There’s so much I don’t get about 1968, but then, there are plenty of things I don’t get about 2018 either. What I really grapple with is how to fit social discord and sin with the place of the church in the world.
Last fall, we went with Pat and Lin Fallon to see Ken Burns and Lynn Novick talk about their PBS Vietnam documentary before it aired. The Auditorium Theater had equal parts anti-war folks and those who fought in the war—and both groups expressed appreciation for each other.
That would not have happened back in 1968. The two segments covering that year were called “Things Fall Apart” and “The Veneer of Civilization.” Those titles seemed to perfectly describe what a chaotic year that was. And the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., just a few days ago, brought me back to that time.
I remember it. Sort of. I was alive, but a little kid—so little in fact, that racial injustice and our involvement in a war on the other side of the world really didn’t mean anything to me. I just wanted to play with my friends.
But swirling all around us was, well, 1968. The war. Assassinations. The Democratic Convention. As strange as it seemed to me as a child, it must have been truly bizarre for adults—so much change on so many levels all at once.
Vietnam was far away, but issues of race were as close as the block where I played and lived.
As a white boy, I didn’t feel privileged. In fact, in my neighborhood, I was the minority. My friends identified themselves as Japanese, Black, Chinese, Filipino, Mixed, Mexican. I can’t think of a single friend who was white and stayed in our community. None of us seemed to be ethnically in a majority position when it came to the classroom or the playground.
I loved to visit Demetrius, whose mother would come home from work and make cookies and pour glasses of chocolate milk for us. After watching the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., on television, I ran a few doors down to Demetrius’s home. I wanted to shake off the sadness and play. The mother, who usually looked happy and beautiful as she happily offered homemade snacks, opened the door, tears streaming down her face. She was stricken and could barely talk. “The children can’t play today,” she said. “I’m sorry,” I said. I felt stupid even trying.
It wasn’t until I went to my evangelical Christian college that I experienced a truly white majority living situation. Where were the other ethnic groups? Many of the students who were not white had come from countries overseas.
While onstage with Russell Moore at a conference this week, John Perkins said, “You are serving God absolutely when you love like God. …There is one way to get rid of sin and that’s the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.”
We can’t fix everything, but we can show our own love and point people to the King of Love, the one who shed his blood for us all.
Just a few weeks ago, we invited Lonnie to our Easter services this year—part of our “Each One, Bringing One” outreach. She is an African American woman we’ve gotten to know at the grocery store. Lorraine and I go there on Saturday mornings and split an omelet before our weekly grocery shopping.
Lonnie’s job was to cook the breakfast orders. We began to visit with her week after week. She got to know us so well that when she saw us walk in, she started our order before we placed it. At Christmas, we gave her our traditional gift to friends—chocolate ice cream sauce. When we gave her the sauce, she pulled out her cell phone and showed us photos of her newborn granddaughter.
So when we gave her the Easter invitation, we were hopeful. But she said right away that she had to work. We told her about College Church and she said, “Oh yeah, I know that church.”
We told her to visit. And if she ever visits, Lorraine said, “you dress up that granddaughter of yours and bring her with you and show her off to us.” We told her where she could find us when she visits.
And inviting her, even though she didn’t come, has meant that we pray for her more consistently than we did before. Join us in praying for Lonnie.
Maybe in the days ahead, we’ll see her on a Sunday morning when she doesn’t have to work.
At the same conference where John Perkins spoke, Russell Moore said, “Sometimes we say ‘If only we could have multi-ethnic churches.’ The church is multi-ethnic. The church is headed right now by a middle-eastern homeless man.”
I need help. I don’t really get this.
Let’s ask God to guide us to truly serve him by loving others like God loves us.