One of the many blessings I enjoy is the privilege of living in a community where neighbors are constantly working together to develop unity and reconciliation.
I meet with two groups each month to discuss race, gender and class issues. There are also meetings sponsored by various religious and civic groups that address these vital issues. While the task before us is enormous, it is not impossible. Each of these meetings brings us a little closer to our ultimate goal.
During this time of the year, Christians celebrate Easter. Easter is the story of God reconciling the world to himself and people to each other. The Gospel writers realized the gravity of this story, so they punctuated the Easter story with glimpses into the humanity of Jesus and his followers.
One such story features the very human disciple, Peter. While Jesus is instituting the sacrament of Holy Communion (the Eucharist), he informs the disciples that he knows one of them will betray him.
Around the room each disciple openly asks the question, “Am I the one?” Well, all of the disciples except Peter.
Peter declares, “It cannot be me. I will never betray you.” Of course, Peter denied Jesus three times in less than 12 hours.
I lift up this story because of a conversation that took place at a meeting designed to address issues of racial harmony. The facilitator asked the group to discuss their earliest encounters with racism. As the participants shared their stories, I could hear comments like those of Peter. Some did not believe they were capable of committing acts of racism.
As was the case for Peter, so is it for us. The safe position is to realize that we all have the potential of hurting others. Usually it takes place because of our cultural blindness. The disciples who asked Jesus “Is it me?” were aware of the fact that they have blind spots.
While serving in the Navy as a chaplain, I visited many foreign countries. Before the ship would dock at a new port, we would receive training about the local customs. Many countries had different standards concerning the interaction of males and females in public.
Proper dress was always an issue. Certain words were culturally loaded. Body gestures were also loaded with cultural meanings. Many attached unique meeting to gestures involving the feet or shoes.
When these cultural distinctions are coupled to communal stories of race, gender or class, it is difficult to avoid offending each other. For me, that is the starting point.
My awareness of the complexity of race, gender and class causes me to be proactive and intentional. I must hear the stories of others to understand their journeys.
Peter turned out okay. We, too, will be okay. It is very human to make mistakes, serious mistakes (like denying Jesus on the night before his death). The supernatural forces of love, forgiveness and reconciliation can redeem our bad choices.
As the Bible writer proclaimed, “Love will cover a multitude of sins.”
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.