Playdates with God: Blessed Are

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When we were at Jubilee, Dr. Christena Cleveland spoke to us about racial injustice. She told us about a study one of her colleagues conducted in which pictures of black or white men were flashed subliminally (so quickly that the conscious cannot register it) before subjects’ eyes. Then the subjects were quickly shown a picture of either a hand tool or a gun for a very brief time. The results showed that if the subjects had been shown a picture of a black man first, they overwhelmingly identified the second picture as a handgun. These results were true, regardless of race.

Deidra and I were roommates, up on the 17th floor, and we were walking down the stairwell together (because when a hotel is full of 3,000 college students, you can wait a long time on an elevator—only to find it crammed full of young people when it finally arrives) talking about Dr. Cleveland’s words.

“When she said those results were true regardless of race,” I said, “I felt my heart sink.”

“I know,” Deidra said.

“Because that means it’s going to take a long time to change.”

We said it at the same time and our eyes met in that narrow corridor and I looked at my beautiful brown-skinned friend and wished that like-mindedness could be so easy.

It’s going to take a long time. Of sustained, joined effort. We cannot let these tragic incidents of disunity and injustice fade from our minds just because they fade from the news. I feel too small to make a tiny dimple in the flesh of this problem. Honestly? My thoughts and ideas have not felt welcome. What do I, a white middle-aged woman, know about these things? It is tempting to turn my head and look the other way. There are many lines drawn in the sand, barriers set up.

We must cross them.

As the church, we must be the leaders.

When we were on retreat at Laity Lodge last fall, our senior editor, Marcus Goodyear led us in devotions one morning. When Marcus was a teenager, he spent a year as a foreign exchange student in Germany. It was 1990-91, between the fall of the Berlin wall and reunification.

Marcus told the story of St. Nikolai Church in Leipzeig, which is credited with helping to open the border between Eastern and Western Germany. Pastor Christian Furher began holding weekly prayer services in which people recited the Beatitudes together. He said, “gradually this prayer time turned into a weekly candlelight march through the city, reciting the Beatitudes.”

Marcus went on to cite East German officials who said, “We were ready for anything except candles and prayer.”

Furher said, “In church people learned to turn fear into courage … We did it because the church has to do it.”

“The church has to remind the world that we have hope and not despair,” Marcus said. “That evil belongs to time and goodness belongs to eternity.”

I want to be part of the goodness that belongs to eternity. These are some of the things that I can do:

I can cross those barriers. Our friend Dr. Helen Fagan says that because I live in a community that is not very diverse, I need to deliberately pursue experiences that place my white self in the minority. How can I love if I’m not sitting at the table?

I can learn about other cultures. This means stepping out of my comfort zone and opening my heart to things that aren’t normally on my radar. Like listening to the soulful voice of Amena Brown speak truth to me in a new way.

I can do these things with humility and compassion. Understanding things are the way they are today because of a long, complicated history will bring me to a place of humbling, if I let it. But for the grace of God we live in this time, this place, and all I need do is use my gift of imagination to wonder how different things may have been if I lived in another time, if my skin was a different color. What would happen if our judgments were placed in the context of all these years of injustice?

I can pray. Alone and corporately. With people who look like me, sure, but what might happen if I reach across the table for the hand of a brother or sister who looks different than I? Powerful. It’s powerful when we pray together.

I can love. Above all, I can love. Because he first loved me, I will love his image-bearers in this world. All of them.

I’m still learning. But mostly what I’m learning is that the world doesn’t always change for good by accident.

And this morning? I’m praying the Beatitudes.

Image by Ferran Jorda, used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. 

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess

Comments

  1. says

    Oh, this hits my heart this morning, Laura. Prejudice is so difficult to battle, so your encouragement here is so valuable. “I need to deliberately pursue experiences that place my white self in the minority. How can I love if I’m not sitting at the table?” Yes. I wish I could shadow you for a week and sit at the tables you sit at. May God bless our attempts to bring justice and compassion to a world that longs for it.

