My friend Ben was listening to a radio program last month about Ferguson. It was analyzing the complex factors of race, education, poverty, and politics. He was certain that this was a local St. Louis radio station. At the end of the segment, he was surprised to hear "this is NPR news." Over a year after the rocky events of Ferguson, it is still a national story.
Ben's radio experience reminded me that we in St. Louis are at the center of the race conversation in our country. This was further pronounced yesterday when the University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe resigned over his handling of racist incidents on campus. Again, this story hit the national media.
If my city and state are a forum for conversations about race, what should I do? As the pastor of a predominantly white congregation, I ask, "What is our role? What do we do with this tension in our community?" I often get frustrated by my inability to do something. I have an urge to "fix" things.
Seeking insight, I met with an African-American pastor last week. He lives in the neighborhood of my church. He's planting a church in North County, the general vicinity of Ferguson. I simply said, "Help me understand." I find my own Anglo perspective to be limiting and I wanted the perspective of a black pastor.
We sat across the table from one another at a St. Louis Bread Co. He breathed a deep sigh. And then he said, "We have to do this one person at a time. That's all we can do."
His words were a relief to me. In all of the severity and complexity, could we actually do something so simple?
A white officer playing basketball with a black kid.
Black and white pastors praying together.
White leaders listening to the perspective of black leaders, and vice versa.
Neighbors checking in on one another.
White patrons frequenting a black-owned business, and vice versa.
My black pastor friend reminded me, "Our identity is ultimately not black or white, victim or perpetrator, north or south. Our identity is in Christ. If we focus on that, the conversation changes."