The Common Good

The Hard Work of Racial Reconciliation

Several years ago, I visited a slave castle along the coast of Ghana, West Africa. This castle was one of the primary centers for shipping slaves from Africa to the New World. Even 350 years later, the stench of bodily fluids hung grotesquely in the air, an invisible, toxic presence. I was one of only a few Westerners in a tour group comprised of mostly other Africans. On two occasions, one of the African men in the group harassed me -- a push in the back, and then a hard stomp on my sandaled feet. After exclaiming my pain and shock, the man turned to a fellow African and bitterly remarked: "This is another thing I hate about white people; they come here to look at the slave castles and act sad, but I know that that if they had the chance they would enslave us all over again." I was enraged. I felt violated. A complete stranger had made me feel the sting of his anger, and he didn't know a single thing about me. I realized at that moment the depth of the problem. We were both angry; we both felt used and in particular, misunderstood. These were legitimate emotions for both of us.

To practice reconciliation, we are called to live into an understanding of those with whom we disagree and especially those who might be considered our enemies. The church can keep talking about enemies until our dying breath, but Jesus was pretty clear. Enemies are those people we are called to love specially.

One of God's greatest gifts to us are the people who look, act, think, and live differently than us. We don't see how poor we are until we are in dialogue with others who have a very different view of God. When I take time to listen and understand how others view God, whether it be those of different cultural perspectives, different socioeconomic backgrounds, or even those of different religious traditions, I come away with a bigger view of God, a better grasp (albeit always impartial) of the grandeur, the vastness, the wonder, the mystery, and the scope of God's being and God's ways.

Openness to the mystery and unpredictability of God positions us to exercise Christian hope, because we move from fear of the unknown to an expectancy for God to act. Christian hope is being bold enough to say that even in the midst of the darkness, God is already doing a new thing, a good thing. The darkness may be the shadow of suffering or pain. Or it could be the darkness of our own limitations for knowing God, our noetic finitude. If we have the courage to lean in to the other's experience of God, seeking to truly understand, we may just hear God's voice and find that God is already doing something. We are no longer threatened by the unknown. We have moved from fear to expectancy.

Laura Truax is the senior pastor of LaSalle Street Church in Chicago, Illinois. LSC has pioneered a range of practical and bold ministries in order to take on the burdens of their community. A frequent guest-speaker at conferences and gatherings, Laura is affiliated with the University of Chicago Divinity School as a teaching pastor. She is currently writing a book about transforming fear and alienation to meaningful engagement with the world. This post originally appeared on the blog, Reconcilers with Chris Rice as part of their "Voices of the Summer Institute" series.

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