“How diverse is your personal life?”
That question changed me and is changing me. Here is how.
DIDN’T NEED TO CARE
I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My family moved from the “downtown” of Freeport where we lived in a duplex and built a house in a housing development situated more in the more rural Sarver. Our entire development was made up of middle-class white families, with the occasional super huge house my friends and I would never miss come trick-or-treat. We had more stoplights in our small town than we had non-white students in the high school I attended. To be clear, we didn’t have many stoplights.
It would be accurate to say I grew up believing that I held no racist ideas or perspectives. But it would also be accurate to say that I told racist jokes, laughed when others did, and lived rather insulated from and insensitive towards racial injustice. It simply didn’t affect me. I didn’t need to care.
Throughout a decade of following Jesus and serving in majority white churches, I’ve come to believe that a homogenous gathering of people as church is an incomplete representation of the Body of Christ. As I began longing for The Student Community and CFC to be a more accurate representation of the diversity of God’s Kingdom, a peer in youth ministry opened my eyes. Erin Parrish, Area Director for Young Life Lancaster County and fellow CFCer, was with me and a few other local youth pastors discussing our ministries. When I brought up my heart to lead the ministry towards diversity, Erin pointed out a simple truth by asking a direct question. She humbly asked, “How diverse is your personal life?”
How diverse is my life? I felt offended, but at the same time convicted. I know my reality, and my reality includes primarily people who look like me.
Erin went on to suggest that diversity begins with me. It starts by expanding authorship of books I am reading beyond white dudes. It starts by not simply pillaging music from other cultures for my own selfish consumption, but paying attention to the stories being told. It starts as I seek out movies that tell stories of ethnic minorities and people of color. But it doesn’t end in my pursuit of diverse influences, it continues as I leave my home and choose where to shop, dine, and drink coffee. Provocatively, Erin proclaimed to our table of fellow white youth pastors, “Black people drink coffee too.” I am forever thankful for her boldness in speaking challenging words.
LIKE ATTRACTS LIKE
How have I allowed my life to become so homogenous? The answer is simple, it is comfortable. Like attracts like. Instinctually, I am going to be drawn to people who think like me, look like me, and share common interests with me. You are too. A diverse life takes effort and intention.
Maybe as you read this, you are also thinking about your friend group at school, who you walk to class with, or who you sit with at lunch. Maybe you are thinking about the coworkers you are closest with, who you hangout with on the weekends, and where you choose to hangout. Maybe, you too, are realizing you mostly read books written by, listen to music performed by, and watch movies featuring people just like you. It’s comfortable.
A common defense is, “I am not racist! I am colorblind.” I get it, that is how I have responded. But God has been gently revealing to me the danger in those two statements. The danger in “I am not racist” is turning a blind eye to any implicit bias or racial stereotypes through which I view the world around me. The danger in “I am colorblind” is minimizing and diminishing the unique experiences of each individual person, and the societal treatment and plight of black, brown, and minority peoples. God is teaching me to move beyond colorblind to see color, and listen, learn, listen more, and celebrate the diversity and differences between us.
I am a work in progress. I am not finished. I have not arrived. But, by the grace of God, I am learning, I am growing, and I am trying to listen more and speak less. God is not done working on you either. You are a work in progress. You are not finished. God is shaping us and molding us to be more and more like Jesus.
HOW GOD IS HELPING ME GROW
Over the last few years, I have tried to be more intentional. As an avid reader, I started there. I began seeking out books written by black, brown, and multi-ethnic authors. Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, PA, is a thoughtful Christian bookstore that serves as a wonderful local resource with entire bookshelves dedicated to books about race and injustice. My next steps are listening to more music and watching movies that tell the stories of black and brown people. As I learn from these resources, I also know God is helping me to be more present in my community, pay attention to the environments I find myself in and be more ok with being uncomfortable as I seek spots where not everyone looks or thinks like me.
There is a temptation of pride, to feel like I am somehow better because I am reading black authors or listening to certain artists tell their stories of being oppressed or experiencing injustice. But I have to remind myself that this isn’t about me, this is about Jesus and growing more and more into His likeness. This is the pursuit of loving my neighbors and bearing their burdens. I am growing to be less afraid of asking difficult questions and starting conversations about race and racial injustice and more afraid of being ignorant, indifferent, and comfortable. I believe that our most important act of worship is one that hungers for justice and righteousness to reveal the hope of Jesus Christ in the midst of turmoil, hatred, and injustice. Our communities need to know the hope of Jesus when the continued racial injustice leaves many feeling hopeless.
For now, I mourn, I learn, I listen, I act, and I pray. This is my prayer: Heavenly Father, reveal to me where I allow stereotypes, racism, hatred, or a learned bias skew my view of others. Lead me in repentance for the resulting hatred, sinful action or inaction, and silence. Restore my heart to love my neighbors and to love You fully. Holy Spirit, stir my spirit to stand against injustice in word and deed. Jesus, let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, use me as you may. Amen.
*Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplashed