Only real relationships bring about the change you desire


She was visibly upset.  Trembling.  She was sharing her heart, and being open and honest about the way the author's words made her feel unsafe.  These words cut to a deep place.  A place that I've never been.  Actually, a place that I can't even go because I don't have her eyes, her experiences, her skin.  Inside, I felt confused.  I even felt like downplaying her feelings, or cracking a joke to lighten the mood.  This would only dismiss her feelings.  This would cause more pain.  She said she didn't even really want to show up that night because the book we were reading grieved her so badly.  

Another in our group spoke up and said he was feeling the same way.  I listened.  We listened.  I'll be honest - I didn't truly understand.  I don't have the context, the experiences, to read the book we were reading and have it draw up feelings of xenophobia or racism.  But I also would not argue someone's feelings.

We were a small group.  A Bible study "community group" organized through our church.  Despite our church being predominately white, we have always tried to bring ethnic and age diversity to our group.  During this time period, we had four African American people in our group, and six-to-eight Caucasian people.  We were reading a book by a non-white, modern Christian apologist, and his language used to criticize Muslims was causing the most tension.

I finally spoke up.  I felt awkward and unsure of myself.  Not certain my black brothers and sisters even wanted to hear from me, or that I was "qualified" to open my mouth on such topics.  I told them that it was difficult for me to take the author's words so personally, but that I did not discount their feelings.  The last thing our group should be is a place that feels unsafe.  We are a place of grace and love, and we would immediately stop reading this book.  We care, I care, far more about the individual and having the opportunity to break bread, pray and sharpen our faith together than reading some book.  Put the book in a wood-chipper for all I care.  We're done.
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This is a small example of the kinds of feelings that come forward and create awkwardness, when black and white decide to be in real relationship with one another.  I have other examples, but this is the one that came to me at 6 AM this morning.

You want true change?  True change starts from within you and your heart.  The most practical but most difficult way this starts is by being in real relationship with someone who doesn't look like you.  Opining on social media about how the protests make you feel isn't going to change your heart, or put a dent in the broader, systemic issues in our society.  Sharing your anger with people who have the same political viewpoints you do only make you feel good about your "rightness."

Find someone to get to know.  Be honest about what you want to do.  Meet for lunch or coffee.  It will start to get uncomfortable as you delve into topics that twinge nerves.  Listen.  Don't jump to conclusions.  Stay in the relationship.  Meet again and again and again and again.  Express when you can't fully understand their feelings because you don't see it through their lenses.  You haven't walked in their shoes.  But that's the point of this.  You are connecting with someone who doesn't look like you, and conditioning your heart to be open to new views.  I can assure you this is hard.  It will get awkward.  Don't run.  

This is a long-game.  You won't see overnight change.  But perhaps your children's children will.  Perhaps they'll have better lenses, and more empathy.  Maybe they'll live in a world that doesn't both race bait and oppress simultaneously.  Maybe they'll live in a world without faux outrage and apathy - both things equally damage real progress.  Maybe they'll be in community with people that don't look like them, and have real, loving relationships.  All because they saw you do it, and it became this normal, comfortable part of life.  This is a seed that can be planted now.  Future generations will harvest the fruit. 
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Confirmation bias is infecting American society a rate far faster than any virus ever could.  We seek out stories, interpretations of the news, that only substantiate our own pre-existing viewpoints.  We gravitate toward people that do this as well.  This builds a wall around our minds that gets so tall that we create a fortress that is impervious to new ideas.  Confirmation bias further isolates groups.  It stamps out empathy.  It has desire to serve or to be charitable to others.
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Here's a link to my Prayer for Unity from January 2019.

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