How to Ride the Wave of a Race Conversation
As we walk with Jesus throughout the Gospels, we often find Him in a difficult conversation.
Sweaty and exhausted from an arduous trek through Samaria with His disciples, feet tender and throbbing perhaps, Jesus stops and sits quietly beside the dusty, sun-beaten well of the patriarch Jacob for a brief moment of rest. His comrades diligently journey still further into the city to gather food for the night’s meal. It’s the end of the day and a simple woman, hands clinging tightly to a cumbersome water pot, gingerly approaches. What an odd time for a homemaker to come to water her house. Most would have visited the ancient well smartly before the bruising sun rose from its sleep. But not her. Did she merely seek the shade of dusk? No, the covering shade she sought was the opaque cloak of inconspicuousness. The asylum of embarrassment and shame from her jilted and assorted past was so comforting to her self-effacing soul that she dared not give herself the dignity of stepping out and being seen.
Little did she suspect to encounter someone able to peer past such thick animosity. She did not anticipate a powerful and obvious light in such a dark and blinding place. His tone even, his pitch soft yet direct, Jesus asked a question that normalized her. He broke the silence at the well to which the ostracism had made her so accustomed. I believe the four words Jesus spoke, “Give me a drink.” were deliberate. There was certainly thirst to be quenched. Although it was not only the physical thirst of the Master’s body, but also the spiritual thirst of His’ creation's soul. Both were desperate for the satisfaction of cooling water; without it neither would live. Those four words were four drops of compassion that started a trickle in the nameless woman, that ended in a surge. Christ’s affection washed her from that dangerous lair. She broke free from the timidity that hid her face and became a herald of God’s glory. (John 4:1-42)
Difficult conversations about race are not easy, but like water, they are desperately needed. Without peeling back the preverbal onion and exposing the hidden issues that form our thoughts and attitudes about race; relationships, opportunities, even Kingdom initiatives can eventually die. Optimism can wither and energy can sorely cease. When our starving appetites for true connection are wetted by transparent dialogue, rejuvenation occurs. Life is matured and hope rises again.
Conversations about race must be intentional. Rarely is the subject a part of normal chatter. It usually falls in the bucket of conflict-avoidance. Awkwardness will abound as participants cautiously wade outside their comfort zone and stoke into the seemingly vacuous unknown. Hearts determinately swim ahead, it’s the mind and the mouth that can apprehensively lag behind.
Allow me to offer a few tips to consider:
1. Realize there's likely an equal, but maybe less obvious, nervousness on each side
2. Give yourself permission to make a mistake (ex. speak a misperception, etc.)
3. Give each other permission to make mistakes during the conversation
4. Be prepared to ask more questions than give answers
5. Express yourself openly and honestly
6. Listen carefully and patiently while the other person speaks
7. Search for truth from the other person’s perspectives
8. Avoid belittling or blaming
9. Agree to maintain each person’s confidentiality
10. Refrain from directing personal attacks on individuals or groups, focus on institutions, if you must
11. Watch the temptation to rush to judgement
12. Speak in “I” sentences
13. Avoid interrupting others
14. Avoid distracting side conversations
15. Agree to keep the dialogue going
With prayer and a little conscientious practice and good faith, you’ll be able to chip away at the dam of isolation that's erected to separate racial groups and experience a gusher of breakthrough as you ride the wave to oneness.