The first birthday party I ever went to was for a little black girl in my kindergarten class. Too young and tender to know there was a difference—that I was not black or that she was not white—we were friends. It was not until my dad retired from the Air Force three years later and we went to live in the South that I had my first taste otherwise. For it was there I saw bathrooms and water fountains for whites only, and it was there, four years later I saw a cross burning in the front yard of my very dear friend, Alonso Berry. To this day I don’t understand why those things were. I remember being sad, for none of this made, or for that matter makes, any sense to me.
My dad grew up in North Carolina. Poor as the dirt his feet walked on, he too saw these things. But back in the 1920s, with the end of World War I and the arrival of the Great Depression, just to go from one day to the next was all that mattered. To an 8-year old boy, what happened around him was accepted without question. That was until 1977, my first year in college, when I met Eleanor Jones.
Eleanor, a beautiful black girl and a music major like myself, lived a couple of towns over from me, so when she needed a ride home from college one weekend, it made perfect sense to give her a lift. Later, when telling my daddy about her and our growing friendship, I expressed it would be nice for her to spend the night sometime, for girls do these things. That’s how friendships grow. Imagine my shock and surprise when he responded that was not a good idea because she was not white. I had just crossed the line from what was accepted, to what was not. Imagine his surprise though, when these words, without anything but respect for him, innocently popped from my mouth, “Why, daddy, you’re a racist.” Our conversation went something like this.
“Why, daddy, you’re a racist.”
“I am not. Leodiac Thomas (a black man), who works for me is my right-hand man. I trust him more than I trust anyone. He is a good friend.”
“Well, has he ever been in our home?”
“No, that’s just not the way things are.”
“Then, Daddy, I think you’re a racist.”
It was a few weeks later when I was back at school, my daddy called to proudly tell me he and my mom had Leodiac Thomas and his wife over for cake and coffee. It still makes me smile.
And that’s how sin is so much of the time. Subtle. Hidden. Accepted. Slithering into places in our hearts and minds that we aren’t aware of, growing into prejudices, attitudes, and judgements we think we are no part of, or could ever fall into.
That’s why the Lord calls us to in Romans 12:2 ESV, “…not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind….” Or as the NLV translates, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
That’s why we need the Lord—
~ the Father who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to give us His righteousness taking our sinfulness to the cross.
~who when He ascended to Heaven gave us His Holy Spirit to do the work of renewal in our hearts and minds.
That’s why He calls us to love one another.
~ For the Lord uses us in each other’s lives. That’s what He did with my daddy and me. And that’s what He does in my life everyday. Whether it’s family or friends—the way they live, what they’re going through, or something they said—those things God often uses to head me back to Him. We are to one another, iron sharpening iron, or as my pastor in California prayed before each of his sermons, “Lord, I’m just one beggar showing the other beggars where the bread (of life) is.”
When we crucified Jesus, before His last words, “It is finished,” He prayed for us saying, ”Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (See Luke 23:34 NLV.) We didn’t then, and we don’t now. Even in our day-to-day, those words still stand.
~Thank You, Lord, for forgiveness.
~Thank You for Your grace.
~Thank You, Lord, for one another.