Racism & the Blessing of Being too Concerned to Understand

Without actual deadlines, I can be slow to blog. However, given the situation that has erupted out of Ferguson, MO, I have some catching up to do regarding a couple mission trips over the past few years which directly relate to the topics at hand. One was in 2012 with the John M. Perkins Foundation in Jackson, MS. Another was over the summer of this year right in St. Louis with the organization Mission: St. Louis.

But before I share some of the details and photos of those trips in their own posts, a little background...

I was born and raised in the St. Louis region, what we call North County specifically. Now married and living in a more central portion of St. Louis County with fairly quick access to anywhere, I've called this place home my entire life. My grandparents on my mom's side lived in Spanish Lake, which has taken its own share of recent hits in a relatively new documentary I've yet to see. My grandparents on my dad's side lived in Ferguson.

As a kid, I don't recall over thinking "race" unless I was faced with racism, which I could not understand. Diversity to me was a natural thing. I was, and still am, intrigued by other cultures and learning about things different from what I know. So I was always appalled by even subtly divisive remarks from elder family members, and a story my mom told from her childhood about witnessing a segregated drinking fountain which she too could not comprehend.

In high school, with Depeche Mode singing "People Are People," Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is" and U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" in my own cultural backdrop, I was often upset to see a pocket of kids who mostly kept to themselves on the far side of the lunch room. Why was there a divide? The few years I attended an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally at the old Kiel Opera House downtown I was always in the minority with one other friend. Why wasn't a more diverse crowd represented here if the Dream was that "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers," in Alabama or elsewhere?

As I enjoyed the music and pop culture of various ethnicities, plus the company of friends of many backgrounds, I hoped we were at least part of the solution and not the problem which apparently still lingered. The kids on the other side of the commons, coupled with thoughtless comments from adults to which I increasingly protested, kept that at the back of my mind.

Over time I learned more about our history. A state divided during the Civil War. The Underground Railroad. Divisions caused by segregation or industrial failure. Pruitt-Igoe and so on. In 2012, BBC featured a report on Delmar Blvd. as a major dividing point in St. Louis, and I wondered why this was coming from across the pond as few addressed it here.

So care about these things, along with increasing concern for the cross-cultural plight of poverty (heightened by a job which puts me in frequent contact with those struggling), influenced my participation in these trips before I had any idea how significant they would become. These also flowed from a 2008 trip called The Advance, one I often recall and have certainly grown much since.

I am deeply thankful the Lord made me too concerned about people to be able to understand racism or segregation even before I knew Him. I only knew it was an unnecessary evil. I am additionally grateful He continues to show me greater ramifications from His point of view, seeing people as created in God's image, and that Jesus died to reconcile His people to God and to one another.

There's plenty to say about this, and I hope to develop the trip posts over the coming days.

As a final note, while I am severely grieved at all the recent happenings in and around Ferguson and elsewhere, I pray the situation will cultivate the discussion our region has long needed, for people to be truly heard and truly listen, and for real racial reconciliation which only Jesus can bring.

Keep praying for Ferguson, all of St. Louis and every place both rage and apathy need to give way to listening and love.

Related posts in the reconciliation series. (A thread emerges when the trips are read in order.):
The Advance, 2008

Mission: Mississippi 2012 - John Perkins, Racial Reconciliation & Community Development

Mission: St. Louis 2014 - Bringing it Close to Home

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