Last year on a Friday, I loaded up the babies and grabbed my good camera and headed out to the middle school to celebrate Black History month. Our school puts on a program that some would call entertaining. I call it church. There’s gospel music, poem readings, an encouraging message, a band concert, choral singing, and interpretive dancing.
It’s darn near epic. And darn near awkward when you consider that my two girls are the only white faces on the gym floor during this program each year. But they love it and we love it and so we try to smile and just blend in.
Elli had a part in the interpretive dance, a part that warranted her wearing a long, red, flowy, bibbed dress that looked more Little House on the Prairie and less Rosa Parks, if you get what I’m saying. If she’d been required to sport black combat boots, the whole getup would have produced more than a few double takes. And because the girls get up super early and leave the house while I’m hitting the pavement around the YMCA, I didn’t have a chance to see Elli’s hair before the 9am shindig. Had I have seen it, I would have surely suggested something a little less poofy and rolled in the front, particularly in light of the long, red, flowy, bibbed dress.
She killed her dance moves though she admits to being weird on the clapping and swaying thing in chorus bit. We didn’t argue about the clapping and the swaying.
Audrey also had a part in the program and was required to simply wear anything black and white from her personal wardrobe. Band members wear black and white for everything, thank you Jesus. In addition to the clarinet specials, Audrey had mentioned that she had a small speaking part at the beginning of the program. Her small speaking part was actually quite lengthy and she nailed it. Even the word negro rolled off her tongue like it was a word she used everyday. Her dad and I just sat in the audience with eyes as big as Moonpies in shock that Audrey could actually speak publicly and in sheer awe that she had just used the word negro.
In. Front. Of. The. Entire. School.
I sat in my folding chair for a little more than a hour before the tears began to well up and run down my face. I felt foolish in all the best ways. I was sitting with my kids and my Parent Advisory Council peeps and I could not help but feel like we were bearing witness to something holy and right and true, together.
But y’all, to not talk about race sorta prevents me from telling the whole story. It’s like trying to tell you something and leaving just enough margin in the story for you to draw your own errors from it.
Last year on that Friday, I felt my white-ness more than usual. Partly because I spent a great deal of time in my kids’ schools and partly because was Black History month.
And because I felt my white-ness, I felt the weight of inner-city ministry in way that I had not felt it before.
But the weight of inner-city ministry that I was feeling was not solely related to a race issue or a socioeconomic issue or an educational level issue or a theology issue. It was not a neighborhood issue or schooling choice issue or a church issue. It wasn’t even a heaven as our home issue.
It was all of it.
It was the revelation that I was living with my whole life in one world while using my gifts- the things that edify the body of Christ, in another. Things like blogging and speaking and teaching. Things that don’t rightly come out around a picnic table in the front yard. Things I do that my neighbors don’t know I do.
It was recognizing that while being equipped for full time ministry, I was patching together other work so I could be free to live in my community and love on my schools.
It was the epiphany that I was engaging the marginalized as a student while teaching the privileged and trying to find my footing somewhere in the middle.
It was knowing that I was showing up as the minority and being given a chair at a table that felt foreign and warm and strange and just like home.
It was hearing my daughter stand before 400 black people and welcome them to a celebration of Black History and use the word negro so eloquently that I could not look to my left or my right for fear of what may come from behind me.
It was seeing my smallest kids grasp the heaviness of history they do not know and call it sad and happy at the same time.
It was being tenderly touched by my friend in the middle of a freedom song and knowing that she was meeting me in my insecurity and allowing me to feel all of it, with no judgement.
It was feeling my white-ness in a crowd of black-ness.
It was coming to the understanding that following Jesus into the margins meant that I too, would become the marginalized.
And the weight of it all was in the realization that to love Jesus was to reckon with my own white humanity so that I might lay it down.