Sunday, April 23, 2006

laying our weapons down

Our church started a Katrina response project a few months back. Over the last two weeks, we sent over 300 people to Macomb, Mississippi to build houses for those displaced by the storms. On Saturday I sat listening, covered in goosebumps, while some of the workers shared their stories.

The most powerful stories emphasized the racial reconciliation that is beginning to happen in this little town in Mississippi--because a bunch of "white folk" from California decided to get involved in the lives of some displaced black folk.

A local preacher, probably in his 60s, shared with the group that he remembered the riots and fires of the 1960s, a time when race wars were at their worst in the South. He decided long ago that it would be impossible for whites and blacks to get along in the small Southern towns like Macomb. He had seen the worst possible treatment of his people and his culture that he felt he needed to fight. He used the metaphor of picking up his weapons, fighting and fighting for decades against the mistreatment of his brothers and sisters.

When the nice white folk from CA came to town, looking for ways to help out, he thought to himself "well, here's another group of whites promising something they'll never deliver." Imagine his surprise when we showed up with over 300 volunteers. He grew teary and emotional at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, sharing with his new friends that as of that day, he was laying his weapons down. He was giving up on fighting. He shared his willingness to embrace what he had been resisting for years, because he had seen the power of the Holy Spirit to bring reconciliation where it was so desperately needed.

I think I'll never quite understand the intense battle that my black brothers and sisters have endured for hundreds of years. I'll never grasp the pain and hurt and abuse inflicted by those who share my skin tone, my European roots.

But I can certainly relate to his metaphor. Don't we all need to lay our weapons down? To let go of the struggles inside, the battles we fight with our hearts and our intellect and our hands? To forgive those who have wronged us and embrace them with open arms? To start making a difference today, this minute, dedicating ourselves to being more open, less closed off, more available to others? To imagine a life characterized by love and acceptance?

On a Wednesday night a large group of our church volunteers attended a mid-week church service. They sat in the small clapboard church, interspersed among the local members. Looking out from the pulpit, the black preacher became moved to tears. He shared with the congregation that for his entire life as a pastor, he'd prayed for the chance to preach to an integrated group, prayed for the time when he would see blacks and whites worshiping together in his church. And that night, for one man, a prayer was answered.

The weapons were laid down. Hearts were opened. Lives changed. Oh, it is so rich.

No comments: