I’m Sorry To All My Black Friends and In This City

imagesI cried in public four times last week. Once was while I read a chapter about people and families with Down’s Syndrome. I felt inspired by hope and love at the courage I read about.

The other three were connected to racism, specifically about African Americans. I went and saw Selma, and was again horrified to think that these crimes happened just down the road and only 50 years ago. I felt inspired by the ordinary men and women who met, prayed, protested and marched for change. I felt humbled, convicted and inspired by Dr. King, an Atlanta pastor who God used far beyond his capacity and position. I felt ashamed and angry at those who hurled insults, waved flags and spit hatred at people, and those who used their power to continue that very same culture, system and outpouring of hatred. I felt embarrassed that Dr. King wasn’t a perfect person, and then glad that God still uses sinners. I felt confused about the government’s role, excuses and passivity.

I felt sobered and awakened when I remembered the stories I’ve heard about the sundowner laws in Norman, and the sanitation strikes in Oklahoma City. When I thought about Clara Looper. Ferguson. The police offer who has been accused to stopping and raping black women while on duty.

Twice I cried while I sat with someone and talked about what we need to do as a church to help in our city.

We want to be involved, rooted and connected as much as we can. I talked about our partnerships with ministries and my involvement with various business associations especially in Midtown, about the cool concerts we’re having at the church building, and about our engagement with some of the issues that are bubbling up. But those didn’t make me cry. I did talk about our outreach efforts all around, and our hopes to be a parish church rooted in our community.

I cried when I talked about Emerson High School, and when I talked about Gatewood Elementary Reading Buddies.

My wife Julie Serven has organized Reading Buddies at Gatewood. Volunteers meet at noon on Fridays and read with the same grade school child for seven weeks in a row. Just to practice reading. I cried when I mentioned Thomas and me reading together and how little self-esteem he had. He loves Buffalo Wild Wings. He cares. And he doesn’t think he can or ever will be able to read. I’m not sure if my meager efforts made any difference.

I haven’t even made it into Emerson High School yet. This is an alternative school near our church, right down the street on 6th. Most of the boys are there because it’s their last stop due to behavior problems. Most of the girls are there because they’re pregnant or have kids already. Many have more than one.

Emerson has a flexible schedule and it’s easier to graduate from there. They help the students and their kids. They’re developing work programs like one where students learn to build and fix bicycles. They have committed teachers and administration. They have Page, who works with Young Life. Page goes in to have lunch with the students and be their friend. She drives them to doctor’s appointments and back. She loves them well, like what I want to do. Not for any gain for herself, but for love.

If we’re going to be the church, we must gather each week for worship on the Lord’s Day. We must sing about, confess, hear and partake of the message of God’s grace for sinners, of whom I am the worst. We must greet each other, even the people we hate right now, even our enemies. Even our friends. We need to welcome sinners with open arms, and see ourselves as desperately in need of grace.

And then we have to go out and love. Somebody. Somewhere. Someplace. Something difficult not always something easy. I’m not prescribing one place. Maybe it’s Reading Buddies or Emerson. Or it’s Edgemere Community School. Or foster care. Or with Novo or Spero or Shiloh or The Mentoring Project or Hope Is Alive Ministries. Or the Y. Or the suicide hotline. Or your school PTA. Or AAA.

It just can’t be nowhere. Not anymore. Not all the time.

I don’t have all the answers and I’m not better than anyone else. and I haven’t done much. I’m repenting and I want to change.

On January 18th, I’ll be at St John’s Missionary Baptist Church at 3pm to worship with people not like me. I expect that service to be full and long. Come sit with me.

On January 19th, I’ll be standing somewhere – probably close to Coffee Slingers – as the MLKJr parade goes by downtown. I’ve never done that before. Come stand with me.

[Let me also mention that I moved a day-long meeting that had previously been placed on Jan 19th. When it was set the first time, someone brought up that it was MLK Day. I remember shrugging my shoulders and saying that day didn’t matter to me so we could do whatever we wanted. Ugh. Ugh. So I’m not coming at this like some long-time activist. I’m coming as a repentant WASP. 829 NW 13th is changing me and my perspective for much the better but it’s a growing process.]

I have it on my calendar to start having lunch at Emerson so I can make friends because I need friends. Come eat with me.

I plan on continuing helping kids read at Gatewood. Come read with me. Email Julie to ask how you can help. There are other ways you can help the school too.

Let’s do something. Love does stuff, even when it does’t have all the answers, and even when it feels uncomfortable. Love walks. Love sits. Love talks. Love reads. Love moves. Love gives up and over. Love speaks up. Love befriends. We’re not all good at love. Let’s admit it and ask God to help us love. At least ask me to lunch or coffee and about this topic and you might get to see me cry too.

Headshot 2 Nicole Hager