And Their Faces Are Differently Hued

Posted: July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized
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It is a normal, exciting, tiring, hot, inspiring, hopeful week at Music, Art and Drama camp. They are all middle school age, hormonally charged, exuberant, self-conscious and delighting in what can be created and created in a spiritual sense. In addition to working on a musical which they will present to their parents and friends at the end of camp they will also be sharing in “masters classes” mid-week. These classes will include opportunity to experiment with art, photography, the ukulele, sacred dance and more. Each day begins with Biblical reflections around the theme and small group time. The day ends with a vespers service.

This week, however, has a different complexion. We are not only male and female, from different places and churches, city and rural, new to camp and old timers. This year we are more racially diverse, and in a significant way. This is a blessing. It also presents the challenges that race always presents in our culture, including in our church culture.

The first day or so is typical for church camp; everyone is adjusting to new routine and surroundings. By the second or third day, however, the tensions around acceptance and fear began to rise to the surface. Cocooning among familiar and safe friends began to take shape. And by mid-day all of the counselors knew that we could not just proceed with business as usual. God had given us an opportunity and we couldn’t ignore it.

We gathered in the main hall seated in chairs in a large circle. Certain concerns about the way people were being treated or excluded came to the fore. And then we started the discussion: What powerful emotions live beneath aggression or anger? Why do we gather in cliques? It didn’t take long to get to those answers. They are such emotions as hurt and fear. Especially fear, the fear that we will not be understood, rejected, considered less than a person. And fear leads to protectiveness and suspicion. The survival instinct rises to the surface.

Another blessing: Some of our camp staff are internationals. One young woman is from Hong Kong. The other is from Columbia, South America. And they speak out, the perfect voices. We are all created in the image of God, said they. And we are all God’s children, regardless of race or nationality. Everyone nods. Jesus loves us all. Who could disagree?

After some time people are invited to share what they will. And one diminutive African American girl says something very quietly, something we couldn’t really hear. And her friends encourage her. And I say that in this place we can share anything, that we need her voice. And from a little voice in this little body comes gigantic words: There is a color difference. We don’t know if you will accept us. We feel treated differently.

Suddenly the elephant in the room is named. And we restate it for everyone to hear. It is then that the real conversation begins, the one we were earlier circling with generalities. Our old nemesis lives on. But for now we have him cornered. Now we can talk openly about race, about fears, about how we might do things differently. It is a scary conversation, but a very good one, too. Because our faithful conversation holds such respectful honesty we are fully alive, fully attentive.

At the end, we covenant to be one in diversity, not confusing uniformity with unity. The real test of unity is exactly whether it thrives in the midst of diversity. Promises are made to love one another as God loves us. Group hug.

But none of that – none of that – could have happened without the courageous and honest voice of one little girl, tiny in stature, who,  in a charmed moment, pried open the rusty door so that we could all walk through it with her.

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Comments
  1. Menina says:

    “The children in each different place
    Will see [our Savior] Jesus’ face
    Like theirs, but but bright with Heavenly grace,
    And filled with Holy light.
    O lay aside each earthly thing
    And with thy heart as offering,
    Come worship mow [our Lord and] King,
    For love was born [that] night!”
    –Alfred Burt

  2. Ellen Flottman says:

    It’s so hard. And it never gets any easier. Thank you for sharing this story.

  3. Martha Jolly says:

    Amen and thank you for your faithful witness with these young people!

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