There were two people that I knew personally in my hometown growing up that were African American. One, a Physicians Assistant, married to a white woman; and the other, a fellow student in my class. Beyond these two individuals, everyone in the small mountain town of Wyoming I called home was white like me. I distinctively remember watching professional sports and being enamored by the athleticism of African Americans. Truth be told, the idea of being black was a novelty to me. African American culture was intriguing, as were the observed cultural differences (at least as media portrayed), but there was very little room to explore these curiosities. It wasn’t until I headed off to college at the University of Wyoming that I had opportunities to engage people of different ethnic backgrounds than my own. I distinctively remember one of my early conversations with a black graduate student from Jamaica who lived on my floor where I served as the Resident Assistant. Mistakenly, and quite foolishly, I had asked him how he preferred people refer to him, as a black or African American. He kindly and gently stated the obvious; he was not from Africa, nor was he American. Whether it was my sincere desire to know and understand my resident or his overflowing grace toward me, it proved to be an educational opportunity to approach matters of race.
Fast forward a few more years. I had just married my wife and had relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, where my wife was completing medical school. Having secured a job with a Christian organization working in the inner city, in a predominately African American community, little did I know how the next seven years would further revolutionize my life. Not only did I become entrenched in my work, but it was not very long after our arrival to Memphis that my wife and I became involved with a church plant in our marginalized community and soon after made this community our “home.” I had wrongly assumed that by choosing to intentionally neighbor our community, the walls of race and division would come tumbling down. Unfortunately, that was not the case, at least initially. Over the next few years, significant work began to take place in my life as my racism confronted me. I had wrongly believed that I was color blind and free of any racist motivation, but this was not true. It was no more than a year into our work that I found myself angry with the black men portrayed in my community. I had entered into their sacred space as I had a solution for the fatherless homes, poor education, and men who seemingly lacked the motivation to work. While I may not have said it, I entered their community with a Savior complex. Thankfully, just as my Jamaican friend was exuberantly gracious toward me, so did our inner city community prove to be the same. Over the next number of years, through the intentional formation of relationships with my neighbors and the passing of time, I learned how to ask better questions to know and understand those I sought to engage. Rather than offer my advice and critique, talk less, listen more deeply, and observe with greater intrigue.
This week’s readings by Steele and Bordewich give further evidence that race matters are deep, challenging, and not quickly solved. I am saddened by the blatant racism and devaluing of human lives in our history, just as I am in my own life. Yet, I believe that much can be gained as we observe and learn from the past. Thankfully, as Christ-followers, we have hope in One who breaks down walls, unifying us as one people, building us together brick by brick, forming us into a holy people for His purpose.
 Eugene H. Peterson, ed., The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), Ephesians 2:19-22.