“Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of natural opinion before it can be cured.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Where do you live?” asks a co-worker, a customer, a boss, a new Kansas City friend.
“Off of 55th and Troost,” I respond in routine.
“Don’t leave your blinds open or nice things in your car,” “Be careful,” or “You live in the hood,” are their common responses.
Is it because I don’t live in the white part of town? I want to ask. Instead, I smile, “Thanks for looking out for me.”
Looming tree branches caress each other across the road, canopying my drive home in effortless elegance. Lining 55th Street behind the trees are fairytale mansions large enough to fit half a dozen families in each. I drive beneath the protection of the trees, watching the mansions shrink into middle class housing.
As I continue straight, the canopy thins. The pristine middle class neighborhood now jumbles into a mosaic of deserted buildings, shattered windows, and lawns a little less groomed. I take a left, park my little white car, and ascend the stairs to my Kansas City home.
Inside and shielded from the winter evening chill, I am suddenly disturbed. Has two months of making that drive each day already numbed me? Have I so easily accepted that as the houses on 55th get smaller, the skin of those inhabiting those homes gets darker?
Walking through the double doors, I am greeted by a few friendly faces, “Welcome to Church.” I smile my thanks, continue past them, and find a seat. Glancing around, my first thought is wow there are a ton of people in here. My second thought, wow there are a ton of white people in here.
Now for those who know me, you may be chuckling, hey Rylie, you know you are white too right? Yes, yes guys, I do know I am white. Actually, I am most aware of this fact when sitting in church because either (a) I find myself in a sea of other people who look identical to me OR (b) I stick out like a sore thumb because I am the only white person in the room.
Can I ask you why this is?
For those of you who claim Christianity, when you look at your home church, do you find people who typically look similarly, dress similarly, to you? I will be the first to admit that for most of my life this has been the case. I would venture to guess that you may have had a similar experience. Do we avoid churches where we don’t blend seamlessly into the congregation, afraid we won’t fit in? Afraid we might stand out? Are we afraid we might have to think a little more, work a little harder to see Jesus in our surroundings because he doesn’t look identical to us?
March of 2015, I sat at a table of seven. Those filling the seats varied from black to white to Hispanic to Asian. Though our outward differences were apparent, our common faith and shared interest in racial reconciliation invisibly united us together. One intensely controversial racial injustice after another was laid across the table, waiting to be dissected by the seven with vastly different experiences.
Tears fell on one issue, frustration nearly suffocated another, anger stabbed a knife into yet another before being pulled back out so we could try to patch the damage. Amidst this discomfort of hard emotions and differing opinions, an odd sense of hope hung in the air. I would venture to guess it was simply because we were sitting, rather than running, or ignoring, or accusing. People of faith were taking a stand by simply sitting together.
Yet again, I will be the first to admit that as I sat processing through my own experiences for this blog, this was one of few distinct memories where I was engaged in an integrated dialogue of faith and race. When looking at your own life, how many memories do you have where the diversity of Christ’s body was embraced, rather than just our individuality or our “sameness”?
“What we fear the most reveals where we trust God the least.”
– Pastor Craig Groeschel
Many years ago, a mentor told me, “Every motive in our lives is rooted in either fear or love.”
I imagine many of us go to church to learn to love better, to feel loved by others, to more deeply understand what it means to be loved by God. Heck, that is a huge reason why I go to church. Yet interestingly enough, if we are only choosing to walk into spaces where everyone looks like us, we are neglecting to acknowledge, neglecting to validate, the rest of the body of Christ. So in a way, as we step through the doors to our home churches, we are doing this half out of love for the Lord, and half out of fear of His children who look different from us.
I can almost guarantee that with that last statement, I have lost about half of you. But hang with me for 30 more seconds. History and our current systems have taught us that we are meant to be apart, though few of us are even aware that we have learned this. It has simply become part of how we view our reality.
But my question for you (and this is not meant to be rhetorical, for I do love a good dialogue) is this: is it possible that racism, particularly systemic racism, is a way to keep God’s children apart? To keep us less powerful, less effective? Because when the diverse people of God come together, His glory and character are radiantly evident.
For one, it is only when we all come together that we get a glimpse of the fullness of who the Lord is.
And secondly, just picture with me the beauty of a diverse group of people, maybe outwardly looking as though they don’t belong together, yet faces exuding that they have never felt more at home in their life. For those blessed enough to be in such a gathering, I doubt we will see a better image of heaven while still on earth.