Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I Asked the Question, by Angela Petry


Hey, friends! Cheryl here for just a bit to introduce you to my friend and fellow writer, Angela Petry. Angela is a frequent guest writer on my weekly Wednesday's Washing devotional blog, and she grew up in the church I attend. I love her heart and how she chooses to see the world. So when she told me about this post she wrote around the same time I wrote my last post, I knew I HAD to read it! I cannot think of a better follow up to the words I penned over the weekend, and a better person to say them. For some of you, I think what she shares may help to answer those nagging questions and thoughts you may have about what to do. Angela is doing it so effortlessly, and I believe her example might shed some light for those of you wanting to help bring healing.

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I did it. I knew it might not be a happy or an easy thing, but it was time. In light of recent national events, I’ve been realizing that life cannot go back to normal; so, as my small group sat down to dinner, I opened with the share question, “How have you been affected by racial tensions in your life?”

Seven sets of eyes slowly turned away from mine, suddenly wide open, to stare at hands, at feet, at windows, at the ceiling – at any part of the room that wouldn’t cause a chance encounter with another set of eyes. Seven sets of eyes, divided suddenly into four ethnicities. To be honest, I expected this. I ignored the squirming in my belly, and let the silence stretch. Gently, I added, “If you don’t feel comfortable sharing, that is perfectly okay. This is a sensitive issue. But if you would like to share, it would be good to hear your heart.”

This was not my first time to ask this question recently. In the last two weeks, I’ve sat down with my black friends and asked or been asked this question – at a work meeting, at church, over tacos, and over spaghetti and meatballs. And each time, a somberness settled even more deeply over me.

That night, as the girls sat around my table and the silence stretched almost to the point of breaking, the girls slowly began to share. 

Stories of a family splitting only a few years ago over a white/black marriage – with the pastor on the side of the racists…
… of a Korean girl being ignored for years at a business meeting – a CHURCH’s business meeting – and still not having one friend from that group.
… a Hispanic girl, still unable to speak publicly of the hurt in her heart.
… a white girl, so ignorant of current racial tensions, that she didn’t even know her friends were regularly insulted, pulled over by cops, and stalked in shopping malls.
… of a black girl, treated as “less than” (insulted or yelled at even by people VISITING A PLACE OF WORSHIP as she sits in the seats to join in), and always having to ask herself, “is the way I was treated because of my race?”
… of a girl, terrified for the safety of her black brothers, even though they are good men, living good lives.
… of a girl saying, “I’m just not sure how much longer I can last.”

These are some of the stories of the eight women sitting at my table, who have been meeting regularly for over 6 months, and who had no idea of the deeply personal and nightmare-ish struggles that some in our midst face daily.

I’m coming awake to the startling idea that, when it comes to race, we can live in the same place but still not live in the same world. I’m ashamed I didn’t know this. I have been one of the clueless ones, thinking racism was a thing of the past except in random, tiny pockets.

That night, most of us cried. There were good tears – healing tears of girls who realized they were not alone, and that girls of multiple race experienced similar pains; there were compassionate tears – tears of girls whose hearts began to break, grieving with those who grieve; and there were also reluctant tears – unexpected and forceful, eeking out through stammered explanations of, “I didn’t expect to cry.”

Honestly, it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fun. It hurt a lot – both for the people sharing, and the people listening. But we did it. We didn’t fix national issues, and we didn’t even talk about solutions – but we did see each other, and as our eyes locked over the table in the aftermath of our stories, the kindness and gentleness and connection was nearly palpable.

As the church, we are to mourn with those who mourn. We are to be known by our love. There are huge groups of our friends in deep mourning, deep pain – do we even know it? How many relationships do we each have with people of different races? Are we reaching beyond ourselves and what is familiar at all? Are we even positioned to hear about the lives of those who are different from us? Are we setting lunch dates with our friends of different races, just so we can ask them how their hearts and their families are doing in the midst of the violence and fear that is filling this nation right now? These are the questions I am asking myself.

I don’t have any pretty words to close this story. I just know it’s time to speak. It’s time to listen. It’s time to pursue connection with people of different races as a lifestyle – to do more than just have nice intentions. It’s time to mourn.

Our stories, our vulnerability, tie us together; silence and distance keeps us apart. Perhaps maybe, just maybe, one person at a time, our love and our tears can even be a part of the healing.