Racial Reconciliation

Why Relocation Matters...

Written by Joel Davis, YH Intern, Originally posted at hisvigorousheart.blogspot.com

Joel and friends at Youth Club in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.

Joel and friends at Youth Club in the Cedar Grove neighborhood.

The sun beats mercilessly through the windshield as I wind my way through the streets of Highland. Yet again, my arms are not so much glistening as they are dripping with sweat. The seatbelt has already stamped a diagonal wet mark across my chest, and I haven’t even been driving for 5 minutes. It’s a good thing I remembered to stash an extra pair of clothes in my backpack this morning. 

My car has a leak somewhere in the air conditioning system, and none of the windows roll down--so in this Louisiana heat, some days can get pretty miserable. I arrive at the Cedar Grove Friendship House where I volunteer with under resourced high-schoolers every afternoon absolutely drenched, mumble some hello’s, and head straight for the dirty bathroom in the back that never seems to have any paper towels. 

As I stand there trying to wipe off enough sweat to avoid soaking my fresh change of clothes the moment I put them on, it hits me: This isn’t easy. And I’m not just talking about crappy cars or Cajun humidity. When I walk out of that bathroom, I will be face to face with a room full of strangers who are absolutely foreign to me. Everything about them, from their skin color and their taste in music to the streets they grew up on or the way they’re being taught math; it’s totally “other” to my way of life. Just last week, the dad of two of the boys I work with got shot and killed, and that’s unfortunately not uncommon in this city. They were just glad it wasn’t their mother or the man who runs the House where we meet. The funeral was Saturday. 

Yellow House interns helping Highland neighbor with yard work.

Yellow House interns helping Highland neighbor with yard work.

In the face of so much otherness, it isn’t easy to relate to these kids. It certainly isn’t comfortable. And I know it must not be any easier from their end, either. Here’s this young white guy who’s graduated from college and traveled the world who now tries to help with homework or serves them food but doesn’t usually eat any of it. 

I realize then that the lines are blurred; these poor black 14-year-olds have iPhones and instagram accounts and the latest Nike shoes, but this rich white 24-year old has never owned an Apple product or a new pair of Nikes in his life and drives a car that is about as worthless as a greenhouse on wheels. But at the same time, violence is a norm for them and eating spaghetti with Rotel is apparently some type of delicacy, whereas I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a ten-foot pole and I’ve never been in a legitimate fight in my life. I realize that understanding happens not from perpetuating stereotypes, but through genuine relationships. It’s only when each of us, on both sides, are willing to relocate some part of our being that we are able to find fullness, honesty, and vulnerability in the relationship. 

This idea of relocation has been one of our main themes at the Yellow House. We believe one of the best ways to follow Christ is to relocate (either physically, spiritually, or ideologically) away from ourselves and towards Him. For us, we talk about relocating to the abandoned places of empire; those areas populated by the oppressed, the forgotten, the ones whose voices have been overlooked by the wealthy and powerful in the name of convenience, comfort, and efficiency. 

When we relocate from our perspective of privilege, we are able to love others as Christ loves them. Sometimes that means actually physically selling our things, giving to the poor, and living among them. Other times it merely means being willing to engage an idea that is new or uncomfortable, “relocating” from what we have always been taught. At the Yellow House, we have tried to strike a balance between the two. And what we have found is that by befriending the unloved and listening to their perspectives, we can better determine what it looks like to follow Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Bryce, Tray, & Joel at the Highland picnic.

Bryce, Tray, & Joel at the Highland picnic.

Here at Club (that’s what we call our after-school program) it’s especially true. Despite our differences and different-ness, the effort to trust, to know and be known, is being made every day. And I am finding that lines which used to be clearly established dividing black and white (no pun intended?) now appears much more fluid, more grey, and is at times even invisible. By relocating to this space and among these people, I am continually becoming aware of my own prejudices, my own faults, and they’re things I would have remained ignorant of otherwise, if I had remained in my safe, comfortable, rigidly perfect life. 

I don’t want to preach at you, but I feel like the question needs to be asked: How have you relocated your life, your thoughts, or your faith? How are you changing--not for change’s sake itself, but in order to avoid becoming stagnant, and to ensure that you are still growing and bearing good fruit? Maybe this blog (and countless others like it, let’s be real; I don’t think that highly of myself) can be a start. But don’t let mere head knowledge and vicarious living alone convince you into thinking you’re relocating and growing; at some point this information has to reach your lifestyle and your actions have to be changed.

As for me, I will continue to walk in this path of relocation, wherever the road may lead.

Line Crossing Faith...

We loved having a full living room last night for our Line Crossing Faith event! We shared stories from our Yellow House trip to Arizona/Mexico this past December, watched a short documentary, and had a conversation about immigration and what's going on currently on and around the US-Mexico border.

