I recently participated in a conversation on Race, sponsored by the NCCJ, The National Conference for Community and Justice. It was an interesting five weeks as a group of people from different ethnic backgrounds came together to talk about race and racism. Listening to the conversations around the room I am more convinced that it is time, way past time, for the church to begin to deal openly and honestly with the issue of racism. My prayer is that God will give us the strength to move into areas of conversation that may make us uncomfortable with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
I could talk for hours about that experience and what it meant for me. In the midst of the conversations there was an interaction which challenged me to think again about who, and whose I am. I was sharing with the group and was speaking from what I described as a Christian perspective. I was challenged by someone to stop speaking from behind something, the label of Christian, and to share from myself. The insinuation was that I was not being genuine when I allowed my relationship with Christ to color my comments.
1. It is impossible for me to honestly address any issue without Christ, and Christ’s call upon my life being a part of it. For me to talk about such issues without mentioning my relationship with Christ would mean leaving outside the conversation a key peice of who I am. I found myself getting frustrated, I felt as if I was being asked to give up a piece of who I am in order to stay in the conversation.
2. No matter how hard I tried to explain my thought process the individual I was interacting with did not seem to understand and continually asked me to “put aside” my Christian label and speak from myself. It was not that they did not want to understand, it was that they could not understand. They were not rude or beligerent about it, but they saw “christian” as just another label people use to define themselves.
Why do I mention it? Well, I have found myself thinking alot about that exchange and have heard myself recounting the experience with a number of friends. In the moment it was happening I dismissed it as misscommunication…but it obviously meant more to me. I have come to believe that my experience there was not unique and what was happening there probably colors a lot of the conversations Christians have with the world around them. People hear us talking, do not understand the commitment we have made to Christ and the radical implications it has on our lives if we are truly seeking to become a disciple and follow the teachings of Christ. When we are not understood we get frustrated. Having tried to explain it several times we get “frustrated” and walk away from the conversation muttering under our breath, “they simply do not get it.”
Talk about a recipe for miscommunication and damaged relationships. Through this experience I have come to realize, once again, that as I interact with the world I can not assume they will understand my relationship with Christ, nor can I expect them to. I owe it to myself, and those I am in conversation with, to remember that until they experience the life changing power of Christ there is a part and a piece of me that they will not understand.
One of the ground rules during our conversations was “Seek first to understand…then to be understood.” A good ground rule to use as we interact with the mission field that God has placed us in.