She tells the story differently than I. Still, the encounter, even with nuanced details, served to put us both on a trajectory of radical life change. Her skin was black, her heart red-hot for Jesus. I knocked on her dorm door back in the 90’s looking for her roommate. (I worked on staff with Cru at Ohio State at the time.) Susan, the roommate, was in class, but providentially Michaela opened the door. She has been an indescribable gift in my life from that moment forward.
“I’ve been to your weekly meeting and I’m never going back, “ Michaela said with a tone that was frigid, assuming my memory is serving me correctly. I asked her to say more, and then she said, “It’s just too white.” I told her that God was working in my heart around my own racial biases and systemic racism. I asked if I could come into her room and talk with her more about her experience. We still have conversations about my racial biases and systemic racism, 22 years later.
In the late 90’s Michaela and I trekked every Tuesday to Central State University, a Historically Black University, to help students there know Jesus better. In truth, I was the one whom Jesus profoundly changed. For that brief window in my week, I was the minority. I was the brunt of contempt merely due to the color of my skin. The Spirit used being in that environment to surface my own ugly biases that had long lay latent in my core. I fell in love with women who taught be about black hair, rap music, and a richer way of worship. They invited me into their world and loved me in spite of my truly ignorant ways. I am eternally grateful.
This is no news flash: we live in a divided America. My social media feeds reflect people entrenched. Immoveable. Unable to listen for understanding. The nuances of the issues and the potential solutions create a complexity that won’t allow for simplistic rhetoric.
What would happen if ALL of us who know and follow Jesus purposed to ask Him for life-changing, trust-filled relationships with people who are different from us? What if we were intentional in initiating with people on our social media feeds with whom we most disagree, and, when possible, have coffee with them. Then. . .wait for it: LISTEN. Seek to understand. Find common ground first. Then, engage in humble, curious and robust dialogue. Disagree from a place of first understanding the other person’s viewpoint and from growing trust in the relationship. Each of us would become crisper thinkers, less simplistic, and able to engage together to change the world from a place of relationships not just ideologies.
Tension often proceeds growth. Michaela and I have had a lot of conflict in our friendship. We have had really robust dialogue and our friendship is stronger as a result. My political and theological views as they relate to God’s heart for people on the margins are constantly being challenged and morphed. I am finding my voice as a middle-aged woman, and I am asking Jesus to give me wisdom as to how and where to use it. I will exercise my freedom to change my mind along the way, knowing that Jesus is faithful to hold me out of who He is, the One who does not change. I need people who are different than me to put up a mirror to my privileged paradigms. I need to repent. Often. I want to embrace discomfort as a way of being. I have so far to go. God have mercy.
I fumble around. A lot. I just pray that God gives us all the grace to fumble forward as we build authentic friendships with people different than us along the way.