Like many of you, I’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not to post my thoughts on this issue. My voice isn’t the one you should listen to, and nothing really qualifies me to write on the subject. I don’t have the right words to say or answers. But, at the same time, I feel like I have to say something. The issue is too important. The phrase “we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition” (from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech) comes to mind.
George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Countless others. What a surreal time to be alive.
If I’m honest, there was a time in my life where I thought we were past all this as a country. As a 12-year-old kid during the Rodney King riots, I remember having the thought:
“I don’t get this. I don’t get racism. My heroes are Ken Griffey Jr. and Michael Jordan. How can anyone on the planet not love those guys?”
Things were so much simpler when I was young and stupid. Even as I entered adulthood, I thought America had, despite a few bad apples here and there, evolved to a land where everyone generally judged others by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Apparently not. Apparently, there’s a systematic undercurrent of evil that persists in 2020.
So, I find myself enormously frustrated. I desperately want to do my part to help America make good on Martin Luther King Jr.’s proverbial bad check. But, how?
Like all you other parents out there, we’ve been trying to navigate the very messy issue of race and riots and righteous anger with our kids. There’s an endless sea of social media rhetoric, grand ideas, and well-spoken ideological diatribes of supporters and detractors of various ideas. Unfortunately, I’d put the ratio of actionable ideas to strong rhetoric at 1:100. That ratio makes sense, really. I think we’re in this mess to some extent because no one is quite sure what to do about it. It’s deeply complex. It’s becoming more and more apparent that it’s not just an individualized “few bad apples in a generally good bushel” issue; but it isn’t always overtly systematic either. So, in the absence of an actionable way forward, we talk at each other about it. We make memes about it. We yell about it. We pontificate the mess out of it. Lately, I’ve found that I’ve gotten myself all worked up into a frenzy after scrolling Twitter or Facebook only to have nowhere to direct all my energized angst. So, I spend far more time than I should crafting elaborate arguments in my head…and then doing nothing with them…except amping up my crankiness for the rest of the day. That’s not good parenting. It’s not good living, either.
“Sympathy is no substitute for action.” – David Livingstone
I say all that to say this: there’s tremendous value in starting a discussion. Even a terrible meme can spark a deeply necessary conversation. But, as a parent, I don’t want to train my kids to talk at other people about things. I don’t want to train them to become excellent meme-makers. When it comes to the complex challenges of evil in the world, I want to train them to have a bias toward action. Fortunately for me, my wife is sort of an icon when it comes to putting action to the theoretical. When it comes to the issue of race and diversity, she’s kept us actively learning in a number of incredible ways.
Here’s one thing she’s made sure we’ve done as a family: we’ve actively tried to pop our bubble.
I think one of the most dangerous things Christians do to their kids is raise them in an isolated, socioeconomic, racial, and ideological bubble. Unfortunately, it can be easy to fall into a routine that keeps you within a tiny distance from your home, a tiny shade of color from your race, a tiny percentage of income from your level of income, and a tiny ideological distance from your theological or political ideals. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6) is our anthem. Unfortunately, we often live our lives in more of a “Train up a child in the bubble he should be in; even when he is old he will stay in it” type of way. That said, here are a couple of habits we’ve formed in our attempts to pop the proverbial bubble.
Our city is home to one of the largest populations of refugees per capita in the United States. Thanks to a local organization that provides services to our city’s refugee population, we’ve been able to connect with a number of resettled families. We try to have at least one such family over to our home for dinner fairly regularly. Their stories are fascinating. I’ll never forget the first time a refugee family accepted our dinner invitation. My wife, our two oldest kids, and I sat enthralled for at least an hour as our new friends told their story. Although the details were lost a bit in translation, we understood the general story. Their Ethiopian family had fled a war-torn area to find their way to a Kenyan refugee camp and eventually boarded a plane bound for Amarillo, Texas. They endured fear, hunger, confusion, loss, exhaustion, and poverty. At one point in the story, we all sat listening with eyes and jaws wide open as one of the daughters recounted a time when she had been locked in a shipping container for days by some bad people. She was 12. “Were you given food and water?” we asked. “Yes, a little, but I tried not to eat or drink. They only opened the door once per day to let me outside for a short bathroom break.” Needless to say, we had virtually nothing in common with our new friends. Not nationality. Not race. Not religion. Not upbringing. Not clothing. Not income. Not education. Not profession. Not job opportunities. Not housing. Not food preference. Barely language. If you’re ever struggling to find a way to expand your kids’ bubble, invite a refugee family over for dinner. Connect with them by contacting the nearest refugee resettlement office and asking how to get involved. You can search your state here: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/state-programs-annual-overview.
Do you sometimes find yourself struggling to come up with topics for conversation with your kids? After a meal with a refugee family, you won’t lack any conversation starters on religion or race or gender or poverty or privilege or politics or life. Yes, the language barrier is uncomfortable. Yes, conversation can be difficult when you have little to relate to. Ask to hear their story. Ask what they like most about America. Ask what aspects of life in America they find to be the most challenging. You’ll probably wish you had recorded their answers. I wish I had.
Let’s be real. If you’re anything like me, there is virtually no chance that jumping outside of your comfort zone is going to go well. My wife is really good at this whole “jumping outside our comfort zone” thing. I am not. You, like me, may spend an hour in awkward silence due to a challenging language barrier or a realization of just how little you have in common. You, like me, may inadvertently say or do something offensive. Your kids may say or do something offensive. Been there. Done that. Talked through it. Tried again…because sometimes that’s how relationships are built. I encourage you to do the same with your family.
Again, I don’t have the answers for the issue of racial injustice. But, I do know this: the answer to fixing any problem is not complacency. It’s not the status quo. If you have a dream for your kids to grow up to be adults who judge people for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, it’s going to take more than reliance on the system. A dream without a plan is a wish. It’s going to take action. Yes, our “popping the bubble” is just one tiny idea. But, ultimately, I’m posting this because this tiny idea has been one of the biggest blessings in our lives. I hope it will be in yours as well.