On Monday, I went to Cinemark Tinseltown USA at 6001 N. Martin Luther King Boulevard in Oklahoma City. My family and I went to see Star Trek there, not because we were trying to make a statement about race relations, but because at the 1:35pm showing it is $4.40 per person. While my 17 and 20-year-old sons went in to scope out the best seats, Chantelle and I purchased the “not-so-cheap” concessions. I often lose my sanctification around concession food.
Chantelle sent me to the butter/condiment station to fix up our “refillable” popcorn bucket while she paid for our “refillable” soda cups (see a frugal pattern here?) As I turned to do my duty, a young black boy who was about ten years old and I caught eyes. We both knew that the older woman at the closest station would take WAY too long and so we began an Olympic style fast walk across to the other station. As we approached the buttery goodness at the same time, he asked me, “Sir, are you having a good day? What movie are you going to see?” He then motioned for me to go ahead even though he was a little in the lead. I said I was having a great day, Star Trek and for him to please go ahead which he did politely. When he finished his turn at the butter stop, he turned and smiled and said, “Thank you! Hope you enjoy your movie.” And walked on unaccompanied as far as I could tell.
I thought to myself, “That is the most pleasant and well-behaved and polite young man I have encountered in years.” What surprised me though was my heart sank as he walked away. I wondered where that deep sadness came from within me. In a flash of understanding, that may have come from my friends of color over many years or from the Lord, I had an insight that has bothered me since that encounter.
If that ten year old were white, I would have thought, “What a well-raised and polite young man. I am so happy for him and to have met him. I’d like to meet his parents.” But with this little awesome man of color, I got the deep impression that someone who loved him very much had trained him in these skills out of necessity.
I think his training went something like this, “Yes, you can go to the movie by yourself or with your brother or with certain friends. But, remember what we have taught you. If you see an older, white gentleman or anyone in authority, stand up straight, smile, be polite, ask questions, let others go before you, look them in the eye, say ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No sir.’ We want you home safe.” My heart is broken because, in our own city, young families of color are afraid of middle-aged white men like me. Some are afraid to call the police for help, even though all the police officers I know personally are incredible men of grace, courage, and patience. At the same time, I have good friends who have family members who serve as police officers, FBI Agents, Highway Patrol Officers and National Guard, who have similar fears about their loved ones interacting with a society that is more and more heavily armed and antagonistic to authority in any form.
What are we to do? God’s instruction to us is this, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” – Romans 12:18 NLT. I believe this is more difficult today than perhaps any other time in my lifetime. However, I also think compared to the first Christians found in the book of Acts chapter 2, we have it much easier. Christians in those first days were fed to lions in the public arena, dipped in wax and used as candles, and sawn in two in the public square simply because they told the truth about Jesus of Nazareth who was God come to earth for the salvation of us all.
My experience is that problems (global or personal) look simple from a distance. I want to invite us to “Get Closer” so we can see, understand, and love others for the transformation of the world. This is what Jesus did. We are to do the same.
This weekend in worship, we will have a panel of six participants from our church speaking with us from their perspectives on race, policing, justice, and faith. Come get closer to God, one another and all of God’s children.