“I’ve been to conferences on race and racism before, but this is different,” I was told several times at this summer’s Ekklesia Project gathering in Chicago. I agree. There was far less nonsense and posturing than I’ve endured at previous, allegedly “frank” discussions of race. We spoke, sang and worshiped together, without the “It’s a Small World After All,” ceremonies that suggest a few up-tempo songs will make restitution for centuries of bad theology and worse ecclesiology. The mood steered a difficult course between penitential and determined.
And that’s how I’ve felt since returning to my home church, my day job, my pleasantly uniform neighborhood: penitent for much I have done or failed to do, determined to serve (to the degree I am called) as a means, however small and faulty, of reconciliation. But how do I bring the gift that was this summer’s gathering home? How do I rescue this promising start from the death of deferred good intentions? And yet, having seen and heard how difficult the road to racial reconciliation can be, how do I continue?
I can’t do this alone – it’s crucial to steer clear of that “do-it yourself” trap. We, the church, got ourselves into this mess, and together – as we are led by the Spirit – is the only way we’ll ever get out. But what shared practices must we learn on our way to that place where we can worship every Sabbath together, washed clean of ecclesial vice? Prayer will help, of course, as will penitence and fasting. The vow of continued conversation is essential. The importance of imagination, hard work and hope can’t be underestimated. What am I leaving out? I need you to tell me.
In the wilderness of racial division which the church has so long tolerated, I can’t see the road ahead, nor am I even sure I see the destination, but I know with whom I’ll be traveling. I’ve seen your faces as we shared a meal, heard your voices as we sang in worship, touched your feet as we served one another. Help me imagine what’s ahead. Help me see the highway.