By Lorraine Triggs
Newark, Watts, Detroit. Those three cities are linked forever in our country's history with race riots. My husband, Wil, was a child in the Los Angeles area when Watts exploded; I lived about 15 or so miles from the center of the riots in Detroit.
Two weeks before the July 1967 riots in Detroit, my father died, and now my mother watched the city in which she was raised crumble in violence. My suburb was placed under curfew, and when the national guardsmen flew overhead in helicopters, we neighborhood kids would blissfully run outside and wave to them.
One night, a man from church knocked on our door. He held out a gun to my mother and said, "Here. Take this. If a stranger comes to the door, shoot first." My sisters and I stared at my mom. Our family didn't own guns.
The new widow pushed the gun back to the man and said, "No. We will welcome people to our home and trust God to protect us."
My mom was no Wheaton academic, but her actions taught us more about prejudice and racial reconciliation than any textbook or classroom experience or short-term missions trip ever could.
You see, my mother's maiden name was Horowitz. Her parents emigrated here in the early 1900s, fleeing the Russian pogroms. They settled in Detroit, where my maternal grandfather was a tailor.
Growing up in 1920s America, my mother used to tell us how the Irish kids would call her and her siblings names and throws sticks at them as they walked to Hebrew school on Saturday. We were appropriately appalled on my mother's behalf, until she reassured us that she and her brother and sisters would get even when the Irish kids went to church on Sunday.
She did have some trouble letting go of a thousand-year-plus bias, especially when my sisters and I were running at high speed through the house. "Quit acting like little Arabs," she scolded. (I'd later brag to my college friends that my mother never called us wild Indians when we were misbehaving, but I don't think she'd get away with that today.)
Things weren't always lighthearted. I remember my mom coming home from church one time, visibly upset. She didn't tell us what happened, but said, "Well, you always have to have a Jew to kick around." A sad, but accurate, commentary on life, I suspect, even in our church.
Then there was the comment my sisters and I would hear more than once, "You don't look Jewish," as if it was a disease or a handicap. My mother's advice—smile sweetly and reply, "Oh, really?" Point taken.
Neither overt or subtle prejudice diminished my mother's cheerful trust in Christ and her gracious acceptance of people. She may not have been able to give an exegesis of Ephesians 2:14-18, but she knew and loved the One who destroyed the barrier and the dividing wall of hostility and that was what mattered to her.
I was glad when Pastor Moody did a weekend sermon on Acts 8:26-40, "Racism and the Gospel." Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch have a special resonance for me. Not just because of my mother, but because when it was time to give our son a name, we c hose to name him after this Philip.
From my Jewish mother to my biracial son, I see the beauty and grace of God's creative hand of love and grace in all humanity.