One of my all-time favorite stories (at the end of this post) and worth a re-run.
Before I moved to North Myrtle Beach, SC in my junior year of high school, I lived in Goldsboro, NC. Back in the 1980’s when I was a student there, Goldsboro High School lacked diversity. Everyone there looked alike—at least to the few of us who were of the paler variety. Evidently we white folk couldn’t differentiate between the colors of mocha, caramel, and dark chocolate. I guess we couldn’t tell the difference in hair texture, color, and style either. And, perhaps we didn’t notice the zillions of variances in facial features, body structure, height, weight, and so on. We were, after all adolescents, and by nature not that discerning. Anyway, I don’t know the ethnic percentages at GHS, I just remember that when we saw white faces, we waved; they were probably our relatives.
When I lived in Goldsboro, I was blessed: African-American role models were the norm for me. My favorite teachers, Mrs. Delaney and Mrs. Hayes, were strong African-American women; our principal, Mr. Best remains the standard by which I judge all school administrators. He is an enormous man in my memory. “His biceps are the size of our football players’ quadriceps,” we often quipped. But it was his presence, not his size, which looms large in my recall: how he commanded the boisterous hallways by striding silently along, nodding at students, calling them by name. He died young, a loss to the community and to the world.
Goldsboro is an Air Force town; race boundaries blurred early there. So, if I’d get off the bus to find my mother was not yet home, I’d go to the home of the African-American couple the Hightowers. Mr. Hightower had retired from the Air Force and was always home during the day, usually tending the roses in his yard. I spent many afternoons there learning about the delicate flowers he loved so well.
The Hightowers lived on one side of us in a house about the size of ours. On the other side was a house twice as big and parked out front was the son’s BMW. This family was also African-American. Sometimes I caught a ride from school with Darryl, who didn’t have to ride the bus since, well, he had the BMW and all.
Recently, chatting with a friend who coaches girls’ basketball, I got a chuckle when she told me about something her nearly-all-white team experienced. They were playing at a school that must have been something like Goldsboro High School was back in the 80’s because most of the students at the rival school were African-American. My friend’s team was not bothered by the circumstance, played a good game, and headed to the locker room. On the way, they passed a few middle-aged men from the rival school and my friend over heard a bit of their dialog. Observing the pasty skinned opponents, the men shook their heads and commented quietly to each other, “Man, look at those girls. They all look alike!"
"Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in his sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world!"
But I believe that if we are to find real solutions to racial tension in America, we must find ways to bridge the distance between opposing views. It seems to me that one way to do that is to identify a point where we all agree. Let’s take the Ferguson situation. There are a number of facts in this case that few would dispute. Here are a few of them.
Agree? Okay. Now, while we are all on common ground, let me make one more statement that I don’t believe anyone will contest.
So let’s just start there. What can we do to see that all the baby Michael Browns grow up to become the men we all want them to be? Well that depends on who you are. But let’s say you are a person of a different race not directly connected to the baby. Here are a few things that might make a difference.
What else? How can you be a part of the solution?
I’m deeply troubled by the great racial divide in our country. This is not a black thing or a white thing. This is a people thing and we really have to do better.
If I were to trace the problem of race in America, I would go back through Jim Crow laws and legalized discrimination. I would go back before Ruby Bridges and Dred Scott. I’d go back to the end of the Civil War when slaves were set free, homeless and penniless, to live in a world that refused to hire them and rushed to oppress them.
But I would not stop there.
I’d go back to 19th century Charleston, SC where shackled men, women, and children shuffle across the auction block as white landowners place a price on humanity. I’d hear the clanging of chains, the crack of bull whips slashing across tattered flesh, the cries of beloved torn from beloved.
But I’d keep going.
I’d go all the way to the coasts of Africa where 18th century opportunists snatched up human beings and stacked them like cheap cargo on ships bound for American shores. I’d want to look away, knowing as I do that so many of them will die on that trip, their bodies discarded with the galley garbage.
Instead though, I’ll look in the face of this imbecilic, barbarian behavior and say, “Here it is! Right here. This sin will fall from father to son, mother to daughter, through generations. This treating people—people created by God Almighty—as objects in your sick game of immediate self-satisfaction is the very essence of evil.”
Think about it. That wrong, that undeniable injustice, has created a culture of oppression and corresponding mistrust that has characterized race relations in America for millennia.
So what do we do about it?
I don’t know. I really don’t. But I believe we absolutely must do something. In my next few blog posts, I’ll be reflecting upon this issue. Will you join me? I’d love to hear your thoughts as we muddle through the mess we’ve made to find solutions for a more just world.
