It’s been a challenging week or two. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lost friends over the last 2 weeks of my responses to American current events. Additionally, I’ve gotten some tough notes & comments from people that think I should get back to blogging about faith & posting pictures of my kids, the Tacoma sites, & woodworking projects. And I will. But I will not stop speaking on the needs of others…
I’m Working On It
I just don’t know what that means yet. I’ve attended meetings, talked with friends, & spent a good portion of my prayer life asking God what I should be doing. I’m reading books & articles on ethnic conciliation (not racial reconciliation… because I think DA Horton is brilliant), & I’m trying desperately to unpack the responsibility of the church & a Christian man in this season of hurt & newfound awareness of the ethnic divide.
I do not have a ton of answers. As Tony Evans once challenged, our pursuit is not sameness, but One-ness. We are called to be one in the body of Christ. And I personally love the diversity of our multi-ethnic nation; the celebrations, traditions, customs, patriarchy/matriarchy, holidays & praise Jesus, the food!! I don’t want everyone to be the same. I don’t want churches to be the same. The homogenous nature of our worship stifles Christians & their response to the goodness of God significantly more than instrumental preference. What if our churches were Gospel-centered & community focused, rather than being Gospel-centered & preference focused? Community revival. I really believe that.
Skin In The Game
At a meeting recently, a good friend said that white Americans just don’t realize that we have skin in the game in regards to our civil rights issues. The group conversation went on to discuss how community should be actively pursuing ways, big & small, to help bridge those divides. Small things like looking into the eyes of the homeless & smiling, not staring awkwardly at someone wearing ethnic or religious clothing, & just generally treating difference as difference, not leprosy. And then a nice woman began to speak to everyone. She was different from me in ethnicity, gender, orientation, & faith. I don’t know if she was left-handed, but if she was, then we were complete opposites on the big issues of our day. Yes, handedness is a major issue. Ok, maybe not.
In the meeting, I was the anomaly. Conservative, white, middle-class, heterosexual male. If their were 5 of us there in that group of 70+, I’d be shocked. And I loved it. I loved the discomfort. But the ugly truth is that I loved it for one reason… I could walk away from it. And that washed over me the entire meeting. I could leave, step outside, & be the majority again. I could go to church, my neighborhood, the store, the mall, the park & be the ‘norm’. What must it be like to feel the inescapable reality of a minority culture, without the luxury of being able to step out of it if the fire got too hot.
In a room full of diverse ethnicities & socioeconomic backgrounds, different gender identities & sexual orientations, I’m just the white guy wearing a safety pin. And I was loved. Several people thanked me for being different. The lady with nothing in common with me, she had a great smile & gave a really good hug. I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was welcome. It was just a safety pin. But it was so much more….
Coffee With a Muslim Man
You aren’t going to believe this… I’m stunned. What you can’t see in reading this is that there was a 15 minute pause in my writing. As I was typing “But it was so much more” an older white guy was stepping up behind me. I’m sitting at a high top table in a coffee shop that is mostly empty. My latte to my right, John Piper’s Bloodlines to my left, & iPad in front of me.
“Oh, well thank God. I thought you were Arab.”
I look back, prepared to intervene for the man or woman being spoken to if the situation deemed it necessary, only to realize that this guy is talking to me. Arab? What?
It… was… my… beard. My beard. He thought I was Arab because of my facial hair. Now first, what an awesome beard compliment!!! Part of me wanted to thank him for the compliment. But it was not a compliment. He went on to explain that under that black book (Piper’s), he saw a Bible as he was walking up.
Wait. As he was walking up… Why was he walking up in the first place? Why was he behind me walking up? What would our interaction have been if it was my copy of the Quran or an innocuous journal? My mind was racing, so he stepped in to ease my mind.
“I see you’re a Christian & not one of those Arabs. I was nervous. [Insert horrific terror story-related insult]”
Now folks, I love Jesus, but my blood pressure was rising quickly. I pictured Hussein & his wife & kids. They practice Islam. Or Jermaine & his wife & kids. They’re black. We’ve been friends for nearly a decade, so I know how he’d have responded, & it wouldn’t have gone well. Or Ed, with his husband Tim. Or Iyesha, whose family is Hispanic, but she’s Midwest America, sharp & smart, & sarcastic with southern charm.
So I made it known that all Arabs are not practitioners of Islam anymore than all Americans are Christian. Then I reminded him that Jesus was Arab. He tried to argue back… I cut him off. I got out of my chair, & let me be honest…
Nothing happened. He got embarrassed. He apologized. His buddy or son came over & apologized. And I’d love to say that in this moment I represented the grace & dignity of a believer. But I didn’t.
What would you have done if I was Muslim or Arab?
I asked it a little louder than I should have. But they stopped & looked at me.
I don’t know sir.
And I don’t either. I truly believe he had no plan. He was emboldened & clueless, not prepared for a white Christian that was ready to fight for Muslims… & bearded folks everywhere. So it ended there. No great lesson. No moral-ladened closure. No rush of people ready to apologize to me. No one asking me to leave. And no cops called. I’m still typing at my table. That gentleman left after he got what he came here for. And business is back to buzzing.
And now I know. I wasn’t uncomfortable. I wasn’t apathetic. I wasn’t scared. I was mindful… I get to go outside in a minute & hop into a minivan, & be a white guy. I’m not different. I just have a beard that I’m shamefully proud of for a lot of macho, ridiculous reasons.
So whatever it is that I’m going to do going forward, I will be a Christian, white, heterosexual man, fighting for the marginalized, the cast aside, the ignored & oppressed, because I don’t know how this last 1/2 an hour would have played out if I had been anything other than me. So I won’t stand by. I won’t stop.
I believe in better days for all of us. And I believe I have a part to play.