Sitting on porches and learning

I have been part of the Renovare Book Club this season. It’s an online discussion group that picks four books in a school year to read together and discuss online (or have a group if you can find enough people locally). The selections this year were compelling (starting with a biography of my spiritual hero Dallas Willard), so I joined in. Our last book is by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from the Slaveholder Religion.

I haven’t read anything by this author before, but did hear him on a podcast a few months ago. In this book he chronicles his journey on moving more toward gospel and away from the “whiteness” we’ve put on Christianity in America.

Just that last sentence should invite discussion. Here is what I’ve found, though: people will be silent. They won’t engage what I mean or even what I think I mean. It causes me to reflect on the saying I heard several years ago:

The opposition of love is not hate. The opposite of love is silence.

So, in the void, I will chronicle my journey. I am white. Can’t do a thing about it. I joke about what I want to come back as in the next life (I don’t believe in reincarnation… I just JOKE), but I’m white. I just deal with it. But in my journey I’ve also learned to not be offended by the phrases “white privilege” and “whiteness”. And learn is the key word. I ask questions from my friends of color. I want to hear what they have to say.

Which leads me to the meaning of the title of this post. Wilson-Hartgrove wrote that he didn’t learn to deconstruct the cultural gospel in seminary or hearing sermons. He sat on porches with black friends and listened. He engaged.

I wish I had engaged much earlier. I certainly learned much earlier, but I could have engaged more while pastoring in Minneapolis. Since moving to Alabama, that has been my primary goal. It’s been almost a year since moving here and I’ve figuratively sat on a lot of porches and tried to listen. My life has grown richer because of friendships I’ve developed over meals and potlucks and gatherings.

There is a deep work going on among churches in Alabama. There is a movement among churches I’ve found in Mobile and the Eastern Shore (across the Bay, where I currently live). It’s a porch movement. White pastors are pulling up chairs on porches where black preachers sit and they’re listening.

My life continues to be challenged in this issue of racism. I need it challenged. I want it challenged. This is the work I seem called to in this season of my life. Through this season I am meeting some extraordinary people who are patient and kind and loving. They’ve let me pull up a chair on their porch and I am trying to simply be the learner.

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