Tuesday, January 27, 2009

True change starts on the inside of each of us

A week ago, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I attended a forum on racism at our local YWCA. My friend and partner in ministry, Rev. Willie Bacote, had invited me to the forum. He and I brought a group of neighborhood youth with us. During this forum we watched a documentary entitled "Skyn Deep" which was produced by the YWCA. The purpose of this film is to stir up conversation and to get people talking, honestly and openly, about the racial stereotypes and biases that we all have. At various intervals during the forum, the facilitator paused the film and asked questions from a printed hand out that everyone received at the beginning of the session. We were given time to write our own responses, then share them with the group, if we wanted to. A couple of the questions asked us about past experiences with people of different race and culture. My own memories of growing up in the inner-city and seeing racial injustice first hand were stirred up. I remembered (and shared), as a 10 year old white boy, living in a public housing project and being treated differently than boys my own age, whose skin color was bit darker. I would hear my white friends talk differently when the "colored kids" were around, than when they weren't around. At the age of 10, I would hear the double talk and sometimes go along with it to fit in. But there was something inside of me that made me uncomfortable, a still, small voice that said, "that's not right."

Now, 35 years later, I'm living and ministering in the same inner-city neighborhood I was born and raised in. There are many conversations going on about tackling the social ills that plague our inner-city communities. One issue that needs to be further addessed is that of racism. Whether we like to think about it or not, racism still exists. All of us have prejudices and biases that have been shaped by our environment, upbringing, culture, religion, etc. Planting churches and ministering in any community, especially inner-city communities, requires those who are called by God to such places, to tackle racism and cultural biases head on. American cities, at one time, were racially and culturally segregated. Most cities still bear the remnants of such division. However, there is a new, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural generation emerging from within these inner-city communities. This generation is more tolerant of racial and cultural diffrences, even to the point of inter-marrying and procreating. Bi-racial/multi-racial children are becoming more common among our urban landscapes. Yet the racial slurs and biases still exist, mostly taught and tolerated by the older generations who can't get past their own fears and insecurities.

We need to overcome racism by teaching our children to love and accept people who are diffrent than they are. The tone of one's skin is the way God created them. We do not need to relinqiush our ethnic and cultural heritage, but we can, by the grace of God, learn to live amongst one another, in the same community, loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, regardless of their skin color, race, cultural upbringing, etc.

What would Jesus do? How would He live among us? He already did, leaving us an example to follow. As He said to His followers (disciples), "as I have done for you, so you do for one another." He was speaking about living as He lived, loving as He loved and serving as He served, thereby making Him known to a lost and dying world.

I admit that I don't have it all figured out. But, I am willing to work at bringing change to my own community. With a willing heart and the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, change will come. It starts on the inside of each of us.

Are you ready to get started?