A photo taken during the film screening last night.

A photo taken during the film screening last night.

We hoped that sharing these stories might raise awareness about what’s really happening on the border, might humanize what has been mostly just a "political issue” in our minds, and might help us to start conversations that lead to compassionate action as we seek to respond faithfully as God’s people in the world…Asking and answering this question, among others: How do we follow our call to welcome the stranger at this time in this place?

Thanks to everyone who joined us for this conversation! It's not an easy one to navigate in all its complexity, but an important one to be having even still (or all the more). So let's keep the conversation going! Below are links to resources where we can learn more about what's happening and how we might help:

This is the 25 minute film we watched together at the event. It's part of a PBS series on U.S. immigration policies that examines how Obama administration policies are leading to the deportation (and ultimately the deaths) of thousands of undocumented workers who have worked in the United States for decades, even raising families here.

Racial Reconciliation & Peacemaking in the Midst of Violence

“The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” 

― Martin Luther King Jr.Letter from the Birmingham Jail

February was a powerful month to be discussing such topics as Racial Reconciliation and Peacemaking in the Midst of Violence here at the Yellow House. We are aware that we have lived a year, and march on into another, where these two marks of Jesus-following are crucial for the healing of our neighborhoods, nations, and world. Recent history has shown us that we still have much from which to heal, and we are encouraged to know that folks all over the world are dreaming that there may in fact be another way of doing life than through lenses of hate and violence for violence. In the small ways that we were able to participate in those dreams and conversations this month, we give thanks. 

February started with a monthly Teaching and Family Meal that was a bit different than our usual speaker-audience set up. A living room of folks came together to read through reconciliation liturgy that had been crafted especially for the evening. Following time of songs and prayers, the group carved out space (that we so often need more of) to talk about what racial reconciliation and nonviolence have to say to our current world today through the Church at large. What cultures are we changing, promoting, overlooking? And does it look like the enemy-love, love-for-us-all way of Jesus?

A panel of wonderful men who lived, marched, suffered, and dreamt through the civil rights movements of the 60s came together in the Yellow House living room a few weeks ago to share their experiences, laments, and hopes for our world. With their experiences in pastoring, politicking, nonprofit founding, and friendship-making across lines of difference, Community Renewal founder Mack McCarter, Councilman Willie Bradford, and Pastor Calvin Austin brought stories of reality and hope to our home, and we were thankful for the time they offered. 

In a practice of active forgiveness, our staff and interns this month took time to research the names, lives, and sentences of those who sit on death row in our state. The more we read the gospels, the harder it is to reconcile that death for death makes any sense to the patterns of God’s Kingdom. But that does not make it any easier to reach out to those whose crimes seem laced with hate, corruption, or apathy. However, there is enough grace to break our scared and hesitant hearts to realize that the seeds of good and evil can be found inside of all of us. Letters were written to the two Louisiana prisons where men and women from all sorts of walks in life are awaiting their fate amidst rounds and rounds of appeals. It is a powerful experiment in discovering the grace needed to forgive yourself, others, and the systems we’ve created together that do not trust God for His redemptive power. 

Three things that took place this month that we could suggest for anyone in your own homes and places of dreaming: 1) we read through Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence , 2) we resurfaced Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail ", and 3) we planned a diversity dinner where everyone in the house was asked to invited someone “different" than they are (which unfortunately fell through due to the snowy weather).

  1. If you have ever wrestled with attempting to line up the enemy-loving words of Jesus in the New Testament with the God-sanctioned battles in the Old, with the American Christian take on war held in high esteem throughout many of our congregations…this may be a book for you. While Sprinkle doesn’t claim to have all the answers, and there was still much to discuss and wade through in conversation within our house, we believe he does offer a conversation that is needed at this time in our country and church’s history. 
  2. To see how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go, MLK’s letter is a powerful litmus test for where we stand concerning racial reconciliation in our churches today. It is worth a read (maybe two or three). 
  3. With your small group, prayer group, or joining with a couple of families, have each person invite someone who is different from them (in age, race, sexual orientation, religion, economic status) to your living room for a night of potluck and conversation. Fix your plates and ask those in the room to go around and answer three simple questions: Who are you? What is one time in your childhood that you felt like an outsider or different? When is a time that you felt like you belonged? What is powerful in moments carved out such as these is that we realize we don’t have to be so scared, and that probably, we have much more in common than we do that divides us. It is worth your evening, we promise. 

We pray that God infuses your days ahead with dreams that question the systems and patterns of this world that simply are not working in alignment with the good news of Jesus, and that we may all make a little more margin to talk, lament, and hope for another world that is possible and in many ways, at hand. 

-Britney & The Yellow House Family

For further reading inspired by our conversations this month, check out...