July 16, 2013
It really, no kidding, could have been my son.
My 17 year old boy, broader than many and taller than most, must seem imposing, threatening even. I know this because a few weeks ago, when my son was in a place he had every right to be, doing something he’d been asked to do by a responsible adult, he raised the hackles of a concerned neighbor (I’ll call that person Watchdog). It was dark, and Watchdog caught sight of my boy and panicked. Rather than going home and calling 911 though, Watchdog approached and confronted my son, warning him to leave the property. Luckily, my husband happened to be with our son that night; he addressed Watchdog, reassuring that all was well.
The next day, Watchdog (who is actually a nice person who seems to have only the best intentions at heart) expressed to the homeowner—the one who had hired my boy in the first place—concern about the events of the previous night. After implying ownership of a firearm, Watchdog then said something like, “This could have turned out very differently, perhaps even tragically.”
It didn’t though. My son wasn’t shot. Watchdog didn’t have a weapon on him at the time, so there’s that. Plus my son is Caucasian, the same ethnicity as Watchdog. And we’ll never know what could have happened that night if circumstances had been different. I can’t help but wonder though.
Consider the findings reported in this video. It’s a clip from the television program What Would You Do with John Quinones. This show creates public scenarios involving moral or ethical issues; hidden video cameras record the reactions of observers. In this clip, two different actors hired by the show attempt to steal a bicycle in a public park. Both men—one Caucasian, one African American—are similarly attired, appearing much like my son would have looked the night Watchdog challenged him.
Here’s what you’ll see when you watch the video. The white male is occasionally questioned, but most people walk by and say nothing. The black male, though? He’s on the verge of being attacked. Witnesses become downright aggressive. People are snapping pictures, taking video, snatching his tools. Are you kidding me? It’s unbelievable. Or it would be, if it were not so frighteningly common.
Racism. It’s pervasive and it's deadly. See, no matter what you think about the recent verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, two things will not be changed: 17 year old student Trayvon Martin will still be dead, and Zimmerman will still be free. What can be changed though, is the mindset that led to this tragedy in the first place. Let’s put ourselves on trial. Let’s ask ourselves convicting questions.
And if we find ourselves guilty on any counts of racism, let’s sentence ourselves to life with a new attitude—an attitude of mercy, love, and grace. Now that’s justice.
. . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 NRSV
It really didn't occur to me until after I was settled. By then, even if I had cared (I didn't), I wouldn't have moved for all the trouble it would've caused.
See, I'm sort of an obnoxious nonfan. It's true. I don't get all the brouhaha over sports. I mean it's not like it's music. Or writing. Or even the one sport I enjoy: church basketball (I know all the players). So I find it baffling that people who have not one child playing or cheering on the field focus so intently on high school football.
Recently, though, it has been brought to my attention by my beloved son--who plays in the marching band with his sister--that I have become not a little offensive due to my avid nonfan behavior. I'm not what you'd call nonvocal in my conviction that there is way too much football leading up to the main event on Friday night: the half-time show by the marching band which includes two of my biological children and many other kids whose events I try not to miss.
So last night, I got there on time (okay, five minutes late, but for me, that's practically early) and took a lawn chair so I could sit on the back row and at least be comfortable (I also took my Greek Interlinear New Testament, but really, who didn't?). By the time I arrived at the location I intended to occupy with my portable comfort, there was only one spot left on the row--not quite half way down.
I begged pardon from those I had to worm around as I worked my way to my seat. Once there, I unfolded, unpacked, and settled in for the game. I looked around me and it was only then that I realized: I was parked in what most folks would call the "Black Section." (Actually white people say it like this: they whisper "black," then say "section," audibly. Cuz, ya know, folk may not know they're black and we don't want to break the news. Whatever.)
Turns out my resolve to watch the game only lasted for a few seconds; I began reading soon after I took my seat. I took breaks, though, to notice interactions around me. Little boys in high school jerseys way too big for them clamored into moms' laps, begging for concessions, asking about the score. Little girls with hair fixed just so, reached into tiny purses for indescribable treasures. Some adults focused on the game; some didn't. If you hadn't known we were different, you never would have guessed.
The text I was reading? Oh, 1st John. Where he talks about the humanity of Christ. About how because of Christ, we can set aside our differences and find fellowship with one another.
And yeah. I left after half-time. Baby steps, friends. Baby steps.
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 1 John 3:11
Speech at Annual Gardner-Webb University Graduate Luncheon
May 12, 2011
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore
I was asked to speak today about what I’ve learned in my three years at Gardner-Webb University Divinity School. And I’ve been asked to do that in five minutes. So hold on: here we go.
