Transformation Through Learning and Listening

At our last covenant group meeting, we took time to reflect on our experience together since coming together in the fall of 2015. Our group is made up of members from Asbury UMC in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond and Centenary UMC in downtown Richmond. About half of us are African-American, and half of us are white. Each person in the group has a specific role to play, depending upon their own spiritual gifts. In our meetings, we begin with worship, prayer, and personal sharing. We make plans for the six public workshops being led by Jim Melson, Director of The Cornelius Corps. And then we have time to discuss some reading we have each studied before our meeting. These times of reflecting on the readings and discussion have been transformative for me.

Over time, our relationships with one another have deepened and our sharing with one another has become more frank. One of the purposes of the Remember and Recommit project is to explore a model of Christian community that intentionally integrates spiritual practices and actions of mission and justice. We are now experiencing the deepening of relationships and anticipate hearing God’s call to some form of action, witness, and Service as times goes on.

In a recent discussion, one of our members described both our covenant group and the six workshops we are hosting with Jim Melson's leadership as providing a “creative space for discomfort.” As one of the Caucasian members of the group, that summed it up for me. But in this space for discomfort, our hope is to be led together toward true reconciliation. I have learned some things about myselfin our workshops and in our covenant group that have created some healthy discomfort.

First, I have learned that though I thought I had a good understanding of the history of the modern Civil Rights Movement, there is so much I did not know. For instance, in learning about the lunch counter sit-ins, the march in Selma, and the Freedom Rides, I do not think I ever fully understood just how brutal and inhumane angry whites responded to these non-violent efforts for justice. Second, I have learned that no matter how much I had assumed that I could understand another person's perspective through imagination and empathy, I cannot possibly know what their experience is like unless they tell me. Therefore, I need to learn to ask questions—and then listen! Third, I have learned that many of the things happening in our nation today–Ferguson, Baltimore, New York—are the products of a long history of intentional racial discrimination and exclusion. When African American members of our group talked about the real fears they’ve experienced riding subways in New York City as young people, or the financial difficulties they and their parents and grandparents have experienced because of predatory and discriminatory lending practices from the past that made something as simple as buying a used car nearly impossible, or when we discuss the gap in wealth between blacks and whites and recognize that our African American sisters and brothers have always known that laws around property and housing were intentionally stacked against them, I realize that the sin and evil of racism still casts a long shadow across our nation. And when I am led not only to repent of my own sin, complicity, and indifference, but to begin to wonder whether this history has so tainted the present and future as to preclude any possibility for real change and true reconciliation, I hear one of our African-American brothers say something like, “I really am hopeful. Just naming this problem honestly is a huge step forward. I see a lot of Christians stepping forward in these difficult times. I see young people with different attitudes. I have hope. I believe that God’s love and grace and mercy will lead us to a new day.”

I’m grateful—grateful for our covenant group and these honest conversations, grateful for Jim and The Cornelius Corps, grateful for the workshops. And like my hopeful friend, I have to be hopeful that our small steps together just might lead us a little closer to the vision of God’s kingdom of justice, peace, and love.