Back from a vacation that has been both refreshing and renewing—just what I was hoping for. I’ve hiked in Vermont and New York State, read a few books that were on my list, stayed at some charming B&B’s, slept a little later than usual, gone swimming in a creek, eaten some delicious meals, spent lots of time with family, and spotted at least one genuine celebrity.
But re-entry can be difficult, and yesterday as I checked my email at a rest area on the way home I found a message from an African-American member of First Baptist who forwarded an article about the Trayvon Martin decision and said she was heartbroken that she hadn’t heard one word about it from FBC Richmond—her church!
I wrote back right away and explained that I’d been on vacation, but I read the article she forwarded and liked the last line especially in which Jim Wallis of Sojourners said, “The country needs multi-racial communities of faith to show us how to live together.” As I re-enter my regular routine, and our year-long, every-member mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, I wonder how we can do that. How can Richmond’s First Baptist Church be part of the solution and not part of the problem?
I think we’ve already started.
Before I left for vacation I reported on a conversation that took place between some of the leaders of First Baptist and First African Baptist Church here in Richmond. I shared the challenge issued by Rodney Waller, pastor of First African, that we “show Richmond what racial reconciliation looks like.” Now a member of First Baptist forwards an article in which the author challenges multi-racial communities of faith to “show us how to live together.” Do you hear that? They don’t want us to tell them; they want us to show them.
So, in a minute, after you read this paragraph, click on the photograph above so you can see it full-size. It’s a picture of my friend Amy Butler’s congregation in Washington, DC—Calvary Baptist. If you take the time to look at all the faces in the photograph you will see that this is a multi-racial community of faith. And if you look at the smiles on the faces you can see that these people are completely at home with each other. They are doing the things we’ve been challenged to do: showing us what racial reconciliation looks like, and showing us how to live together. What do these people have in common, other than the fact that they live in the DC area? Jesus. They have Jesus in common. The one who taught his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
For them, what happened to Trayvon Martin must have seemed almost personal, because it wasn’t just a 17-year-old boy who was shot when he went out to buy some Skittles: it might have been one of their 17-year-old boys. And it wasn’t just a concerned neighbor who did the shooting: it could have been one of their concerned neighbors. When my friend Amy preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan just after George Zimmerman was acquitted she hinted that the answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” could be “Trayvon Martin,” but it could also be “George Zimmerman.” Jesus doesn’t want us to hate the George Zimmermans of the world anymore than he wants us to hate the Trayvon Martins of the world. It’s not that some people are good and some people are evil; it’s that all people are people. We struggle with the evil inside us.
Sometimes we lose.
But let’s not lose this vision of a kingdom where people of different races know how to live together in peace. Look at that picture again. See the smiles on those faces. And then let’s do what we can to make sure that’s how it is at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, and do what we can to make it so between our church and First African. Richmond needs a different picture of race relations than the one left behind by the Trayvon Martin decision.
We might just be the ones to show it to them.