A week or two ago, I had what we Southerners call a “hissy fit.” I had been watching the news on several networks and read many different outlets all reporting on how Glenn Beck and his flock were descending upon the Capitol in droves. A friend sent me a video of interviews with folks who came to D.C. to “call the nation back to God.” Most faces I saw in the crowd were white. Every interview I saw or read was with a white person. Many of them were decrying the political agenda of our sitting President. Some of them were calling him a racist and saying it was time to take “our” country back.
In my fit, I sat down on several occasions to write a blog post about this phenomenon. I considered it from many angles. I started writing about how I’m not one of those white people. I started writing that those people don’t really get what my God is all about. I started writing about the Pharisees and the Sadducees and thinking up all kinds of Bible verses that I would hurl back in an effort to halt the parade of hatred and ignorance on TV that whole weekend. I started to write any number of those things and then deleted it, choking on my own anger about it all.
Then one day, last week in the car as I was fuming about everything I’d seen, with no one to call and vent, one of my favorite musicians, a contemporary Christian music artist named Sara Groves, intervened right there in the middle of my minivan. She sang:
Redemption comes in strange place, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are
I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside
And that’s where I decided to write this post. You see, I could write those other things—about how white people suck; how, collectively, we don’t get “it”; how as much as I want to not be one of them, sometimes, I am them. I know that story and many of our readers here at the blog know that story. It’s familiar and it usually ends badly.
But I want to “add to the beauty,” not just recount the ugly. So how does one “tell a better story”? Well, while I believe in the power of shining a spotlight on horrible things, it can’t be all we do. I believe we’re right to curse the darkness; but, sometimes we get so used to seeing in the dark, we need to adjust our vision. Rather than focusing on a very vocal and seemingly prominent group of haters, I need to remember that great cloud of witnesses—past and present—who can encourage me forward and who tell me to not lose heart in fighting against racism as a white person. I need to look at those success stories of white people who turned things around or made some small difference.
I need a redemption story.
I need a story like that of William Wilberforce—who took on a nation of generational slaveholders using his position of power and privilege as a white man to end the British slave trade. I need a story like that of Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister, abolitionist and feminist. I need to read about Father Bartolomé de las Casas—who Kate featured in a Columbus Day post—a man who got it wrong in many ways but came to oppose the torture committed against Native people during colonial conquest. I need to meditate on the life of Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who was interned for aiding Jews in escaping Nazi persecution during the Holocaust. I need to know about and remember the sacrifices made by Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwarner, two Jewish men martyred in Mississippi for helping to register black voters during Freedom Summer.
I need to get my hands on and my head around stories like those of Chris Rice and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove—men who forsook their own privilege and the comfort of a homogeneous faith community to live out integration in the all-too-rare situation where white people act as integrators. Both men explore how their faith in Christ informed and guided their decisions toward anti-racist activism and communal living in their autobiographies: Rice’s story focused on his life as a young man living in the 1980s and Wilson-Hartgrove’s is a more contemporary example from the last 10 years.
Rice’s story is particularly compelling for anti-racist Christian novices as it is almost a primer on the efforts and leaders of the evangelical-side of movement since the days of the Civil Rights era. Rice describes how he and Spenser Perkins formed a hard-fought friendship and took up the second-generation mantle handed them by John Perkins. He also shares with painful honesty his struggles to come to terms with his own sense of privilege, entitlement and authority in the midst of a strong black community. Wilson-Hartgrove is an affirming example of what those of us just now getting involved in anti-racist work can do and how far we can come if we let God transform our thinking and our lifestyles to make us agents of reconciliation.
That day in the car, as the CD moved on, I was still stuck thinking about what Sara Groves had said. I thought about Glenn Beck and those like him who enjoy derision and division. I kept coming back to my anger over these things even while I had decided that I want to tell a better story with my life. Groves had an answer for that, too. In her song, Kingdom Comes she says:
When anger fills your heart
When in your pain and hurt
You find the strength to stop
You bless instead of curse
When doubting floods your soul
Though all things feel unjust
You open up your heart
You find a way to trust…
When fear engulfs your mind
Says you protect your own
You still extend your hand
You open up your home
When sorrow fills your life
When in your grief and pain
You choose again to rise
You choose to bless the name…
In the mundane tasks of living
In the pouring out and giving
In the waking up and trying
In the laying down and dying
That’s a little stone that’s a little mortar
That’s a little seed that’s a little water
In the hearts of the sons and the daughters
The kingdom’s coming
None of this is easy, friends. I haven’t been at all this anti-racist stuff for long, but I’ve been at it long enough to know some things get easier, but that’s when God sometimes presses in to challenge us and call us to do even harder things. In those moments, if all I can offer is a little obedience, sweat and mortar, I’m doing my job. I’ll remember our white anti-racist heroes, like my white friend Ashleigh, who has in the last year, been awakened to anti-racism and is cultivating a deep passion for justice and reconciliation in her own life.
I’m hoping that over time, I’ll be able to look on angry scenes like the one I saw on the news the other week and say as Christ did from the cross, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” Until that day comes, I pray that when I look upon the horror stories our world has to offer, that even as I rail against them, I’ll be mindful that all of it is only the prelude to a better story: a kingdom coming.