Written by Andrea Poehl
I was ten years old the summer I unrolled that musty sleeping bag, nervously securing my space in the cabin. YMCA Camp Grady Spruce. So there I was in my wind shorts, tube socks and female version of the 80s mullet. (Believe me when I say that my awkward years started early and ended late.) It was everything you imagine camp to be…sailboats, arts and crafts, giggling after “lights out”.
Like so much of life, it was all fun and games until it wasn’t. The counselors sat us down to report that someone had stolen another camper’s money from the cabin. If anyone was responsible or had information, we should come forward because, “you know, girls …the truth always comes out.”
My invisible cape flapped in the summer wind. Truth. Justice. One whole decade old and I already loved these words. The truth? The truth is that girl Tamesha seemed suspicious to me. Why was she hanging around the cabin? What was she doing while we braided thread into bracelets that would secure our lifelong friendships? Tamesha was different. Tamesha was other.
“I think Tamesha did it”, I reported accused. In the name of truth and justice, I gave an account, enticing just enough fear in just enough people. My last memory of Tamesha was sufficiently shameful, shoulders sloped, wet lines down her face. I’m not sure what happened after that day, only that she suffered.
This memory still haunts me.
Not as much as it haunts Tamesha.
You see nobody taught me to be suspicious, coaching me in the fine art of racial profiling. The Civil Rights Act had long been passed and yet here I was, superior. How did I get there? Why did I see Tamesha as separate, less than, not like me… not like us?
Racism, that’s why. It was in me at age ten, and it’s in me today. This might be where you stop reading, because this is where I say it’s in you also. The reality of the fall is that we’re all racist, even when we don’t think we are, see how we are or even want to be. Racism is not only about skin color but “otherness”.
“Racism? Are you kidding, look at all our progress! Privilege?! Whatever. I’ve worked for everything I have and they should too! Police Brutality?! If people would just show some respect. Immigration?! So do you want your kids to get blown up?”
I’ve heard all of the above statements recently- out loud, and with a straight face. And wait for it… this conversation is happening across the faith community. It may take the form of hushed whispers around living rooms, but words, dark and venomous, are seeping out of our hearts, exposing the gaping hole between what we profess and what we actually believe. I was asked to write a blog post on race. Chances are you’ve met your reading quota of race-related musings but might I encourage you to lean in a bit longer?
Of all people we ought not be surprised. Paul addresses this issue to the Ephesian church in our sacred text…
Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the promise, having no hope without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.
For thousands of years Jews had found their identity and expression in terms of being not gentiles. There were 613 laws that set them apart. Their food, clothing, worship, all manners and customs identified them as being “not like them”.
Even Jewish worship took place where Gentiles could not go. No matter how much they loved Yahweh, they were still “other”. Imagine a 6-foot wall, inscriptions warning the Gentiles from entering, or death was the punishment. Two groups, cultures, identities, histories – distinctly separate from one another but now made one through faith in Christ.
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.
Down fell the dividing wall and there stood the church…not the Jewish Christian church, nor the First United Gentile Christian Church but the Church of Jesus Christ. Paul’s advice was not simply to “Forget about all your differences and just love one another. Good luck and kumbaya.”
His first instruction was to REMEMBER.
What wall are you standing behind, bearing your weight against? How are we, the church, defending the dividing walls among us, girding them up with our fears, and opinions? Take a moment to reflect. Who is on the other side of your wall?
We must first remember…
Remember, how far off you’ve been. Remember your former position: excluded, separated, other, stranger, unworthy, without hope, and without God.
The first step toward unity is memory… to remember.
Remember how you were brought near, how Christ abolished enmity through the cross, therefore we are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens.
Remember this was not because you were whatever enough. Fill in the blank here____ : good, hardworking, respectable, winsome, charitable, virtuous, likeable, sacrificial, sensible, attractive, moral or deserving enough.
Remember precisely how you were repositioned and redefined.
Remember, beloved church, the blood of Christ.
For He Himself is our peace.
For He Himself broke down barriers.
For He Himself brought opposite and opposing people groups together into one family.
There will always be opposing sides.
But if we are His workmanship, a poetic expression to a world of opposites and others, then what is our song?
In what ways are we bearing witness to the world that God has not abandoned us, and by us I mean any of us. That threatening inscriptions on dividing walls were brought low by the blood of Christ. That Jesus still brings us near when we are far off and without hope?
Racism is the cultural dividing wall, erected first in our own hearts. It is the fullest, and most insidious expression of “otherness”.
Christ tore down the wall. There is no other, there is ONE. One body and one Spirit, just as we were called to one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph. 4:4-6
Let us remember…
Remember that otherness leads to injustice. The fact that we think, feel and behave as if anyone is “other” is an indictment against us. The middle eastern man at the airport, the protestors lining sidewalks, the 10-year-old named Tamesha at summer camp.
And for those of you who are tired of this dialogue or even angry about it …
Remember that reconciliation is both a fact and a mission. Because you were far off and brought near, you are now a minister of reconciliation.
Remember to listen. Listen to our cultures’ responses, to sinister comments like, “I’m not racist but…” And God, help us listen to the voiceless, the hurting. Hear their pain, consider their plight. Listening matters. Listening is where we start.
Remember to speak out. Speak out when Uncle Joe tells derogatory jokes, when your child makes comments about a fellow classmate, when the person in line before you is overlooked or mistreated. Use your privilege to confront racial injustices when you see them happening.
Remember to educate yourself. Educate yourself through reading (see resources below), and committing yourself to learning. The greatest lessons come through friendship. Develop friendships with people who don’t look like you. Expect to be changed.
Finally, as the spirit of our recently honored MLK day lives on, let us remember his words that extend to us even now…
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good.”
May we consider what it looks like to move away from a ‘shallow understanding,’ marching over the rubble of the dividing wall now torn down, walking toward Him as He reconciles us to one another.
Andrea Poehl states, “The mission and ministry of Christ is to bring about the redemption of the whole world”! For those who trust in Christ, our personal brokenness is healed and we become a new creation. This means, among other things, that we see the world in a whole new way. We are to be deeply concerned for those without a voice, for those who are hurting and suffering, and for those who are helpless or hopeless. Furthermore, the church should call to account those powers, which keep them in such estate. This is the heartbeat of Andrea, her family and her ministry.
Andrea met Ryan, the community outreach pastor at Grace Bible Church, College Station at Texas A&M while serving in Youth Impact, a local ministry of GBC to marginalized youth in the community. Eighteen years later and now the proud parents of eight-year-old twins, they continue to serve their community together.
Her passion for vulnerable children and families led her into education where she taught Head Start before becoming an Administrator for the College Station Independent School District’s Early Childhood Program. Andrea was awarded Teacher of the Year in 2007 and currently uses her gifts to empower educators and parents of young children as a consultant for Essential Elements LLC, providing support to Head Start programs throughout the United States.
Head Start exists to provide health, education, and promote self-sufficiency for children and families facing adversity. It is the national commitment to give every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, an opportunity to succeed in school and in life.