Editor’s Note: This is one of the Top 15 2020 CBE Writing Contest winners. Enjoy!
Good morning is such a lovely and warm salutation to greet those you love, persons of kindred spirits as well as strangers. Good morning is the greeting that my husband, Gilbert, and I share as we welcome each other into a brand-new, sun-shining day! Each day, shortly after our morning devotion and conversation, we are off to the races to one of our favorite destinations, Frances Beatty Park, for a walk. This beautiful park is located just ten minutes away, in our neighboring community, Matthews, North Carolina.
One morning when we arrived, we stretched a little and then began our ritual of walking a few miles around the meandering woods, surrounded by a multiplicity of trees providing a beautiful landscape for the breathtaking lake. Immediately, as we entered the path near the lake, I noticed an elderly Black man and a younger Black man removing a canoe from the lake. The elderly man was struggling with the weight and uphill climb so much so that I wondered if I needed to ask my husband to assist. As a minister of the gospel, it is my second nature to make sure everyone is all right. It was when I saw the elder man’s arm peeking through the bushes as we got closer that I knew they were equipped to pull the canoe out of the water themselves. Consequently, I was relieved.
As Gilbert and I kept walking, I paused to take in the amazing view of the lake. What a great comfort it brings to my soul. As we continued on our path, I saw a lovely white family of five approaching us (two men, a woman, a young boy and girl). Of course the polite, Southern thing to do is to say, “Good morning.” And that is exactly what I did. As I spoke, the younger adult male looked me straight in my face and then quickly turned his head. It was like I could hear him say, “I am not speaking to you.” The elder man also looked at us without any acknowledgment. He just gently turned his head down. It was then that my happy mood shifted. I was a bit stunned and taken back. Without words, I was reminded of my color and status in life. Even small interactions, like “good morning,” can speak volumes to a person.
We kept walking, and then I heard the younger male adult call the boy “Lucas.” Hum. How could they not speak? What were they teaching Lucas from this encounter? Questions were popping in my head. I thought, what is in their heart? Would they ever attend our church, or would I ever be welcome at theirs? Questions. Questions. Questions. I was not expecting their lack of acknowledgment, and perhaps they were not expecting me to speak.
Not only did I wonder about the men, but I also reflected on the woman and girl. The adult woman never turned her head, and the young girl was just aimlessly skipping. Her name was not called, and the woman seemed almost nonexistent. Here we all were . . . people . . . male and female . . . Black and white. All just wanting to enjoy God’s beautiful creation, yet also experiencing the effects of sin in our world.
My husband and I kept walking, and straight ahead I saw another white man with a teenaged son who was playing with a toy electric car. As we approached, I was mesmerized by the swift swirling of the play car around the mountainous red clay. As we came closer to the man and his son, I held my breath as I anticipated what this next “Good Morning” experience would hold. With much delight and initiative, he said “good morning” first, and then so did I. I was so relieved. Sigh. I was not prepared for another emotional blow of rejection. My heart just could not take one more negative encounter as I was mindful of the racial tension that exists in our nation during this unprecedented time.
In all of five minutes, I had received racism and sexism, rejection and affirmation. Nonetheless, I must remain mindful that I cannot be affected by every encounter of inequality that comes my way. Nor can I become comfortable when I receive affirmation. As an African American woman, I must know who I am and Whose I am. I belong to Christ and a corporate body of believers. All who were present at the lake belong to the Lord.
I wonder about my sisters by the lake. Perhaps they were totally oblivious to any type of sexism. The little girl’s name was not called, and the adult woman never even lifted her head. Was she passive or was she just condition to follow the status quo? It may sound normal for some not to speak, but here in the rural South, we are intentional in our greetings and our non-greetings.
It is now, with these experiences in mind, that I exhale and thank God for the encouraging words of the apostle Paul that were written in the first century. Paul writes to the church at Galatia that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is their male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:28, NIV). This is good news for all. Christ does not judge any based on our race, class, or gender. We all are the same footing to him.
As Gilbert and I continued our journey on the paths of the wooded park, I regained the joy that started our day. For two miles it was just us, among God’s incredible nature that consisted of the trees, the crickets, butterflies, worms, ponds, rocks, and so much more. It was a wonderful walk with the Lord and my husband. As we meandered out of the thick of hundreds and hundreds of trees, we were approached by other persons walking. Some waved, some nodded, and others spoke. All were kind and expressed in their way, “Good morning.” Yes, life can be delightful but not perfect. I chose to take my joy back that morning, and I chose to make space for the graces of others regardless of the one challenging experience.
As an African American woman in ministry, I cannot afford to allow every wave of racial adversity or gender bias to affect my response. I must know the root source of my strength and joy. Life is not without adversity and challenges regardless of ethnicity or spiritual beliefs. However, we cannot afford to be oblivious to how critical it is for all to be welcome at the table of the Lord.
The completion of our walk was at hand, and now we were on the opposite side of the lake from where we began. Guess who I saw in the distance! The white family that I spoke to forty minutes earlier on the journey were now coming into my view again. They were fishing and enjoying their day. It is then that I remembered the words of Jesus: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37–40, NIV). Loving my lake neighbors is my reasonable service (Rom. 12:1–2).
The response I received in the park is not new, different, or unique. This is just one aspect of being Black and female in America. Discrimination is all around us daily. Sometimes this systemic bias is overt and sometimes it is covert. Likewise, inclusion is all around us. I am thankful to be involved in ministries that embrace women. However, even with the best intentions, we all must be mindful that our society was not birthed with equity and that a fully egalitarian society will not happen overnight; we must remain centered in Jesus as we strive for it.
For the faith community to be the people that Christ has ordained us to be, it is imperative that we continue to dialogue and admit our biases, regardless of how challenging. Too often our biases are unconscious. Such could have been the case with the family in the park. I could be sensitive to such behavior due to previous experiences and unjust encounters. Their response or lack thereof could have been overt, covert, or neither. However, we do know that such behavior exists in our society.
Often when challenged with racism, I reflect on a song that I learned in fourth grade. A few lines go like this:
“Good-night,” I said to my little son
So tired out when the day was done.
Then he said as I tucked him in,
“Tell me Daddy what color’s God’s skin?”
What color is God’s skin?
What color is God’s skin?
I said, “It’s black, brown, it’s yellow.
It is red, it is white.
Ev’ry man’s the same in the good Lord’s sight.”1
This song says it all. It speaks to all generations. God created all humanity in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), so in this way, we are all the same regardless of race, religion, class, or gender. We are all God’s beloved children, and we can all learn to see each other in that way.
1. Tom Wilkes and David Stevenson, “What Color Is God’s Skin?,” track 12 on Up with People, Up with People! The Sing-Out Musical, 1964.