I cried a lot in church today. I don’t mean like tearing up, I mean crying with my nose running and everything. Rev. Katie was telling us about what I would describe as an awakening she is experiencing as a result of the shooting in Charleston last week. In reference to her knowledge of racism, Rev. Katie was confessing that she had been metaphorically safe on the shore while the disciples were in the boat scared to death. She said she wanted to educate herself, to get in the boat, and to be held accountable. These nine martyrs in Charleston changed her heart.
I thought about an event my husband and I attended on Friday in observance of Juneteenth – the day the slaves in Texas heard they were free – two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Ryan recently became friends with a man who was appearing in a Black History play and we went to support him in his first acting role. Besides the young woman who took our tickets, we were the only other Caucasian people in the theatre. We have few experiences where we are the minority. I wasn’t scared or uncomfortable but very aware of our status and the fact that we could not blend in. Our friend was very glad that we came and we felt welcome at an event full of joy. Today, it struck me that maybe our presence was uncomfortable for THEM. Maybe they were concerned about what our motive was, especially in light of Wednesday’s events in Charleston. I didn’t for an instant think about their feelings until today’s sermon.
We hear about tolerance as being the antidote to bigotry of all kinds. I don’t believe that being tolerant of others is the same as loving others. I experienced this in my early twenties. On a plane returning home to San Francisco, I met a man who asked me to join him for dinner when we landed in San Francisco. I accepted and we had a lovely evening. He contacted me again and I was hesitant to accept. You see, he was African-American and I was uncomfortable with us potentially being a couple. And it bothered me that it bothered me. I thought my heart was open. I had been raised with the ideals of equality for all; I was tolerant. But I saw him as a Black Man instead of a man. My covert prejudice suddenly felt like something I needed to wipe off and discard. So I did. During our relationship, we had candid conversations about his experience of bigotry and our public experience as a biracial couple. It taught me volumes and changed me.
I have written before about life-long conversion in our relationship with Christ. But now I see that we are also called to life-long conversion in relationship with each other. Just when I think I have opened my heart as far as it can go, God tells me “you’re not done yet.” And that makes me cry – my ignorance of my need to be stretched over and over. I was asked to read 1 Corinthians 13 at a memorial service for a dear parishioner’s husband this past weekend. You will remember this is the “love is patient, love is kind” scripture. The eighth verse of chapter 13 is “Love never ends.” Today, those words came back to me but instead of love in terms of time, that love goes on forever, I now hear that verse speaking of love as being in infinite supply if we let God change our heart.
As parents, Ryan and I pledged to raise our sons to do more than tolerate others – to love all. Tolerance isn’t good enough because it is an attitude. Love requires action.
Today, I was dramatically shown [again] that I’m still being converted. Who will God send my way next to stretch my heart wider? Who is God sending to change your heart forever?