Updated: Jan 31
Presently, I’m on study leave at Duke Divinity School. During the week, I’m staying at Homewood Suites located between Durham and Chapel Hill. Thanks to Duke Endowment for supplementing the cost otherwise I would not be able to afford this level of care. Yesterday, as I walked through the breakfast buffet line, I had a brief conversation with a young adult Black American man who works here. After greeting one another, he said, “You are happy today.” “Yes, I’m real glad to be here,” I responded. He told me, "I like being here too. I enjoy this place and my job." He asked, “What are you doing here?” I answered, “Today through Friday, I'm doing some continuing education at Duke Divinity School.” He said, "I need to get back to work." I smiled and said, "I hope you have a great day!"
This morning while I was going through the breakfast line, I bumped into a different young adult black American man. We greeted each other. Then he looked over at me and said, “I’ve already eaten.” I said, “I’m getting ready to eat now. I’m running kind of late today. It looks good.” He was dressed in attire very similar to the clothes the man who works here wore yesterday.
Mid-sentence I realized that I was getting ready to make a comment that could be misconstrued. You know? It's kind of like when you're at a stop sign and you realize you should have kept still instead of pressing the gas because you're about to pull out in front of someone, but it's too late to stop." So as the thought became words I slightly changed the question I had in mind, “What job do you do here?” Instead, I said, “Tell me about your responsibilities.” He gave me the "What the hell, not more of this b.s." look. He said, “What do your mean?” I said, “What kind of work do you do?” He responded, “I’m unemployed.” I said, “What is that like?” He said, “It’s like having to put up with people like you.”
I lifted up a quick silent SOS prayer. “Help us out here God! I have made a complete you know what out of myself.”I said, “I’m sorry for offending you. I’m willing to hear feedback concerning the ways I have offended you and what it’s like to be you.” He looked at me like I was not only a white SOB but also an alien from another world.
He said, “I don’t want to talk to you” and turned to walk away. As he turned, I gently leaned forward, looked into his eyes and said, “I really am sorry.” He just shook his head.
As soon as he left, an Anglo-American woman who appeared to be in her sixties approached me. She said, “I’ll talk to you. I think he was very rude.” I said, “I understand reasons why he did not feel like talking.” We returned to our tables.
Later she walked by my table. I said, “Excuse me, would you have time to share with me some honest feedback concerning what you observed?" "Yes," she responded. I told her, "I realize I probably offended the young man because in fact I assumed because of the color of his skin and the clothes he was wearing that instead of being a resident here he works here instead.” She said, “I don’t think you did anything wrong. I think he was plain rude.” I said, “I understand why what I said offended him. I’m trying to be open to having conversations with persons I bump into for the first time and I definitely messed that one up." She looked at me with a similar facial expression the young man shared. It's the kind of body language that shouts, "Are you for real?" I realized I came across as being a bit strange to both persons. With a deep sense of peace, love, and acceptance, I thought, “You know? I am a bit strange.”
I believe God goes before us to introduce us to persons. I believe God especially goes before us to invite us to grow up by bumping us into persons who on first look based upon their outward appearance appear to be quite different than us, persons we would never consider to be kin.
Conversing with persons who embody what it looks like to be the other unsettles me at times. To use an analogy, it’s like choosing to enter a current of water most boaters don’t travel by taking a journey on a hardly ever traveled stream. It's like all at once turning a solo kayak into a tandem kayak. All at once, the wind blows up reminding us we are not in control of where we are going. When we enter into first-time conversations with strangers, it's like inviting someone else to share a tandem kayak ride with us. It's much easier and less threatening to go solo. Who will take control of where the conversation goes? Where might the conversation lead? Is it possible to enter into an intimate conversation with someone we meet for the first time; you know, the kind of conversations where we really reveal something about our authentic selves? Along the way, is it worth the risk of inadvertently saying something insensitive that hurts the other? What will happen?
Who takes time to really care? If we don't take the time, might we miss out on an encounter with an angel unawares? "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" (Hebrews 13:2, "New Living Translation of The Bible.").
When I reflect upon the conversation I had with the young man this morning, I do believe that he sensed I sought to relate with him out of caring. He could hear this in the tone of my voice. He could see it in my body language. I believe he sensed that I was approaching him on equal ground. I admit that my opening question uncovered my not yet noticed pre-judgment. Because of the color of his skin and the clothes he was wearing, I assumed he worked here. In the same breath, my heart of caring spoke louder than the content of the dumb ass less than sensitive question I asked.
For reasons I don’t understand, I feel like God went before me to open up the possibility of relationship with this young man today. I sense he is hurting and over-whelmed. I could see it in his eyes and in the wrestling motions contorting his facial expressions. He paused... he chose not to talk. He chose to hold on to tears I could not understand because of the color of my skin. He paused more than likely because I hurt him and reminded him of the hurtful ways pre-judgment causes division, anger, unemployment. I believe he showed restraint by choosing not to cuss me out!
I hope I bump into him again this week before I leave. “God, I pray, this time please open up the space for connection and conversation. Help me not to speak words that close doors. Come Spirit come and take us on a ride that merges with the river that flows straight from the realm we call heaven. Holy Lover, may the One Spirit connections you make this day remove boulders of suspicion and hatred fueled by projections that occur when we place one another in suspicious better than/lesser than social categorizations.
For what reasons would we ever voice such strange requests called prayer?
We share the same Holy Father! We share the same agape flowing from the heart of triune God: One in three, three in One. We share the same Creator and Redeemer, God made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
Indeed, the only true Jesus way to be kindom builders occurs when we choose to ride Holy Spirit baptismal streams, currents removing us from the current trends of society that separate, currents inviting us to meet kin Holy Father desires us to love. Along the way we will grow up as kin on the pilgrimage of becoming like our Dear Brother Jesus.