Recently I was reading an article from the Washington Post about the issue of race in our country. I have lived in areas that were both radically diverse and areas where there was a more homogenous reality. Growing up I was exposed to a post civil rights movement culture in New Jersey. The neighborhood I lived in was sued due to its ethnically restrictive policies. By the time I was in middle school, our public schools had both Jewish and Christian Holy days off.
In college I chose a college that while not historically black had become a largely black college. When I chose Bloomfield College, I didn’t chose it because of this dynamic, but looking back I am thankful that I was in part of such a diverse experience.
Serving churches in Indiana and Mississippi showed a far different light on the reality of diversity and race. For over twenty years, I had taken a diverse culture as not only a given but a blessing. Moving to places where diversity was not present or was fought against was shocking. Many of the assumptions I had about the blessings of having a healthy mix of race, creed and culture were actually viewed as curses.
I didn’t grow up with my head in the sand. I knew that there were plenty of people who hated diversity and can easily name a racist in my life. Yet, more times than not, diversity was celebrated as opposed to bemoaned.
To this day, I will never forget the fear I had while taking a youth group to the “Sawmill Quarter” of Canton, Mississippi. As we prepared ourselves to distribute beds to children who slept on the floor nightly, I was overcome with fear due to the words I was hearing from the back of the van. It was clear to me that the youth viewed the people we were going to help in a very different way than I did. Nevertheless, we went on our way to install beds in houses that were in disrepair, even some with dirt floors and infestations of cockroaches. Throughout the day I could still see and hear the negative feelings my group had towards the folks we were interacting with. Then it happened. One of my youth that had been most vocal found himself in a situation. The children he had been laughing at for not having a bed suddenly pulled on his heart. A boy who may have never truly interacted in a positive way with an African-American child was playing with a gaggle of them. Laughter and frivolity ensued. I don’t know if there was any lasting transformation in his life, but I did see a glimmer of hope that his perspective was softened, if just a little bit.
I have a few folks that I know that write blogs and other articles on a regular basis. They say that they continually tell themselves to not read the comments on their posts. Remember that article I talked about from the post on race? Upon glancing at the comments, I was reminded that many people don’t view the diversity that we often celebrate the same way.
This Sunday we will join our hearts and minds in worship that celebrates the diversity of God’s creation. World Communion Sunday shines a light on the fact that while we are all children of God, redeemed by Christ, we are also filled with unique gifts and traditions. I pray that together we might be able to be a beacon of hope for a world where we can experience unity in our diversity.