Our denomination hosts a yearly "Justice and Reconciliation" conference at New City Fellowship in St. Louis, which is an amazing multi-ethnic congregation doing great things in their city.
|Welcome to St. Louis!|
Marc and I have been trying to get to this conference for the past two years, and this year we just HAD to make it happen.
|Florissant Ave. in Ferguson, Missouri|
Upon arriving town, the first place we headed was the small town next door, Ferguson. Since the events of Michael Brown's shooting there and the subsequent over-militarization of the police against protesters, I've had this strong desire to go and see it for myself.
Because it was two and a half years ago when I watched a live stream night after night on my computer. I struggled to understand the racial complexities of the situation from both sides. My heart was breaking to see the lengths people were going in their desperation and pleas for justice. The situation looked like a scene I had only seen in a movie from the 1960's. And this was 2015.
I watched many of my facebook friends respond hastily with condemnation and hateful words towards the situation. They rushed to judgment, bypassing empathy altogether. Was anyone asking questions? Was anyone seeking to understand? There's a ton of complexity when it comes to this stuff. There's a ton of history that plays into it as well. And all of that didn't seem to matter in the heat of the moment.
Ferguson impacted me deeply. I felt the fear that black mothers all over the country feel for their boys. They know the statistics, they know the realities all too well. And yet, as I was drawing nearer in solidarity to my dark-skinned brothers and sisters, I was simultaneously feeling more rejected and alienated by those in my own culture.
I don't think my white friends and family intended to be hurtful. I honestly think most are blissfully ignorant, and they're uncomfortable or unsure when it comes to speaking on matters of race. (perhaps that's because in our culture, we've bought into the lie that race isn't something that should be discussed.)
But the blank faces, the minimizing, the same predictable defenses are not only hurtful, they are tiring, too.
|Two years later, fresh roses were laying upon the scene of Michael Brown's death|
When you love someone, you can't help but see the world through their eyes. In a way, it's like God has woken me up. He's ripped blinders off of my eyes and allowed me to see things for the first time.
Take this quick example from our church's Sunday School children's curriculum. (It's used in a gazillion churches in America each Sunday morning.)
Look at it through my son's eyes.
Look at it through a historical lens. (Jarius' daughter wasn't blonde, I can tell you that.)
What does this subtly teach our children?
It's simultaneously a beautiful thing and a terrible thing to go through what my counselor calls "major identity shifts."
"Major identity shifts" are not so easily done when you're in a community that doesn't share them with you. Honestly, we've endured the stress of feeling alone in our situation. There is not a single PCA black man in our city for my son to emulate. Not one. There are dynamics of raising a black son that most folks in our circles don't understand.
So part of St. Louis was going to gain some support, even if it would be long-distance.
"Michael Brown is living in your house. The advancement of the disadvantaged is now your family crest."
(I literally stopped her from saying another word while I wrote that down.)
One by one, each person I met at the conference just "got it." They gave me the encouragement I needed to hear.
I didn't feel so crazy anymore.
These people loved Jesus, and they longed to see the power of the Gospel reconcile Jew and Gentile, black and white, native american, hispanic, poor and rich. They knew the power of Jesus' kingdom and how it can break through the Sunday morning segregation, and they were actually doing the multi-ethnic community of which we dream.
|with our friend, PCA pastor Irwyn Ince|
We came to St. Louis on empty and we left feeling so full and recharged.
We're eager to continue laboring unto the Lord in the area of justice and reconciliation where we are. I'm starting a small discussion group here in Lynchburg on racial unity. We're praying that God might bring a multi-ethnic PCA church plant to our city.
And though there will be times we'll feel discouragement and have to remind ourselves that reconciliation is a long, slow work of God, at least we now know we're not alone.