February is Black History month. There was a time in my life when I truly didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why a special month was necessary.
But through the patient conversations of many friends (too many to name, but you know who you are), through the compelling writings of gifted authors, and through the convicting words of powerful preachers, I’m at a very different place than I used to be.
This month I’ve been delighted (and somewhat embarrassed) to learn about key African-Americans in our nation’s history who were innovators, inventors, leaders and more. Mostly they are names I’ve never heard before. My life is enriched because of them. And now I am beginning to get to know them. And Facebook DOES have some redeeming value after all. (E.g. did you know that today, Feb. 23rd, is the birthday of W.E.B. DuBois, b. 1868, author and historian, and the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard.)
This month I’ve also been reminded of the history of the African American church, including it’s painful origins and prophetic voice. (I even learned recently about a “Black Reformation” in the 18th century, led by former slave Rebecca Protten and others.)
And this month I’ve been encouraged by the 25 or 30 people of Seneca Creek who gather every Sunday night around tables to learn and grow together in our Multiethnic Conversations groups. Many of the conversations are centered on the issues related to the black-white history of this nation. The candor, the humility, and the courage shown by these people is inspiring.
One of the questions that came up recently at a table group was, “How do we help other churches grow in this area?” It’s one of the most important questions of the group so far. While I don’t have all the answers, I know two things are essential for us, and for every other church that is on this journey:
- Relationships. It starts with people like those of us at Seneca Creek who are willing to have honest, courageous conversations, and are willing to suspend our beliefs and opinions long enough to listen to those who don’t look like us.
- Prayer. This is truly the work of God to bring about reconciliation. And this topic is the devil’s playground in our country. We need the power of prayer to overcome our fear, our prejudice, and our pride. We need the power of God to tear down the strongholds of injustice. We need the power of prayer to soften our own hearts and unstop our own ears.
February is just a month. But it’s so much more. It’s a month to remind us of the challenge of becoming the kind of church that Jesus had in mind. And it’s a month to remind us that our country and our world desperately need the church to light the way in this increasingly fractured and divided world. Maybe by focusing on black history for a month we’ll learn how to rewrite our own history for generations to come. Which would make this a very important month indeed. That’s my prayer.