I’ve learned that the 77.2 miles from my house in Asheville to the Divinity School here in Boiling Springs gets longer and longer over the course of 3 years.
I’ve learned that coffee tastes better at Broadriver Coffee Shop and that the grilled chicken salad at Italian Garden is big enough for two meals. I’ve learned to eat in The Snack Shop. But I haven’t learned to like it.
I’ve learned to format my bibliography and footnotes as I do my research. I’ve learned reconstructing a bibliography after a paper is written is nearly impossible.
I’ve learned never to take Old Testament, New Testament, and Greek I in the same semester. I’ve learned you can get a lot done in the last minutes before a paper is due.
I’ve learned what the inside of an Egyptian Pyramid looks like. I’ve learned it’s a long, long, long way from Egypt to the Promised Land—even in a motor coach. And I’ve learned that skirts don’t look too bad on Docs West and Robertson.
I’ve learned that David killed Goliath. But so did Elhanan. I’ve learned that 1st Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament and that the gospel writers did not have laptops or even voice recorders.
I’ve learned that God is too big for a pronoun. I’ve learned nothing is too big for God.
I’ve learned always to take extra money to buy books. I’ve learned that books take up a lot of space and may just need their very own room.
I’ve learned that Martin Luther wasn’t exactly a saint, but Oskar Romero just may have been; That the Catholics got a whole lot right in Nicaea, that the Protestants will probably always protest something, and that Jesus was Jewish, not Baptist.
I’ve learned that I’m an ENFJ and my husband is an ISTP. I’ve learned my conflict style, my ministry type, my leadership style, my communication preferences. I learned all that about me. And so infinitely more about God.
I’ve learned to sing the Hebrew Alphabet and to recite the Greek one. I’ve learned that neither language translates into American English without interpretation. I’ve learned that Jesus spoke Aramaic and I’ve learned what the Lord’s Prayer sounds like in Jesus’ own language.
I’ve learned that Jewish people leave little stones on headstones as a sign of respect and that one visit to DC’s Holocaust Museum will last me a lifetime. I’ve learned that even a fraction of 6 million pairs of shoes is a lot of shoes.
I’ve learned that Rosa Parks wasn’t so much worn out as fed up, that Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extraordinarily ordinary man and that George Washington Carver was probably a genius. I’ve learned that Denzel Washington occasionally attends commencement at Morehouse College. I’ve learned when commencement is at Morehouse College.
I’ve learned that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is the African American National Anthem. I’ve learned to listen to U2.
I’ve learned that Roger Fuller* can drive to Alabama and back and never complain. And that he can endure unspeakable loss and still testify to God’s glory.
I’ve learned that loss lingers, that children die too young, and so do parents. I’ve learned that God remains.
I’ve learned from famous speakers: Jimmy Carter, Charles Adams, Carlotta Lanier, Anthony Campolo, William Shaw, Fisher Humphries, Julie Pennington-Russell, Marva Dawn, & Fred Craddock.
I’ve learned from books by Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, Roberta Bondi, Elie Wiesel, Frederick Buechner, Glenn Jonas, St. John of the Cross, Henry Nouwen, Joan Chittister, Clarence Jordan, Barbara Brown Taylor & Joseph Webb.
I’ve learned from professors who give beyond the limits of their paychecks, love students & like them too, and read their Bibles not just for academic gain but for deeper devotion.
I’ve learned from colleagues who were raised in the church and those who weren’t, ones who worship like I do and those who don’t, ones who have pastored churches for decades and from ones just starting out; from ones who vote differently or dress differently than I. I’ve learned from colleagues who have experienced grief beyond measure and joy beyond reason. I’ve learned we often take different paths to the same destination. I’ve learned that’s ok.
I’ve learned that God keeps calling. I’ve learned the joy of answering. I’ve learned that God’s calling may not make good sense. I’ve learned not to question someone else’s calling. I’ve learned people will often question mine.
I’ve learned that three years is a long, long time. I’ve learned graduation really is bitter sweet. And I’ve learned that God was right: GWU really was the perfect place for me to become.
*Roger Fuller graduated a semester or two ago. My first semester at GDub, his beloved son, a college student himself, died suddenly, tragically, of an undiagnosed illness. Roger is one of my heroes.
In one, I’m late: late and lost. Everyone is expecting me, but I can’t find my way out of a maze of locked doors and dead-end hallways.
In another, it is exam day. The problem? The class never made it to my schedule, so I didn’t even know that I was registered for it. Now I have to take an exam on material I’ve never seen.
