“I was at a conference recently and a white brother said to me, ‘When I see you, I don’t see color’ and I had to tell him that’s not helpful.” This was one of the first statements made last Friday night at our house when we held a conversation on race in our living room. It was said by an African American pastor from a neighboring community who has been ministering there for over 20 years. He was also the Chaplain for the police force in that city for 12 years.
We felt like God ordained who would attend that evening. We did not previously know this pastor and his wife, but our friends did, and they extended the invitation. Another unexpected guest and now friend was a black gentleman who serves at-risk youth and his daughter who just graduated from high school. We invited our dear friends of 17 years who are both leaders in the Denver-metro area—he is a prosecutor for the city and she she is a public school administrator—both serving as black professionals in predominantly white-led institutions.
Each guest of color shared personal stories and opinions on how we got to this place of great disunity in the United States. Their perspectives were not always unified, but they were well-informed by personal experience, observation, and reflection. We and our white friends (five families including 17 children ages 4-19) listened and ran the gamut of emotions—shock, heartbreak, defeat, despair, and even skepticism and confusion.
I will not recap what was said that evening—that would take a book. But I will tell you this—it was edifying and encouraging for each person there—both black and white. Our black brothers and sisters pressed us to consider our implicit biases (if you don’t think you have any, take a test at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html). They talked to us about historical perspective and challenged us to consider our own. They pushed us to consider why disparity has become normalized, why it’s easy to talk about a few bad cops but not institutional racism.
Together we grappled with enormous societal woes and found ourselves wanting to pinpoint a solitary cause and find a singular solution. But we were left with neither. What we did receive, though, was invaluable. White friends had eyes more widely opened, empathy more greatly developed. Black friends had a sense that they had been seen, their stories had been heard, and that their hearers had been authentic in their questions, doubts, and desires. Real communication had taken place. Real unity had been pursued and at least inched towards. People spoke. People listened. Nobody wasted the chance to grow.
We closed by asking each black guest to share a suggestion for the white guests to pursue towards racial reconciliation in our nation. In other words we asked them, “What can we do? Can you give us one or two things that we can do to make a difference?” Here are their suggestions:
- Make a concerted effort to have relationships with black families. Have people into your home and into your life who do not have the same ethnic background as you. One man said, “There’s nothing more intimate than having dinner with another family at your own table, in your own house.” In sum, cross boundaries and bring people back home with you.
- Cross borders. Make an effort to go into parts of the city that you would not normally frequent. Go there and serve—find a ministry to serve with, mentor a child. Get to know people who are different from you racially, socio-economically, and otherwise. Make genuine friends.
- Acknowledge and confront your fears.
The pastors in the room brought us full circle and reminded us that Jesus’ vertical reconciliation demands our horizontal reconciliation. We closed by praying and asking God to grow us and to heal our land. Then we had dessert, laughed hysterically, and blabbed late into the night like we were all old, dear friends.
I share this not to pat ourselves on the back, but to say, “If we can do it, you can too.” Really. You don’t have to hire a professional or outsource racial reconciliation. And don't assume other people will take care of it. It’s as easy as inviting people you know and telling them to invite people they know. Have a potluck dinner because there is honestly something magical in sharing a meal before sharing deep discussion. Once the ice is broken, initial bridges are crossed, and people’s bellies are full, genuine and beneficial conversation will flow. We did not have an agenda. We simply said to our black brothers and sisters, “Can you please come over and share a meal and your experiences with us?” And they did. And we learned. And we all stepped closer to one another and reminded ourselves that with God, all things are possible (Luke 1:37).