    • says

      I have a lot of work to do, Lisa, but thank you for the encouragement. I’m really trying to do better. I’ve gotten too comfortable in my same old, same old. Much love to you.

  2. Lynn Morrissey says

    Laura, this is such a vitally important post, and I’m so awed by your experience and attitude of humility. And yes, even without meaning to, just because of life circumstances, we can unwittingly segregate ourselves. I have lived as a minority in mostly “Black” neighborhoods several times and have worked in the inner city of St. Louis, where I was also a minority (for four years) and attended a racially mixed church for eight years. But things changed, and I left my job and church for reasons that had nothing to do with race, and now I find my white self (as you so eloquently put it!) seated among other white selves in a Reformed Presbyterian church (save a couple darling Black women who consider themselves missionaries in our church). So I’m realizing I need to reach out again. . . .to cross ethnic boundaries behind which I am currently fenced. I haven’t thought about this in awhile, and Deidra, especially, and the unrest in Ferguson (quite near me actually) have been the catalysts to cause me to pray about crossing lines. May I recommend to you three wonderful books? While, yes, of course, we must physically get out and meet those different from us and break bread with them, I think reading about other perspectives is also important and life-changing. These are the books, and interestingly, the last, which I’ve just begun to read, is by the very woman you heard speak at Jubilee! Bloodlines by Dr. John Piper, A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism, and Race by Brenda Salter McNeil, and Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland. I also want to re-read the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and Miss Lee’s newest soon-to-be-released novel, Go Set a Watchman, and also Twelve Years a Slave. All these are positive steps in the right direction. Let me say, too, that this idea of racial unity in the church really needs to go beyond the checkerboard of Black and White. My niece, who is half Mexican, laments that she feels left out in these discussions. Our country is wonderfully diverse, just like heaven will be, and Jesus will bring the elect of every tribe and nation to Himself. This is hardly a criticism, because I understand your focus, which is where mine is right now. But I just thought I would add that as Christians, we love people, period, from whatever ethnicity. Laura, I so appreciate YOU and your godly perspective!
    Love
    Lynn

    • says

      Thank you, Lynn, for is kind and thoughtful response. I’ll definitely check those books out! I did see Disunity when we were at Jubilee but I gave myself a one book limit :). I especially appreciate the parts of your story you share here. My story is a little similar, my life has gradually become more and more monochromatic over the years. Bless your neice’s heart. You are right about this as well. Embracing our differences as beauty, if only we could get there wholly. I also appreciate how you use the term “ethnicity”. Using the term “race” always bothers me. There’s only one human race.

      • Lynn Morrissey says

        And thank YOU for this gracious response and for understanding my angst over my precious niece. And yes, to the HUMAN race. Boy, if we would see each other that way, many of our problems would be solved. Thank you for the good and loving work you are doing and Il’ll look forward to reading more you have to say on this sometimes difficult, but always rewarding subject.
        Love
        Lynn

  3. Sharon says

    Laura, you have spoken such (sadly) true words. Our world is in such chaos right now. Across cultures and races and countries, prejudices and hatred run deep. There is no question in my mind that we all need a Savior. Not one of us is better, not one of us is deserving. But every one of us is offered the free gift of salvation bought with the great sacrifice of Jesus. Might the Lord strengthen me with courage, and offer opportunities to reach out with His love to others.

    Let’s pass it on.

    GOD BLESS.

  4. says

    Praise God that we are all one in Him, regardless of color, sex, or other factors. May we see others as He does. Thanks for the beautiful post & for hosting, & God bless.

  5. says

    Laura-I appreciate your willingness to write on the topic of prejudice and for offering application to the matter. I think I’ll start right now by reading the beatitudes…:)

  6. says

    Thank you for this thoughtful post, Laura. And you’re right — it is going to take time. And intention. Thank you for spurring us on to both of those goals – intentionally taking the time, making the time.

  7. says

    This is a profoundly moving post, Laura, and the one thing that stands out to me is that when we rest in the power of prayer…when we trust that God is able to move mountains of impossibility with His merciful love.

    Thank you for making us aware of this very important perspective.
    Bless you,
    Dawn

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