By Mark Lubbock
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
2 Corinthians 5:18”
July was a month of international terror. There were senseless killings that took place in foreign lands and shootings in several U.S. cities where citizens and police officers died. All of these events divided communities. Individual acts and language helped draw hard lines between people. My home town of Baton Rouge was one of the seriously impacted towns.
Woven through the emotions and activities that flow from the expression of personal pain are two common threads.
First, everyone wants to “do something.” There is a visceral call on the spirit of each affected person to take some sort of action.
Second, there is a reflexive and intentional engagement of the Holy Spirit.
The first thread is expected and normal in every crisis and traumatic experience.
The second thread is much less common, and is often completely absent.
But, the second thread became the governing mantra in Baton Rouge. We focused on that which binds us together as Christians. The result was something different from what outsiders had hoped. We developed a real community.
Outsiders came to our city to promote their own agendas and to leverage the free publicity afforded them by media entities looking to boost their ratings. Yet the leaders of our community sought common ground based on their shared Christian faith. Despite personal hurt and grief, leaders met together in numerous groups with the desire to reach out to one another with Christian love and reconciling grace.
While local media remained engaged, it did not take long for outsiders to understand that instead of the riots and violence for which they hoped, Baton Rouge was going to engage in civil discourse. Outsiders quickly left, seeking lurid news to celebrate elsewhere.
For more than 20 years, I’ve been a part of interdenominational and interracial clergy and community groups seeking to build personal relationships. Thus, when leaders met to discuss appropriate responses, they already knew and respected one another. There was a mutual love for one another across the lines that normally divide because of the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
The years of effort of just a few leaders served as a solid foundation for the community to build upon when the crisis arose. Though small in numbers, the power of the Holy Spirit in our midst was more than enough to overcome the divisive temptation of disruption sewn by the outsiders.
Why this happened
None of this “just happened”; this was the result of commitments and actions of concerned members of the church universal. Tragedy and hurt could not break the bonds forged by relationship-building activities.
Here are a few of our actions that you can try in your community.
WORSHIP TOGETHER––Periodically cross racial and denominational lines to visit each other’s houses of worship. Recognize there are different doctrines and ways to worship, but celebrate the things you have in common. In Baton Rouge, people of different skin colors and backgrounds spent two weeks in worship services that became a spiritually bonding time.
BREAK BREAD TOGETHER––A couple of times a year, visit one another’s homes for a meal. Taking time to honor one another is a great foundation for building respect, love and trust. It is possible to get to really know the heart of another person over a shared meal and conversation.
TALK TOGETHER––Once a relationship has been created it is possible to have honest conversations that do not skirt touchy subjects. My friends and I speak candidly about the problems that arise from racial bigotry. It is present on both sides of the fence. We do the same with denominational differences. More importantly, we offer a venue to unburden our souls in the comfort of mutual love. With Christ in the center of the conversation, we remain one in the Spirit while working out issues.
SERVE TOGETHER – This weekend over 10,000 people from all walks of life, all races and all religious backgrounds gathered together to serve the community. Trash was picked up and hauled, yards were mowed, groceries were purchased, buildings and houses cleaned, painted and repaired and so much more! Side by side, people bonded in service to the needy. There is nothing quite as satisfying as going home after a 12-hour day in the hot, humid climate, knowing you served others while building friendships.
DON’T STOP NOW––Relationships do not happen by accident, and cannot be truly current without intentionally planning ongoing activities. We may still hold a person dear in our heart even if we haven’t spoken for the last five years, but we will not have a clue about what is happening in his or her life. It is vitally important to continue investing in these relationships by planning ongoing fellowship and activities.
You may have some hurt that you need to express, a fruitful experience to share or a question to ask. Please feel free to contact me. I am available to speak to your church or group and would delight in the opportunity to lead training for your church leaders.
Mark Lubbock, deployed staff
General Commission on UM Men