Luke 4.16-20, Acts 2.1-13
Two summers ago I took our youth to Laredo, TX – one of the largest port cities in the country just on the border of the US and Mexico. The week before we left, I had lunch with Bill Ingold. During our lunch I admitted that I’ve always been worried that if I blew a tire while driving our youth, I wouldn’t know what to do – so I asked his advice. What would it feel like? Would there be a loud pop of the tire? How would I control the car? Bill told me what I could expect – it would happen gradually – the car would start to pull hard in one direction or the other – grab the steering wheel firmly and guide your car off the road. When we arrived in Texas, the temperatures well over 100 – as they were predicted to be our entire week there. We picked up our rental vans, grabbed lunch, and then hit the road for our 2 hr drive from San Antonio (where we flew in) to Laredo. About an hour into our drive I felt a change in the way my van was driving – almost as if it was starting to pull right. I thought – “No way! That would be one heck of a coincidence” – and then it the tire ripped completely. Apparently hot roads can have this effect on tires. I steered the car to the side of the road and called the van ahead of us to let them know what had happened.
Then, almost simultaneously, two things happened – a state patrol man pulled up behind us and the five black youth, all boys, who were riding in my van piled out at the same time. It happened so fast … I couldn’t yell quickly enough for the boys to get back in car – and I didn’t want to scare them unnecessarily either – so out of instinct – I got out of the car and made myself seen and heard as quickly as possible.
This is not meant to be a commentary on police – I think that most likely, things would have been fine; I also believe that the great majority of police officers are doing the job because they believe in the good of the job and their duty to serve all people in our communities.
But what was clear to me in this moment, was my own instinctive awareness that my skin made allowances for me – and, in later reflection, that this was one of the few times in my 33 years I remember being so acutely aware of my skin.
There were other times growing up when I was more aware of my skin. The recurring question when meeting someone new – eyeing my darker but still whitish complexion. “Are you mixed with something?” they ask, because my skin holds the quarter Chinese a little differently than my siblings. And playing competitive basketball as one of only two or three white players on any of my teams – but I was deeply proud of both.
I grew up in Lexington, North Carolina – just south of Greensboro and High Point. Lexington was best known for its large furniture plants which are now all empty – you would know it now for its BBQ, the artist, Bob Timberlake, and Richard Childress vineyards. These are all reasons you might visit – but are not the reasons Lexington remains dear to my heart. The city of Lexington is fairly small and at the time consisted of only 3 elementary schools, one intermediate school, one middle school and one high school. Our entire high school would have been about the size of Grimsley’s 2020 graduating class. The city of Lexington is also more economically, racially and culturally diverse than the surrounding county areas. Growing up in Lexington gave me a unique experience of living in community and going to school with people who didn’t look, worship, talk or live like me. This was not just true of casual friendships but was also true of my most intimate relationships. Together we shared meals, stayed at one another’s houses, visited churches/places of worship, vacationed … which is why, when I left Lexington, I thought I understood somethings about race and diversity.
It wasn’t until graduate school that I realized how little I truly understood. In my last semester of graduate school, I attended a luncheon hosted by the New Baptist Covenant – an organization dedicated to the work of dismantling racism by building church partnership and relationship across racial divide. The scripture that guided our reflection that day was the Luke 4 passage you read this morning:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Rev. Darryl Aaron, who now serves as pastor of Providence Baptist Church here in Greensboro and Rev. Bill Leonard, Founding Dean of Wake Forest University School of Divinity were our speakers. The two are long-time friends and shared with us how their friendship had shaped their own understanding and work around race in their communities. When the moderator asked how they had most been changed by their friendship, Bill said that he had never understood the everyday experience of being Black until he overheard a conversation between Darryl and his son in which Darryl was reminding his son of the rules he had to follow when hanging out with his friends. This prompted Darryl to share with all of us the talk he has with his son regularly before he leaves the house – these are just some of the ones I remember – never run out of a store, always walk; keep your receipt for anything your purchase in your hand; don’t wear your hoodie up on your head, especially at night; you don’t walk through certain neighborhoods after dark; no jumping fences, even if your friends do it … the list kept going and I couldn’t process it quickly enough. I had never heard anything like it. It broke my heart that this is what it was like for him each time his son left the house and it broke my heart that his son has to be constantly aware of this checklist of dos and don’ts. I have since had other friends talk about this experience of living by a check-list – it is a universal experience of every person of color – but somehow I had made it well into adulthood without knowing anything about it. I thought about all my friends whom I loved and what their experiences in Lexington might have been like – and I wondered how I didn’t know. I’ve always read the Luke 4 passage with the conviction that I am to be about the work of proclaiming good news, bringing freedom, offering sight – but in that moment, I was instead the one in need of God’s good news and new vision. Through Darryl’s experience, the Spirit of God began renewing and restoring within me a more accurate understanding of this world around me.