In my favorite recurring dream, though, people from all over the world, “children from every nation,” come together in peace. They sing. They laugh. They hold hands. Lifelong friendships form instantly. Differences are dealt with civilly. The world is at peace. It’s a great dream—one that leaves me with a wakeful longing for unity.
But this week, my 16 year old daughter is actually living my dream. She is in Nairobi, Kenya attending PassportKenya. At this camp, kids from the US and Kenyan kids, experience true cultural exchange. (Trellace’s roomie is a Kenya native.) All the kids—American & African—are followers of Jesus Christ. This is not an evangelism trip on which middle class suburbanites go into the wild to save the savage tribesmen. It is not a mission trip in the traditional sense; that is, the Westerners did not rush off to a foreign land to offer aid. This is a mission immersion trip: a time for Christians from this country to develop friendships with Christians from that country. They have worshipped together; they have ministered together; they have sung songs together—some in Swahili, some in English.
And in so many of the pictures I’ve seen, they are holding hands—white hands and brown, black hands and tan. Peace. Right here on earth. It’s like a dream come true.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
Sometimes I pull older posts back up and promote them to new readers. I was about to do that with this four-year-old post, so I thought I would add a picture. I googled "Trailways bus, Georgia, Country roads." In seconds (amazing!) I had pages of photos that matched or almost matched my search criteria. Though I hadn't put the date in the search string, the pictures were mostly illustrating events from the forties, fifties, or sixties. Perfect! Except not really. The top ten or fifteen returns did include buses on country roads; the problem was, each depicted some form of violence: buses burning, riots, people being beaten. Hideous.
And from the midst of all that comes this story about my daddy, on a back road in Georgia, riding a Trailways™ bus.
It wasn’t something a boy got to do every day you know: taking the Trailways™ bus from his home to his grandparents' place 20 miles away--especially by himself, seeing as he had half a dozen siblings who would have loved to have joined him. But that’s just what my daddy did one Georgia day some decades ago.
“Was it 1947 or 1948?” Daddy asked himself, folding his napkin in half, then into fourths, then eighths before unfolding it only to repeat the process, this time on the diagonal. “Well let’s see. I know I’d been baptized.”
Daddy seemed to wander back through his memories arriving at the little Baptist church over the railroad track and down the road from his family home. “I was nine when I made my profession of faith.” (We all knew that. Daddy loved telling that story.) “But it took more than a year for the preacher to get around to my baptism.” Baptisms only happened in the summer when the creek was warm enough, but why Daddy didn’t receive the sacrament the summer after he walked the aisle is a mystery. “I reckon it was 47 or maybe it was 48,” Daddy declared this time with conviction. “Whichever it was, it was after I’d been baptized,” Daddy said, certain. “‘Cause I know I’d been baptized.”
So back in 1947 (or 1948) Daddy, soaped up and shiny for his special trip, boarded the bus. The bus was nearly full. Back then, segregation was law, and down in the Deep South Jim Crow ruled the buses with at least as much authority as he had in the classrooms. Daddy, belongings in hand, worked his way from the front toward the back of the bus looking for a seat, finally finding an empty one just inside the Whites Only section. He plopped his things down and took his seat. The bus started up again, chugging on toward Daddy’s adventure.
In those days, at least in rural Georgia, bus drivers would pull over occasionally to pick up riders. You see, folks needing a ride would wait along the side of the road, and then they’d pay a pro-rated fare for their truncated trip. Daddy looked out the windows, watching the Georgia terrain ease past. In the distance, Daddy could see a woman waiting. A child was with her: a very young child. The woman’s arms full of bundles, she still managed to keep hold of the child’s hand. The bus inched closer. Daddy’s view sharpened. The woman was black.
Daddy glanced over his shoulder. The section behind him, the seats designated for this mother and child, were all taken. The bus bumped to a stop. The woman, shifting her load to access her fare while still holding tight to her little one, climbed aboard.
“I remember deliberating on that thing, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I.’” Meanwhile, the woman got closer. “I’d been taught to respect our elders; she was an adult and I was just a kid. But mostly,” Daddy’s voice caught. He cleared his throat and gazed above our heads, “Well, I had the Holy Spirit. Because of that, I was guided, prompted. I knew what was right.”
As the woman got to his row, Daddy met her eyes. Picking up his things, he slid over to the window seat, leaving the aisle seat free. Her expression hardly changed as she placed her things on the floor, lifted her child into her lap, and took her seat: a seat in the White’s Only section of the bus, a seat given her by my daddy who was just an 11 year old boy (or maybe 12).
And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us . . . Acts 15:8 NRSV