In recent days, it’s becoming apparent that systemic racism in our neighbouring country is resulting in significant unrest and turmoil. As Canadians, many of us empathize with our neighbours. We’re aware of racism we’ve experienced or growing aware of racism to which we’ve contributed. It’s too easy to wade into the murky waters and make a Facebook post, only to discover the tensions that post created (as I discovered this week).
I think it’s important, not to point the finger at our neighbours to the south, but to look inward and question our own Atlantic Canadian practices, privileges, and systems. As a white male, I recognize the privilege that I have and I’m left wondering how I can contribute to the conversation. One of the goals I set for myself a couple of years ago was to reconsider my reading list. It is too easy to only read books by white men. This left my thinking in a narrow perspective, and I was missing out on the spectrum of voices who are writing in our faith tradition.
Although I’ve been becoming aware of my privilege in recent years, it hit home in a unique way this week as I encountered the story of Kendrec McDade, a teenager gunned down by police in 2012. His mother, Anya, recounted how she had talked with him numerous times about being a black man in America. The story hit home to me because of the similarity with my own son’s name, and the realization that I don’t need to have those conversations with my Kendrick because of our skin colour.
I’ve been asked for a list of resources to help us engage in racial conversations within our Next Generation ministries. You can find that list at this link. These resources are valuable and it’s important and necessary to practice listening.
But as we continue to witness events, there is significant opportunity for us to consider our own hearts, and own neighbourhoods. As my family has listened to the news of the last week, we’ve been reminded of the lack of diversity in our neighbourhood and town. How can I make sure my children aren’t racist when we live in a very white community?
Through conversation with a good friend, I was reminded of the importance of raising my children to be good neighbours. I want to raise them in such a way that they embody the teachings of Jesus to all people that they meet. I want my children to be good neighbours to everyone with whom they will live, work, and play, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and orientation.
In recent weeks, I’ve come across the writings of Howard Thurman. I was struck by his meditation titled “Our Children are not Things.” He writes:
“The child draws his meaning from the meaning which we put into things that we do and say. Let us not be deceived. We may incorporate in our formal planning all kinds of ideas for the benefit of the children. We may provide them with tools of various kinds. But if there is not genuineness in our climate, if in little ways we regard them as nuisances, as irritations, as things in the way of our pursuits, they will know that we do not love them and that our religion has no contagion for them. Let us gather around our children and give to them the security that can come only from associating with adults who mean what they say and who share in deeds which are broadcast in words.” (Thurman, Howard. Meditations of the Heart (pp. 70-71). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.)
I invite you to consider how you can create “genuineness in your climate;” how you live out being a good neighbour, and the kind of environment in which we are gathering around our children. Along with the racial divisions we are hearing about, we are also living with increased domestic violence rates during the pandemic. Our country continues to have many First Nations communities lacking clean drinking water. There are many injustices and violences that become too easy to ignore. Yet as Christians seeking this genuineness, we must explore how we bring God’s peace and reconciliation (shalom) into all levels of our society. We need to be adults who mean what we say and whose words match our words.
As we strive to be followers of King Jesus, we must live as good neighbours, pursuing love, joy, and peace. May we stand in solidarity alongside our brothers and sisters, listening to them, amplifying voices, and speaking against injustices as we have voice to do so. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” [Philippians 4:8].