On this Pentecost Sunday, as we remember the transformative power of God’s Spirit come among us – we must ask ourselves if this is what it must have been like for the crowd to hear their own languages being spoken back to them – to feel seen and heard and understood. It reminds us that the Spirit of God comes among us in ways that allow us to better hear and see and be transformed by the experiences of the another.
I didn’t know the stories of my high school friends then, but in these recent days, many have shared …
My friend Christian writes … I am exhausted. My current state is far more than tired…I am utterly exhausted from the weight of worrying about every black man/boy in my life. I haven’t had a negative interaction with law enforcement, but I vividly remember the fear wrapped in panic I experienced when my oldest son called us to tell us he was being pulled over driving from a friend’s house, at night. We immediately ran down the protocol, you know the one that every black parent teaches their son. Phone on speaker, drivers license and insurance on the dash, hands on the steering wheel, no sudden movements. As my husband got dressed to drive to his location, I literally held my breath during the entire stop. My world stopped until he said, “I see dad, we are on the way home.”
My friend Dominique remembers how in 3rd grade she was called tar baby and oil spot because her “skin shined like oil in the sun”. That was her first real realization that her black skin was an issue.
When she was 16-years-old, she learned that her friend’s parents didn’t feel comfortable letting her stay at their house.
And as an adult, she was called into a meeting with a white colleague and in a introduction directed only to her, was told “we will not yell, be aggressive or berate anyone in this meeting.”
My friend Tim shared in an article this week, of a morning his sophomore year of high school when he missed the bus and needed his father to take him to school. They rushed out the door, but as soon as they pulled onto the street of the school the cops pulled they over. In the rush, his father had forgotten to pick up his wallet on the kitchen counter. The police forcefully grabbed his father out of the car, threw him to the ground, cuffed him and held him in the county jail for days. Just enough time for him to lose his job for being a “no show.”
Tim also recalls the first time his mother gave him the talk – she got down on his level, kissed him on the cheek and with tears in her eyes said, “Baby, you are a black boy in a white man’s world, and to some, that’s all you will ever be.
My friend Justin shared this prayer which he wrote to his son:
I pray that someday you grow to understand that you and everything about you is a gift from God. Humans are finite and only see in portion what God sees fully; and you are just that, my son – Beautiful.
Your mom and I pray for you constantly bc we know that YOUR beauty is not always in the eye of the beholder. You will be judged by the color of your skin, rather than the content of your character.
Your life matters, my son. I promise you it does.
The thing about these experiences is that every person of color has more than his/her fair share of them. With remarkable courage my friends and many others are sharing their stories – they are raising their voices – and the spirit of the Lord is upon us to listen – to listen in such a way that we are transformed – to listen in a way that ignites within us the resolve to stand up, to stand against, to create change. The spirit of the Lord is upon us to bear good news, to proclaim freedom at last, to create a world where every individual looked upon with the same depth of love offered each one of us by our creator – who I imagine prays daily over each of her beloved children – kissing us gently on the cheek:
my son, my daughter I pray that someday you grow to understand that you and everything about you is a gift. You are beautiful. Your very life matters, I promise it does.