Friday, December 31, 2010

Race and Christmas

Walking through my neighborhood this morning I passed a front yard that caught my attention. I enjoy seeing the decorations that people put on their front yards and this year has been no different. But I saw something I had never seen before this morning. The display in this front yard shows a black Santa and a white Jesus. Now I've seen one or the other before - but not both on one lawn. Throughout the whole walk I played with that in my mind.

I reflected on our visit in South Africa back in 2007. I remember how struck I was that the people in South Africa, particularly in multi-cultural situations - but truly all the time, talk about race. That seemed significant to me because it reminded me how rare those discussions are in multi-cultural settings in this country (in my experience). Just to clarify this a bit - if I'm the only white person with a group of African-American or Latino-American folks - we will often talk about race...but if the group has more than one or two white persons race is rarely mentioned.

I thought about Mari Evans telling me about talking with a group of graduate students at a college in Virginia - there were white students and African-American students. She asked the white students - "How often do you think about being white?" And they said, "What do you mean? Hardly at all, of course." And she turned to the African-American students and asked "How often do you think about being black?" The response was, "24-7."

I thought about the friend of mine back in the 1980's who was working at a United Methodist Church in Delaware who said that "the only white folks in that church are me and the picture of Jesus on the wall."

In South Africa people would often argue with each other about race in multi-cultural settings - but with the ease that comes from a real move towards equality and community that still seems missing to me here.

Oh, there are discussions that are formally held - "Race Round Tables, etc..." But I'm talking about in informal settings when folks of varieties of ethnicity are together. The conversations we have because we want to, not because we have to...

I have served my entire professional ministry in multi-cultural settings - and this has been true across those 25 years from Northern Indiana to Southern Indiana.

As we move closer to Epiphany on January 6th - where among other things we celebrate Christ's birth as a gift to the whole world and the recognition that we all belong to God, I wonder if it can serve to encourage those of us in the Church to risk those discussions that we seem to shy away from having. And I don't mean risk those conversations in our buildings - but in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our public arenas.

There are still very significant divides in this country - and the more we talk and work together and face those real divides the quicker we will recognize and trust the healing that is in our hands. It will be hard. But that's what people of faith are about isn't it? A little courage, a little risk-taking? At Christmas.

This also gives me the chance to share one of my favorite poems of Langston Hughes, Carol of the Brown King:

Of the three Wise Men
Who came to the King,
One was a brown man,
So they sing.
Of the three Wise Men
Who followed the Star,
One was a brown king
From afar.
They brought fine gifts
Of spices and gold
In jeweled boxes
Of beauty untold.
Unto His humble
Manger they came
And bowed their heads
In Jesus' name.
Three Wise Men,
One dark like me--
Part of His