At our All-Congregational Gathering in January, Ryan Lambert and Mike Lockett shared about how they began having intentional conversations about race - initially in the context of their missional community, and then on into a growing friendship. We thought their story was so powerful that we wanted to share it, along with some followup words from Mike, with our congregation:
Just about seven months ago, in July of 2016, police killings of African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota made national news. Subsequently, a peaceful protest in Dallas became violent, leading to the deadliest single incident for law enforcement officers is the U.S. since 9/11.
Here at Soma, these events led our leadership to hit the pause button on a Sunday message to address these issues lament the loss of life and to consider our response as Christians in our community, our neighborhood and our own church family.
I walked out that day feeling burdened, without a clear understanding of how I could become engaged and involved in these issues and what an appropriate response looked like. I wanted to say something that day to my friend Mike, but I didn’t know what to say, how to say it or if I was even allowed to say anything for fear of offending him, appearing trite, or disingenuously forced into it by the emotion of what we had just heard. So I couldn’t bring myself to say anything of substance and left.
A few days later, Mike sent an email.
After the two police shootings of unarmed black men happened in July, and soon after the police shootings Dallas, I was very burdened and grieved the days following. As a black man living in this country, not only was I saddened by the shootings that took place, but also by the divide that I was beginning to notice within the body of Christ between whites and blacks (and other minorities). After processing these events for a few days, I decided to send an email to everyone in my Missional Community. My goal in sending this email was to share my heart surrounding those recent events, my experiences as a black man in this country, and how those events affected me personally. My goal was to open up dialogue within our group, and to let them know that I was willing to dialogue further within anyone who was interested in stepping into the conversation.
After sending the email, I quickly received a lot of positive feedback from members of my MC, thanking me for opening up and sharing my heart. One of those emails was from Ryan Lambert. He told me that he very much appreciated me opening up to the group and for sharing my personal experiences. He said that he would love to get together for coffee or a meal, and have a time where we could dialogue more and share our experiences surrounding race. About a week later we did just that. We met up for dinner and had a chance to have a deeper dialogue, ask questions, and share our stories regarding race.
Two guys from a Soma MC having dinner at Twenty Tap doesn’t really seem like much of note, but I was definitely apprehensive. On one hand I was excited to have the opportunity for this type of conversation but on the other hand, this was something brand new to me.
I think to fully understand this story, some context is appropriate. When we started the night, one of the first questions I asked Mike when we sat down was, ‘as an African American, when you were growing up, or even now, what areas around Indy were you taught to avoid?’ The reason I asked this question was because I was confident that I already knew the answer. I knew my hometown, the place I was born and raised, was going to be on his list. In fact, it was one of the first places out of his mouth. I grew up in Morgan County, on the southwest side of the city; and for those who lack education in historical Central Indiana race relations, I’ll simply say that Morgan County has a race reputation and history, and I mean that in the least positive way possible. To say the least, entering in to this type of conversation wasn’t something I had done or felt like I had the opportunity to do before.
By the end of the night, I was so appreciative of Mike’s openness to my history, and to sharing his own personal experiences, concerns and fears. He basically gave me a green light to ask questions and to try to better understand a community that I had never really had to intersect with in my life. On the other hand, he had the go ahead to challenge me when he thought I was off base on a topic or needed to see another perspective, which fortunately, he was willing and comfortable to do.
Leading up to meeting Ryan for dinner, I was excited but also a little nervous. This would be the first time that I was having an intentional conversation pressing into the topic of race with someone from within the church (outside of a few conversations here and there). God would quickly show that he would bear much fruit from this time together. Overall, it was a great time of learning from one another. Ryan asked lots of intentional questions wanting to know my experiences as black man, both in society and in the church. He also shared with me his experiences growing up in his hometown, and how these experiences shaped much of his view of race. I made a point to let Ryan know that he could be open to ask any questions that were on his mind, and that he shouldn’t hold back from fear of offending me. My hope is that this freed him up to ask questions and learn new things that he might not have had the opportunity to know in prior experiences. Looking back on that time, one of the biggest blessings from the meeting was simply having a brother from a completely different racial context pressing into this issue, and showing care and concern. Ending that meeting, we made a commitment to not let the talks end that night, and to continue dialoguing in the coming weeks and months.
From our initial conversation until now, one of the biggest things I’ve gleaned from this relationship is the opportunity to view things from a new reference point, which has led to the ability to see or hear things through a different perspective. Today, instead of taking news stories or clips and thinking about my own point of view and how it impacts me and my family directly, I think about Mike, his family and how the impact of that very same thing may look different in his life or the lives of others in the black community.
In the weeks and months following that initial meeting with Ryan, God continued working in our own lives and in the lives of others in the church. Ryan and I were able to meet up a number of times in those following months, and have continued a dialogue on racial reconciliation. We began to ask the question of what it would look like for our church to truly begin pursuing racial reconciliation with one another. This dialogue has also sparked conversations with others in church, and it has been encouraging to see what God is starting to do in within our body.
Within these expanded conversations, God has opened my eyes to experiences I never realized I didn’t have in my life. After a race conversation with Mike and some other guys from Soma a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about a couple months back when my family went to the Lockett’s home for dinner. It was so within the normal of our lives and friendship that it didn’t dawn on me until that later point, that in 38 years, I had never been invited to, or had dinner in, the home of an African-American family. That fact, as surprising as it was to me, made me think about the rest of our Soma family. I wondered how many others might be able to say the same or similar things and how this story could be used as a way for them to take a step into a new experience.
I have also been able to meet up consistently with two other brothers in the church in Max Goldenberg (who initiated these meetings) and Jingo de la Rosa. These meetings have focused on talking about our experiences surrounding race, and ways that we can press into this topic as well as encourage others to do the same. These ‘meetups’ (as we like to call them) with those brothers have sparked conversations with others that have joined us in those meetings. Others who have been able to join these meetings have been Pastor Phil Edwards, James Pascascio, and James Armstrong, who have all offered their wisdom and encouragements on how we can continue to press into this topic as a church. It is clear that God is moving within our body, and I am looking forward to seeing all that He does in the months and years to come.
I would like to leave those reading this with two encouragements. The first would be to not let fear or discouragement prevent you from entering into this conversation with others. I believe that God desires His church to pursue deeper relationship within community, and entering into this conversation is a major, if not vital, part of this. My second encouragement would be to stay committed to this for the long haul. It will not take only one or two conversations to then move on from it. Instead, what is needed is lasting commitment from those of all ethnic backgrounds to continue to press in and seek true unity. As we continue to be intentional in pursuing racial reconciliation as a church, I am confident that God will use our church to impact our city in helping to bring restoration and unity among all people groups.
Image: Norman Rockwell, "Moving In"