Like many of you I watched the events of this past week and thought, what can I do to affect change? I am a fifty-year-old white man, a husband, a father of two kids and a pastor that has spent a career serving middle-class churches. What can I possibly say or do to create change and foster healing? After much reflection, I realized the best thing I can do during this anxious time is to focus on what I can control.
Last week I started a blog entitled “Raise Them Up,” which will look at how to pass down faith to our children. Today I want to talk about being good neighbors. I want to look at what we can do to help ensure our kids grow up to treat each other with respect and grace.
When Jesus was asked by the pharisees what is the greatest commandment in Matthew chapter 22, he responded:
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
One of the things that strikes me about this interaction is in verse 40 when Jesus says ALL the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. The job of passing down faith to our kids is a daunting task but here Jesus boils it down to two simple steps: Love God and love people. If we can teach our kids to embrace this truth, then everything else will fall into place.
This sounds super easy but, as you know, it is not! It is hard to love those who are not like us for a plethora of reasons but the biggest reason is our bias. Our bias keeps us from seeing the reality of a situation and we make decisions based on what we believe about the circumstances rather than truth.
For example, in high school, I had an African American friend who lived in my neighborhood, the only family of color that I can remember. One day after school he asked if he could come to my house because he left his key at home. I suggested that he try a window and he looked at me like I was crazy. He said, “A black kid going into a window in this neighborhood? They would call the cops for sure!” You know what? He was right. People’s bias would have caused them to be suspicious. Would someone call the police if it was me? Maybe, but that outcome would have never crossed my mind.
I think there are very real actions we can take if we want to “Raise Them Up” to be good neighbors.
- First we have to have real, honest conversations about people in our culture who are marginalized. For too long we have pretended that systemic racism does not exist in our country. When I worked for the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church I got the privilege of being a colleague of Nacole Hillman. Nacole is an African American woman who I came to adore as a friend and a coworker. I love to work with people that will make me laugh and we did almost every day. One day we drove to a small town in Alabama to meet with some youth directors to do some planning. When we parked I walked across the street and noticed that Nacole was not with me. I looked up and she was walking on the other side of the road, down the sidewalk to crosswalk at the light, then she walked back up the sidewalk toward me. I asked what are you doing? She said “Mercer, I am not jaywalking in this town.” I laughed. She did not. At that moment it became clear she had been taught something by her parents that white parents don’t have to teach. Be aware of where you are at all times and make sure you do things the right way or you could be hurt. Allow time at the dinner table or family devotion for honest, age appropriate conversations about race in our culture today.
- Another thing we can do is expand our circle. In the book Reckless Love, Tom Berlin argues that many of us just associate with people that look like us, worship like us and vote like us. Write down the 10 people other than immediate family that you spend most of your time with. Are they the same race as you? If they are, you are not alone, but it may be time to expand your circle. Intentionally try and foster relationships with people of diverse backgrounds. For us, parents, we don’t have to search very far. It’s likely that our kids are friends with or are in activities with people who are not of the same race or religion as us. Reach out to the parents of these kids and grab lunch or a cup of coffee. I bet you will be surprised at how life giving diverse relationships can be.
- Lastly, do something! Our kids get so much out of experiential learning. In fact, one of the most effective ways of passing down faith is through service. Get involved in projects that help support marginalized communities. Asbury does some great work in our community with the Food Pantry, Ready Day One, and Brown Bag to name a few, but it is easy to participate and miss the point. When your family engages in service projects don’t forget to tell the stories of the people. You can also support businesses that are owned by people of color. An additional perk to this is finding some amazing restaurants. But when you go, don’t just eat. Get to know the staff and servers, many of these establishments are family owned and operated.
Our biggest job as parents is to pass down our faith to our kids. In order to do this we must “Raise Them Up” to be good neighbors. Even in the midst of a pandemic and a national civil rights crisis, I have hope in the future. This hope comes from knowing that we can affect change by teaching our kids the great commandment: Love God and love people.
Love in Christ,