A New Culture
The Nation of Islam is marching in Washington this weekend. Neo-Nazi's and gang members are fighting each other in the streets of Toledo, Ohio as I write this. And here in Detroit -- the most segregated area in the United States, according to the census bureau -- around seventy men and women met at Rochester College to discuss how we can break down the walls between black and white churches. JC Thomas and David Fleer planned this gathering and it was heartening to see how enthusiastically church leaders of both races embraced their dream. We listened to impassioned speeches on "White Apathy" and "Black Anger" and then broke into small groups -- mixed by race, age, and gender -- to discuss a list of provocative questions. We sang with each other other, ate with each other, and hugged each other.
While the world outside our doors seemed to be degenerating into racial incidents both farcial and tragic, we were able to speak to each other -- not at each other. (Note the continued use of "each other." It's almost as if we were in the book of Hebrews....) I said to our group leader, an African American minister, "I have far more in common with you than I will have with almost any white person I will meet later today. We serve the same God and have a common speech. However, when I go into the inner city and speak with a group of troubled black youths, they have a language I just don't understand. If I can't understand them I can't empathize and draw alongside them. How can a middle aged white man make the journey from here to there?" My comment was initially misunderstood to mean that I didn't understand them linguistically. After a few clarifying comments it was clear that I meant that I would never be able to understand what went on in the mind of a black man since I have been white all my life (!!!).
They agreed and said that they would never know what it was like to be white. Our stories, backgrounds and experiences are different. So what can be done? After a morning thrashing this out only one solution presented itself: since I cannot entirely move into black culture and since blacks cannot entirely move into my culture, we must develop a different culture. Rather than wasting time trying to fix black or white culture (and it is silly to speak of either race as if they were monolithic, isn't it?) all of us must come to an alternative culture -- the culture of Christ. As if this weren't enough, we would also have to continually monitor ourselves to make sure that we were not creating a white or black god and calling all to him. We agreed that the god most of us worship lives in the mirror and likes what we like and thinks as we think.
We are holding each other accountable, praying alongside each other, and working with all our might to establish a culture of Christ, a brotherhood that transcends race, gender, age and socioeconomic status. If we are true to our word, God is sure to bless this effort and one day we, or our children, will see a city set on a hill, a light in the darkness here in southern Michigan. May God help us.