By Keith Zafren
I visited a small rural church today very close to our home. I was one of only three white folks in the church. Everyone else was African-American. One of the reflections I had as I was sitting there among brothers and sisters in the faith was how rarely I, as a majority culture person, ever feel outside, as if I in some way don’t belong, like I am different than everyone else. It was surprising to me that my recognition of the difference in our skin color never left me the entire almost three hours I was there. Why did I need to think about that so much? I am rarely ever in a situation that would cause me to do so. I am nearly always a part of the majority, privileged culture. As much as I would like to think I’m not, it was apparent to me afterwards that race issues are still a part of my heart. That somehow a person’s skin color still makes some sort of a disproportionate, and likely inappropriate, difference to me. How I wish that were not so.
Another reflection I had was this overwhelming desire to
help, to reach out and share some of my privilege, some of my access to wealth
and education and justice. This is
embarrassing to admit in that it also reflects my own prejudice and assumptions
(as if they all need my help, or anyone’s for that matter). But for whatever is not right about this admission,
it did cause me to understand in a more experiential way God’s special concern
for the poor and marginalized and how the Gospel of Jesus is especially for
such as these.
For all my feelings of not belonging, I’m not sure I have
ever been as welcomed and greeted as I was in this little church
yesterday. People were especially
gracious, loving, kind, and welcoming, as if, perhaps, they might have sensed
or imagined how I might be feeling. There was not a single thing that happened that would stir in me any
such feeling of being “outside” or “different.” That was all inside me. O God,
purify my heart.
I want to go back to this church next Sunday and bring my family too. I sensed the Spirit of God there in a special way, a way I have not sensed since we have been here in Kentucky in any other church we have visited. Could this be God’s place for us?
I’m thankful for this experience and what it has revealed to me about myself. I would wish such an experience upon every white (especially middle or upper class) friend I know. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of why God would prioritize the needy or the “least” of the society when we are so far removed from them and feel as if such a special love from God is not fair. Yesterday, I sensed God’s love flowing in that place in a beautiful way. And instead of feeling left out, I was caught up in it too. I’m definitely going back next Sunday.