Today I Saw God
Much of my life has been spent connected to the Church. The first time I attended church I did not walk in, I was carried. I was brought by my wise and loving parents, baptized and have been here ever since. Although I have fond memories of a life spent in Sunday school, youth group, worship, fellowship, and ultimately bringing my own kids to be baptized, I have never experienced what I refer to as a “direct and powerful encounter with God”. A burning bush experience if you will. Thankfully, I have lived a life of blessing with minimal trials, none too devastating, at least not compared to some of the struggles I have observed in other people’s lives. I am thankful but, to be honest, I have experienced some envy of people that have stories of direct and powerful encounters with God. I love the Lord and as I grow older I have come to love and trust him more and more. I believe I have been faithful in serving him in many ways in the church and outside the church. I hope I have been an example to others and helped lead people to Christ. Recently, I saw that Floris UMC was having informational meetings to discuss Race and Reconciliation efforts. I wanted to attend but found that my schedule did not allow me to make it to the meetings. As oftentimes happens with the Lord, missing a meeting does not preclude you from participating in his plans. I happened to see a post about an event on this very subject on the Virginia United Methodist Church Facebook page. The Bishop was hosting an event in Annandale, a mere 10 minutes from my house. And, as it happens, my schedule was clear that day. I felt compelled to attend and was joyful and excited about learning more. I signed up and thought that maybe I would see someone from Floris UMC at the event. In fact, there was a good-sized group from Floris UMC that attended, learning about issues around race and our role as Christians in the work of racial reconciliation. What was most exciting for me that day is that I very clearly heard the Lord speaking to me about this issue. I was struck by how clearly I heard him say “this is important to me, I want you to do this work for me”. I could relate to John Wesley’s story of how he felt his heart “strangely warmed” and of the story from Luke about the Road to Emmaus where two men who had encountered the resurrected Jesus asked each other “were not our heart burning in us while he talked with us on the road”. This was a first for me and not only powerful but exciting. I had some nervousness and fear about this issue and what, if anything, was required of me. Suddenly, it was clear and I wasn’t as fearful or nervous. I can’t say that I won’t feel fear or anxiety as this effort moves forward but I have an assurance that God is with me and that I am exactly where I need to be. As I approach the half-century mark, I sometimes think that I have missed opportunities that the Lord had for me, that I got caught up in my life and my plans and that maybe that is why I haven’t felt this way before. I won’t live in regret, that’s not healthy for anyone, but I will work to be more connected to God’s plan, rather than my own. I have come to believe that his way is the only way to experience freedom and blessing and the fullness of life. “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask "What if I fall? Oh but my darling, What if you fly?" (quote by Erin Hanson)
On Saturday, April 14, I had the privilege of joining about a dozen other leaders from Floris United Methodist Church and about two hundred others at Annandale United Methodist Church to participate in the Bishop’s Convocation on Race and Reconciliation. Most of us from Floris came because of our connection to our congregation’s new racial reconciliation initiative, and we anticipated hearing how our bishop and other leaders would lead those gathered to be more effective agents of change and reconciliation in our communities.
It’s not easy getting up to spend a Saturday in church. However, between worship together, a challenging presentation by our keynote speaker Romal Tune and small group training on facilitating difficult conversations, I found myself seriously considering my own race for one of the first times in my life.
As a straight, white, Christian male, thinking about my own identity is not a normal thing for me to do. Most of my life experience has occurred in spaces where most people look like me, speak my language and believe similar things that I do. I have lived a lot of my life in a dominant context, meaning that, not because of any decisions of my own but because of a system from which I benefit, my voice is often heard in conversations and in communities when others’ may not be. For a long time, I bought into the same lie that many white people believe, that I don’t have
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We usually talk about racism by
Rather than keep racism within the bounds of interpersonal actions, our working definition of racism focused more on how racism acts as a system of racial prejudice developed and sustained by institutional power. This shift in focus led us to consider our own participation in the racist systems that uphold our society and realize that being white does not mean being without
As we had these conversations, a phrase from our keynote speaker Romal Tune stuck with me. At one point, he spoke about what white people can do in response, and that deciding to act is really hard. Because of the ways our society has been set up to benefit the white elite, in some sense, any action toward racial and socioeconomic equity requires those in power to give up and share that power. In other words, as Tune said to those of us who were white in the room, “There is value in your silence.”
The moral weight of our work hit me squarely in the face
I do not claim this responsibility as an egotistical white man looking to continue fixing the world’s problems with my own solutions. I claim this responsibility at the invitation of my non-white sisters and brothers to join the effort they have maintained their entire lives: working to make sure our society views them as people and as nothing less
My white sisters and brothers, we cannot put the burden of equality on those who have borne the burden of oppression for far too long. Be informed. Be empathetic. Be willing to say that you’re wrong. Be willing to apologize. Be willing to listen and learn. As Tune told us, our past is not our future, but the past has dramatically shaped our present. I invite you to join the work of our racial reconciliation initiative to help shape our future, so you too can discover the value in others that far outweighs the value of our silence