A blog about the life of the Balentine family: Adam, Amy, Teddy, Simon, Thomas, Peter and Goldie

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

One white guy's toughts


I don’t have many black friends.  Perhaps that it is just a snapshot, a microcosm, of the problem we have in America today.  We haven’t sought to trust, to understand, to build relationships, to break bread or to extend hospitality to one another.  Doing that requires going into some messy and awkward places.  “Doing life” with someone allows you to walk in their shoes and see things that might make you uncomfortable – things that might change your heart.

Over the past few years of being in Kansas City, God has put me in places to start building relationships with a few African American people.  Doing this requires intentionality.  It requires me listen way more than I speak.  It requires me to understand the cultural differences and historical framework that make us feel like we are speaking different languages sometimes.  It requires grace and patience on both sides for us to get past the road blocks that come up when we converse. 

It would be far easier to give up and slide comfortably back into my easy chair in my predominately white neighborhood while I watch the exploitative news cycle and feign outrage on social media.  Outrage is what culture calls for these days, right? Assimilation to cultural trends is far easier than searching your own heart and standing by your own convictions.  But sharing videos on social media and posting comments on gun laws, or rebutting with statements like “all lives matter” don’t make a difference.  Sharing opinions with people of the same skin color, same socio-economic class and similar upbringing is about as effective for change as constantly posting selfies online and thinking it will make you famous.

As white people, many of us tend to propose oversimplified solutions to a nuanced, deep-rooted problem.  We say things like, “Just stop breaking the law,” or “Don’t have kids out of wedlock,” or “Just get a job,” and believe these actions would bring about some massive cultural shift that would make it easier for a black person to drive from point A to point B without getting harassed by a police officer.  This hurts our black friends because we’re treating them like simpletons.  By ignoring bigger problems we imply that our friends our ignorant.  We ignore exploring what systematic racism is because it threatens our position of power in American society.  If we become aware of it, then we might have to do something about it.  It might mean we are called to confront some uncomfortable truths.  It might mean I have to get out of my easy chair and break bread with a black person.  It might mean I have to start the painful process of sawing off some fruitless branches in my life.

Don’t underestimate the language of grace.  The language of grace is common ground for all.  It is my belief that God instills and gifts in all of humanity with different forms of “common grace.”  We all have the ability to love one another despite our differences.  Love requires that we listen humbly.  Love requires that we aren’t too proud to admit the sins of our past.  Love requires that we forgive, and that we go to anger only as our last resort.  Love requires that we seek to honor others before ourselves, and we never delight in the demise or the suffering of others.  Love demands we protect and trust one another. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)  If we love one another, grace will persevere.  God’s grace will transform all.  We will claim victory over the division and the ugliness of racial disunity.  Perhaps it won’t be achieved in this lifetime, but we can make small steps toward getting there if we simply invite someone of a different color than us to our home and listen to their heart.  

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other." Let's not live in fear anymore.

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