This coming Sunday at Crossings, I will have a courageous and frank Q & A with Dr. Ron Fowler of Akron, Ohio. I have asked my friend to help us--to help me--not only understand the issues related to the racial tensions of our day, but also to help us as Crossings Community Church lead the way to Jesus-inspired reconciliation in our city.
Some might ask: "Why now?"
Other may ask: "What took you so long?”
There are answers to those questions. Please give me an umbrella of grace as I give you my honest answers to these two very difficult questions.
As you may know from my previous blog posts, I grew up in a world, a school, a church that consisted of both white and black skin. While I’m sure I had a class on the history of the African American and the history of slavery, I had assumed it was something from the past, contained only in history books as a reminder of what once was.
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, we definitely had an area of town consisting of primarily black residents. But we also had an area of town--a dangerous one at that--consisting of primarily white-skinned people. My grandfather Grubbs, who was a pastor in small southern towns, also sold Watkins products to make ends meet. When we made our trips to South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida, wherever they were living at the moment, we saw both black and white people involved in his church as well as clients who purchased his products.
I arrived at Anderson University in 1977 and immediately connected with the kids of African American pastors whose fathers had been in our home, had spoken in our church, and who led thriving congregations in large cities such as Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Detroit, Akron, and Chicago. It was in college that I did finally realize there were more of us with white skin than black skin. I was a member of the Anderson University Male Chorus. I sat in the middle of the choir, next to one of only two or three African American students.
The gentleman next to me? Charles Myricks. Thirty-five years later, I was sitting next to him again, but this time it was at a photoshoot at the National Association of the Church of God Convention in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania. We joked while in college if you wanted to find Marty Grubbs in a photo, you had to find Charles Myricks. I was right next him.
Thirty-five years later, in the photo, if you wanted to find Charles Myricks, you had to find the only white guy in the photo--me--and you’d find Charles right next to me.
It took many years for me to finally wake up to the facts and reality of the issues of racism. It was a rude awakening. I was angry.
Even growing up around some of the greatest African American religious leaders, I had missed the reality of the neighborhoods in which they served. I had missed the memories they had of being forced to sit at the back of a bus, drink from a different water fountain, use a different restroom, and be denied opportunity to be educated, to be given a chance, to be successful.
My friend Charles gave me a front row seat to the 400 churches connected together by an organization called the National Association of the Church of God. My hero, Ron Fowler, gave me a glimpse of the realities of the pastors who served churches located in neighborhoods we would not ordinarily drive through for fear of some type of trouble or conflict.
It started with about 20 pastors and their wives. They gathered for dinner here in Oklahoma City at the Petroleum Club. Kim and I invited them into our home and our home has never been the same. We sat in our living room one evening and sang the hymns we all grew up singing. Sandi Patty joined Charles Myricks at the piano and the music was amazing.
We shared stories. We encouraged and prayed for each other. Our living room has never been the same. It became a sacred space that evening.
I am still getting a proper education on the realities my black friends face. My rose-colored glasses and the Bible made me see things differently:
“God so loved the whole world...”
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
“As I have loved you so you must love one another. ”
It just seems to me that the answer to the issues that divide people--especially issues that divide Christians--are solved when we just do what the Bible calls us to do. Christians ought to be leading the way for the our world to see that we “get it right” when it comes to loving others unconditionally.
Gloria Gaither wrote the words to a song that gives us a clear path to reconciliation. If only we could just do this and believe this:
I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven.
I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my father,
I am his child and I am not afraid.
So greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive my brother.
The law of love, I gladly will obey.
I then shall live, as one who’ve learned compassion.
I’ve been so loved that I’ll risk loving too.
I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges,
I’ll dare to see another’s point of view.
And when relationships demand commitment,
Then I’ll be there to care and follow through.
Your Kingdom come around and through and in me.
Your power and glory, let them shine through me.
Your hallowed name O may I bear with honor,
And may your living kingdom come in me.
The bread of life O may I share with honor,
and may you feed a hungry world through me.