanity through the gospel of King Jesus.

Lord, may your gracious reign appear in our city and neighborhoods — in us and through us.

What are your thoughts regarding this conversation about racial reconciliation?

Charles Kiser

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Dallas, TX. Church Planter with Storyline Christian Community. Equipper and Coach with Mission Alive.

9 responses to Lunch with a Black Pastor

  1. 

    Charles, please please continue sharing what you learn. I’ve become increasingly convicted about this social justice issue. I heard Bryan Stevenson speak a few months ago about how the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, but justice. See his TED talk, which explores that concept. I’ve also within the past week become aware of Larry James and CitySquare and the neighbors-helping-neighbors idea that he finds more effective than charity/benevolence as practiced historically.

    May God bless you as you explore ways that White Christians can help fight racial inequality with the love and boldness of Jesus Christ.

  2. 

    Charles, thank you so much for this post. If our prayer is for His Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, then we have a lot of work to do in the realms of social justice. I would love for Dallas to be a place where we have shalom.

  3. 

    Thanks for the post.

    As a white male, I struggle with this topic. I despise racism in all its forms and am eager to build the bridges between our disparate communities.

    Explicit racism unfortunately does explicitly in many forms throughout the world and always will. However, I think we need another word than “racism” for many of the incidents in recent years. A single word conflates the many nuances of bias, fear, being a jerk, & many more traits. Everyone – black & white – bring these traits to the table.

    What is especially difficult for me is that I have no idea what I need to do. I can’t see my biases that offend different communities. I don’t perceive any differences between myself and my black neighbors & coworkers and I don’t perceive that I treat them differently. The communities where the tragedies occur might as well be in a different state or country because it doesn’t reflect the world I live in.

    To me, this reminds me of a local church planter’s dilemma. If I want to reach a population that is different from me, can I “commute” into that community from my home & life in a different culture or must I move into that community and become a part of it? I don’t know how I will change unless I enculturate myself thus exposing my flaws. Listening to talking heads on TV and one or two talks with people just doesn’t seem likely to bring about real change.

    Clearly my comments above expose some bias I have. Please forgive what ever ignorance and flaws I’ve just made public.

    • 

      I think you’re on the right track with enculturation and long-term relationships that help us grow. To do so requires courage because it means swimming upstream against significant cultural currents.

      • 

        Thanks for your encouragement. Unfortunately, I don’t think each of us doing this is very practical. Truly integrating the cultures is not something we “really” want because it requires huge sacrifice and risk. The one in a thousand who are willing to do this will have little impact on the vast majority whose biases are rooted in their community, TV sound bites, social media flame wars, and well meaning pop-in/pop-out service projects that perpetuate imperfect solutions.

        There’s a saying that “all politics are local”. Each community has its own context through which to interpret and learn from recent tragic events. With that in mind, here’s a question I’m pondering: To what degree should I take action for problems that exist in communities far removed from my daily life?

        The foreign missions I’ve seen work best are ones where the missionaries partner with locals to sustainably solve their own problems. Locals lead while missionaries coach and equip. If this is true, then shouldn’t we be sending local missionaries into inner cities to break the Gordian Knot of problems that mires them in brokenness?

        If I’m not called to be one of these people, then what should I be doing? The “race” problems in my community have nothing to do with the color of skin but rather which neighborhood people come from. The “racist” people I know ostracize everyone (regardless of skin color) that don’t meet their standards of wealth, family history, academic success, “family values”, religion, choice in college, lawn care, etc. I’ve traveled a lot internationally and everywhere I go there is someone from a neighboring community/state/country who is generically and unjustly blamed for stuff. This isn’t racism, this is a flaw in human nature.

        Yes, there are people who are prejudiced based on ethnicity. I contend, though, that the real problem is “us” vs. “them” stemming from a sense of security rooted in cliquish homogeneity from which we derive our identity.

  4. 

    Charles, this is such a real thing. My father was able to get his Pharmacy degree after serving in WW2 and Korea using VA benefits. As a result, I was able to grow up in a lower/mid middle class family and eventually go to college myself.

    Blacks who served in WW2–men the age of my father were not able to access the college benefits given to white service men. So men and women of color who are my age did not enjoy the same privilege I had.

    I am never pulled over for routine stops, once a while back, late at night I was pulled over because of a license plate light. But I never once feared that I would experience a problem. My assumption was, “I will be treated with respect.” Why? Because that is what I’ve always experienced. Not once did it occur to me that it was because I was white.

    That unconscious confidence disturbs me because I have grown to realize it is partially the result of being white, middle class.

    The sad thing is we find ourselves acting racist without even realizing it (and without intending to–). It has become the air that we breathe. Even what we perceive to be compliments (“my don’t they sing well?”) are racist comments–and whether we realize it or not, pretty condescending.

    Keep on writing.

    • 

      We have very strange ideas of what racism is and isn’t and when it is good vs. bad. It seems we’ve settled on it being a white vs. blacks and Hispanics while other races & cultures are even part of the conversation. We never talk about “positive” racism like you mention, perceptions that Asians/Indians are all smart, perceptions that blacks are more athletically gifted than whites, etc. We’re comfortable allowing Mexican restaurants to hire almost exclusively Hispanic employees but are deeply offended if a white business owner catering to whites only hired whites. One of my best memories is when I went to a predominantly black church was lavished with warmth and love because of my white skin color.

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