GROWING UP IN THE SOUTH
When I was young I was cast in a Peabody-Award winning NBC Drama called I’ll Fly Away. That experienced shaped my childhood, my identity, and my view of race.
The show was created by some of the same people who went on to write HBO's The Sopranos. It was loosely based on the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Set in the 1960’s, I’ll Fly Away depicted the civil rights movement and it’s impact on a slowly-awakening Southern town. I remember how I felt shooting the episodes. For me, filming was mostly about wearing plaid shirts, eating at craft service, and making people put quarters in the swear jar. I also remember watching the show when it aired on Friday nights. Each Friday was an education — about race.
I remember one episode so clearly. Two black men sat a lunch counter, quietly protesting the store’s all-white policy. I watched in horror as a white male patron poured a cup of hot coffee over the black man’s head. I turned to my parents. The show was set 30 years before I was alive, but in the same general area of the South. Surely that never happened, I asked. I was horrified to learn that these episodes were based on true stories.
I remember another episode. During a peaceful demonstration, the fire department arrived with their water hoses. They turned the forceful spray on the non-violent crowd. It was disgusting. It was so real to me because I had a personal connection to the actors I saw on screen. It was real to the actual protesters in Birmingham, Alabama in July 1963. My parents had to answer a lot of questions during the two years I was on the show. The only solace I took was in knowing that those kind of behaviors didn’t exist anymore.
Welcome to today.
White nationalists met in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of Confederate memorials across the South. The protest grew violent. A 32-year-old woman died. The organizers of the rally promoted the theme, “Unite the Right.” As a person who has voted Republican in numerous elections, I’m disgusted. There is nothing right about racism.
IT’S NOT COMPLICATED
This conversation gets way too complicated, way too often. It needs to be simple. Jesus hates racism. It’s an affront to His nature, His character, His compassion, and His mission. Racism is rooted in the Satanic desire to kill, steal, and destroy. Racism is such an ugly stain upon humanity. When it comes to racism, we can’t play games. Christians can’t afford to choose history and neutrality over holiness and action. We have to run from racism.
I’m guilty of racism. That’s not okay. I’m grateful to serve a God who doesn’t just call me to change. He actually gives His Spirit to mold me into His image. I’m also finding that church can actually be a place of healing in regards to racism…just like it was always supposed to be.
My wife and I know some amazing people in Portland, Oregon. A few weeks ago, we started a church in the heart of downtown. We’ve been shocked by the diversity. Not only is there extreme diversity on the socio-economic scale, there is also racial diversity. It’s the main thing new people comment on when they visit. It’s also one of my favorite things about our church. I stand up and teach every week. I look at a congregation that is also teaching me.
A few weeks ago, a woman of Asian descent lead worship. This week, we’re launching a prayer team lead by an African-American and a person of mixed race. A black woman is leading our New Testament scripture reading. Sundays at Spring of Life are a hopeful picture of what blended community is supposed to look like. It’s certainly what heaven is supposed to look like.
Sunday mornings are not the answer, but they are a start. I want God to continue to heal my sinful heart. I want to love like He loves. That means learning how to hate what He hates. God hates the devil. God hates evil. God hates racism. It’s time we get loud about the fact that we (Christians) hate it too.