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?