Christmas in Ferguson & On the Streets of NYC

My heart is aching … is yours?

My heart breaks and my mind valiantly tries to make sense of it all … difficult verdicts that instigate violence, racial misunderstandings, words spoken in pain but with truth, heartbroken parents and grieving children.

Even as I write these words … I am wary of being misunderstood or criticized for the way I frame the feelings and opinions that quietly simmer within my heart.

No one is perfect … not teenagers … not policemen … not fathers … not mothers … not juries … not the media … not lawyers or judges … not white people … not black people … not Hispanics. 

We are all just the broken pieces of humanity trying to live peacefully and, at the same time, most of us are endeavoring not to injure anyone else with our own, personal and jagged brokenness.

Let me tell you a story …

Deryl Pendleton was the only black teenager in our youth group when Craig and I were youth pastors in Mobile, Alabama, in the late 1970’s.

Deryl Pendleton 1980.jpg

Can you even imagine that?!!

A white church … in the deepest part of the south … in a city known for searing racial tension … wholeheartedly welcoming in a black kid with barely a penny to his name?!  How we all loved that gangly boy with the massive Afro!

He taught us how to clap on the off-beats and how to worship God with rhythm and joy!

When Craig and I couldn’t afford a new car during those early pastoral years, Deryl, although still in college, gave us his ugly green Grand Torino.  Let me repeat … a black college student … in Mobile, Alabama … gave his white youth pastors … a car. 

Deryl grew into one of the greatest men of God I have ever known due to the Godly influence of both black and white men.  He lived with us during the 1980’s when his family was in transition. 

My boys, at 4 and 6 years old, fell in love with this giant of a man.  His skin was black, his laugh was infectious and his love for God was monumental.

Deryl taught my boys how to burp … who Michael Jordan was … and he mistakenly informed these impressionable boys that mint chocolate chip ice cream was a vegetable because it was green.

When I was tucking one of my dear little boys into bed one night, he asked me why he didn’t have black skin like his hero, Mr. Deryl.  I explained to this innocent child that just like some people have brown eyes and some people have blue eyes that some people have white skin and some people have dark skin.  I looked into my little boy’s blue eyes and said, “It’s the heart that matters, son.  Your heart is just like Mr. Deryl’s heart.”

Isn’t that what matters this Christmas in Ferguson, Missouri … in New York City … and at your home address? 

What matters is the heart. 

What matters is the capacity to love someone who doesn’t look like you … doesn’t dress like you … and whose life experiences have caused jagged edges that have the capacity to wound the brokenness in you.

I have no political answers to the simmering cauldron of racial tension that has erupted over the past few months in America.  I am not a judge or a lawyer.  I am not a politician or a policeman.

I am just a white woman whose life goal is to love more than I criticize …  to pray for understanding when I don’t understand … and to show compassion when others throw stones.

I am just a white girl who often wonders, “Jesus … what would you do?”

I have heard him whisper into my heart, “Throwing stones never heals anything or anyone.”

Caring relationships heal. 

Active and vibrant love heals. 

Prayer heals. 

Simple acts of kindness heal. 

Throwing stones at people only causes more pain.

While I believe wholeheartedly in the right of every American citizen to peacefully demonstrate for causes in which he or she believes, let me gently say, that even peaceful demonstrations are not the healing balm that America desperately needs during this, the season of Christ’s birth.

I believe that what will heal the gaping racial divide in this magnificent country of ours are personal acts of kindness, genuine hospitality and unselfish love offered to those who are different from us.

When was the last time you had someone of a different race in your home for dinner?

When was the last time that you thanked a policeman or policewoman for their service to your community?

When was the last time you invited a black family … or a white family … or a Hispanic family … or an Asian family to your church?

When was the last time you lavished encouragement on a black kid?

When was the last time you smiled at a black mother out with her children?  Or a white father out with his children?  Or a Hispanic family?

When was the last time that you offered a solid and sincere handshake to a policeman?

I believe that political speeches will not heal the racial plague that has infected our nation.

Caustic comments from the media or from outraged leaders will not assuage the pain.

Angry words are empty words.  Opinions are often more polarizing than they are wise.

Only love heals.  Only kindness alleviates trauma.  Only personal involvement and compassion will reconcile.

So … this Christmas season … as you buy gifts for those you love … perhaps it is time to include someone on your list whose skin color is a different shade than yours is.

As you ponder who to have in your home during the holiday season … maybe you could include a family with a different ethnicity than yours.

Drop some gift certificates off at the local police station for these public servants and for their families.

And invite someone, whose skin contrasts with yours, to worship with you at Christmas.

The world is waiting for the children of God to make a difference.

You may be one of the millions of Americans who believes that your vote has never made a difference in the political system.  Let me assure you that kindness makes all of the difference in the world.  Your heart has more power than your vote.

Nothing will change in America … until we all roll up our sleeves and get to work making a new friend or two. 

Nothing will change until we all choose to be kind rather than to be heard.

The greatest gift you have to gift this Christmas is the gift of love to someone who may look, act and talk differently than you do but whose heart is much the same.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. But now faith, hope, love abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – I Corinthians 13: 1 & 13

What will people remember about you?

Will they remember that you were opinionated … or that you were kind?

Will they remember your righteous anger… or that you were a compassionate friend?

Will they remember that you were outraged at the media and at political leaders … or that your heart was big enough to love those who were different than you?

Kindness makes a difference … love always finds a way … and friendship is more powerful than opinion.  This, my friend, is what Christmas is truly all about.  The Baby in the manger came with the love of heaven in His heart.

He came to love sinners … and political leaders … and religious pontificators … and poor kids … and white mamas … and gangly black boys with massive Afros.  He came because He loved.

He came to heal broken hearts. 

He came offering kindness … friendship … and love. 

And in His coming, He healed.