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The Prince of Peace

We went to the Alliance Theater yesterday, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to see a performance by high school students who presented the I Have A Dream speech through their own eyes. Much was said about the high school cafeteria’s voluntary segregation: cool kids, theater kids, athletes, black kids, hispanics, Asian kids, pretty kids, awkward kids…all sitting with their “own kind.” We then had dinner at our house with our neighbors, a mix of generations with the two oldest guests in their 80’s and the youngest guest 5 months old, two separate white neighbors in addition to our whole family, single and married and one other family with children. It was a picture of Martin’s dream, at least in a one dimensional sense.

When it came time for the dessert, Terrell opened up a discussion of the day’s significance and asked anyone to share who wanted to, particularly as it related to their experiences in our neighborhood. The two widows in their 80’s jumped right in without hesitation. After beginning with, “I never thought I’d see this day”, our next door neighbor, proceeded to share stories of her experience during segregation. One example was of her long walks in the rain to a trolly which would then pass right by her to pick up a white lady further down the street and then open for her if there was room in the back. The other widow shared of being on the early side of the transition of this neighborhood from white to black. The elementary school was mostly burned down when her children began attending, she didn’t explain how but it is pretty obvious, so they walked their young children further away to a nearby church to be educated.

I’ve known these kinds of historical facts for much of my life, in the same way I have much factual knowledge of the holocaust. But to hear it coming from the mouths and lives of the most dignified, classy and gracious women sitting in my living room was both humbling and paralyzing.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3

God’s people have been divided ever since the Garden. Adam and Eve were looking after their own interests, attempting to do so apart from God’s provision, which resulted even in a division between the two of them. Cain killed Abel. Shem, Ham and Japheth divided. Ishmael was born as one divided permanently from all his brothers, living in hostility with them for all his days. The nations were divided at Babel for the same reason Adam and Eve were…seeking to be their own gods and determine for themselves what is right and wrong in their own eyes. I more than anyone want to be king of the hill. I hate losing and feeling like a loser, even if that sense is based upon not accomplishing what I determine should be accomplished to feel my life has been justified for another day. The racial division that we experience today is not the same blatant hostility experienced by my neighbors as they raised their children. But in many ways it seems deeper and more impenetrable because it is cemented in resignation. For my new neighbors, it’s just the way it is. For some here who I do not know, the hurt and injury and oppression has cut so deep that bitterness and hatred have grown powerfully in those wounds with reason. As a white person who grew up in an affluent community, I’ve never really experienced the issue of racial oppression and divide because it has never actually been an obstacle to my daily routine nor ever impeded my desires. Junior high was awkward and filled with insecurity. I hated the lunch room because I never was certain I would have a seat at the table. That was two years of feeling inferior and in those two years, most of the trauma was a result of my perceptions of reality and not reality itself. My affluent community, including me, does not really believe anyone should complain of an existing racial division problem because according to the way we experience it, one does not exist. and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. Ezek. 37:21-23

My mind is overloaded by questions I can’t even come up with and my heart is heavy with the seeming impossibility of ever genuinely seeing shalom restored through authentic reconciliation between different people groups. The magnitude of the divide is overwhelming. But I will cling to this in the meantime: He will make for Himself one people out of many tribes, tongues and nations. He will reconcile all of His people to Himself and therefore to one another. He will save me from my sinful backsliding into superiority simply because of the way I was raised in the skin into which I was born. He will cleanse me and all His people.

The healing and restoration won’t come through a once a year service project we do together, not simply through high school kids mixing it up in the lunch room, not through eloquent speeches nor angry tirades. The only One who can reconcile us to one another is the One who overcame death, who took on Himself all of this sin that entangles me, and reconciled me and all His children to Himself. By faith, I want to live in that true reality now. This particular story has as much to tell of His redemptive process as any other and is just as covered by the person and work of Jesus.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Eph. 2:14-22

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