Whether they played T-ball, high school hoops, or professional football, ask any former athlete to name some of the most influential people in their lives, and inevitably a coach comes to mind. The bond they form during times of victory is only surpassed by the one formed during the lows of defeat.
I’ve seen it play out like this during each of the 25 years my husband has coached high school football. Coaches have the ability to reach a set of young people the world is almost convinced is unreachable. Teen boys filled with swagger walking down the street will break into grins as they jog over to give my husband handshakes, fist bumps, and manly back slaps. They’ll sweetly bend their bodies down low to give a gentle hug to this woman who is at least a foot shorter than all of them.
We call them “our guys” as a sign of the affection we feel toward them, but also to give the people in our world an understanding of who they are. They’re just boys, just like your own, except most of these boys are African American, which means, most of their concerns are not the common concerns of majority-culture kids. Many of their weekly, if not daily, experiences are not most kids’ experiences. They certainly weren’t my kids’ experiences at that age. Though we’ve tried so hard to be a blessing to them, the truth is that through them, I’ve been given the far greater gift of sight of their world. And too much of what we’ve seen there is disheartening.
I’ve never been pulled over to be asked whose car I’m driving. Nor have I been stopped and questioned about what I’m doing in a certain neighborhood. I’ve never had to walk in another culture just by going to the mall. I’ve always assumed that strangers will see me as an individual. It’s never crossed my mind that I’d be viewed in terms of “my people.” But this is what minority kids face nearly every day. They aren’t taken for who they are as individuals. They’re not judged on their own merits. They’re a collective, and the sum of whatever headline or incident you have in your past. If a white woman was rude to us, we don’t glare down the rest of the ones we meet that day. If a white man robbed a store, we don’t flinch at the next one who stands behind us in line.
All of my experiences with teens haven’t been easy ones. There was the large dent in the side of my van from a rock thrown right under the window where my young daughter was strapped into her car seat. There was that time when I was cussed out and threatened while leaving a game.
But what race came to mind when I wrote those words? I didn’t tell you, but notice that if you’re like so many of us, you made an assumption. You pictured something in your mind, and too often those pictures betray our inherent biases. That’s just one of the little ways I’ve come awake to the “normal” thoughts that wouldn’t be so normal if sin had not entered the world.
In Step with the Truth
As Christian families, our mission now is to order our lives in line with how Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10). We live together now as one day the whole world will live. Joining our lives to a person of another tribe, language, or culture is right because that is where, according to the God of the universe, reality is trending.
But it won’t happen until we allow the word of God to renew our minds bent toward racism, especially if we are part of the majority culture. We need to own up to ourselves that we’re willing to love more black people in Africa than we are in our town. Instead of taking selfies with our new “little friends” overseas, what if we considered truly being a friend to the minority neighbors who live among us here?
To love them well, we need to listen better to our brothers and sisters, and believe their experiences instead of dismissing them, sympathizing with them instead of first analyzing. Open your heart, especially to the youth around you so they grow up seeing the kingdom of God impact their own lives, even as you proclaim the reality of it to them. Show them your passion for cross-cultural ministry right here — before you plan your trip overseas. There is a life to be lived with other races that is “in step with the truth of the gospel,” as Paul puts it in Galatians 2:14. And though it’s great to have churches which work towards racial reconciliation, to trumpet this message in our gatherings while silencing it in our families is precisely the kind of sin Paul confronts.
One Family Against All Odds
This isn’t “missional schooling” or “missional dating” or “missional friending.” This is coming awake to the mission itself. Jesus has broken down the dividing walls that once made people of different ethnicities enemies. In him, we have become one family, one building, one body. It’s time the world saw the reality of what Christ has done play out in our everyday relationships. As much as we want (and need) this message in our pulpits, it must be seen as the truth of our lives as we sit in our homes and walk along the streets of our towns. It’s our calling to tell the truth of who Christ is with all we say and do.
Around the throne of our King will stand people from every tribe. I can imagine them all in their customary dress, speaking their beautiful languages, with skin colors so different from mine. They are people groups, yes, but they are also individuals for which the Savior died. Show the world that truth now by committing your family to being the reflection of our final family. Let the tensions rise at your table even as they rise across our land. Do it all because we’ve been made part of a family across a greater divide than race. Give this world a taste of the future by letting the race discussion come home.