I was raised in Atlanta during the heyday of the civil rights era. I went to high school with some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s children. And I didn’t know there was a racial problem in my city. Because for me and my people there wasn’t. It was somebody else’s problem. Across town. Somewhere else.
The black maids and gardeners rode a tidal wave into my white neighborhood each morning, tended babies, fried chicken, and manicured lawns. And then the tide washed them back out again. We didn’t often ask where they landed for the night and whether it was as sumptuous as our digs, or whether their neighborhoods were even safe. We just dropped our bath towels on the floor and figured that somebody would pick them up again in the morning. Life was good.
From the remove of 40 years and 600 miles, I see it differently. But it took more than time and distance to reckon with my own cluelessness about race. It took what it always takes for barriers to fall between “us” and “them” — getting to know some of “them.” I’ve gotten as far as being able to name that I am on one side of many different divides, including the dinner counter at the Mission, and I’m usually on the less-shitty side. And it’s through no merit of my own. In fact it’s where people like me, white and privileged, have long been and have little questioned.
"This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12
As the people walked into the sanctuary, the worship team behind us started to sing. “This is Jesus, in his glory.” I stood there in my apron, gloves, and hairnet — as I had many times before — and watched our guests sit down at their tables. The first few people who came in were elderly Chinese, more women than men. Then, a middle-aged Latino man came in, followed by a few more elderly Chinese women. For a brief moment, there reflected in their faces, was Jesus in his glory.
This past Saturday morning, I served at my parents’ non-profit’s soup kitchen and food pantry, as I had for half of my life before I moved to Washington, D.C. From 9:30am-11:00am every Saturday morning, unlimited breakfast is served to a range of New Yorkers: young, old, employed, unemployed, white, black, Chinese, Latino, gay, straight — you name it, we’ve got it. Our guests are seated and given all they can eat and a bag of groceries, as well as access to legal aid, GED and ESL classes, and prayer. As much as it pains me to admit it — because, well, it’s my parents’ work — it’s kind of the real deal. The sanctuary-turned-cafeteria turns back into a sanctuary as Jesus — as seen in each of these men and women and children—is seen, in his glory.
Alison McCrary starts her mornings with prayer and meditation.
Sometimes she writes in her journal, other times she draws geometric mandalas. It's a way of silencing her mind.
She thinks about what grace she wants to ask for that day. Patience? Gratitude? Understanding?
"Humility is a big one," she says. "I ask, 'How can I increase God and decrease me?'"
McCrary graduated from law school in May and is in formation to become a nun in the Congregation of St. Joseph. She lives with a group of sisters in a house, and every night they sit down to eat together and share after-dinner prayers.
McCrary tries to strike a balance between prayer and ministry. The young lawyer, who turns 30 in February, spends her days as an advocate and organizer working with a grassroots group, Safe Streets/Strong Communities.
"People are always asking me, 'Why don't you get burned out?' But I feel like the more you give, the more you get back," she says.
Often, her ministry takes her to the streets of the city, monitoring second-line parades for any police misconduct, or sitting in a bar talking to Mardi Gras groups about noise ordinances or curfews that threaten native traditions.