A picture is worth a thousand words. And words, even written with photographs, can wound or heal. Take, for example, the one accompanying this post by famed photographer Gordon Parks. You have a nicely dressed middle-class African-American family in 1956 getting water from a fountain at an ice cream stand. It’s a Sunday afternoon in Mobile, Alabama. The colorful posters the proprietor has posted on the windows entice the taste buds to a tingle as they anticipate the delectable delights to come. The little girls in their smocked dresses must be so excited! It’s a typical, feel-good snapshot from a day in the life of America. Or is it?
Because it’s none of those things which catch our attention and cause us to stare; instead, it’s the large white letters on the two outdoor water fountains that designate the fountains as one for “white” and one for “colored.” And, if we’re able to step back and expand our view of the stand, we see two different windows for orders/pick-up, one for whites and one for coloreds. This picture is not that old, just 65 years, but it seems so ancient, even fabricated—the internet made this up! Well, sadly, we know the internet didn’t. This picture is authentic. People lived in a racist and segregated world and, in many ways, still do.
Yet, my point isn’t to address past failures or even present injustices, but instead, to turn the lens back on ourselves and wrestle with how the Church can bring healing to a nation still coming to terms with its sin. What powerful, grace-filled pictures and images can we hold up before our eyes and the eyes of our neighbors so that we write a new and better story?
As I searched the scriptures for direction, comfort, and strength, I was drawn to several passages reminding me how the Lord’s grace and power overcome our human pride, greed, and prejudices. As you read the following scriptures, what pictures come to mind? What words stand out to you, reminding you of the power of God’s love to overcome the evils of the world?
Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….”
Acts 10:34 “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality….”
Acts 17:26 “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth….”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Colossians 3:11 “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb….”
It’s clear from this small sample of the Word, that racism, favoritism, partiality, etc., have no place in God’s creation, especially in the Church and that Christ died for all so that all would have the opportunity to receive His grace and salvation. (The crucifixion is a powerful, healing image!) It’s also clear that these verses speak to a community formed by His work where these earthly differences like skin tone are nothing more than that–none superior or inferior, but all equal in Christ. If this is true, how can we make a difference today in meaningful ways? How can the Church use the power of the Gospel to help heal?
Obviously, this is a tricky question for us as we seek to follow Jesus in a secular society. And, unfortunately, the Church is finding itself more and more on the margins of conversations about solutions to the world’s problems. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Maybe. But it doesn’t mean that this idea of reconciliation, which begins with God and continues with us, is something we take lightly. Yes, reconciliation is first and foremost an issue of justification, but our justification (salvation) bears fruit in our lives today, not just when we die. The fruit is also for our earthly relationships.
I certainly don’t have all the practical answers, but I have two ears and an open heart and mind committed to listening and learning as the Spirit leads. I’m asking Jesus to show me, Pastor Tom, where I might make a difference in the life of my neighbor. Will you join me?
If you go back to the image of the family I shared initially, I think of those little girls. Given the age of the photograph, they are probably in their late 60s or mid-70s now. How did their parents explain to them the world in which they lived? Did they grow up to have families? What have they experienced over the decades? What progress have they seen, and where is improvement needed? I think I have as many questions for them as there are flavors of ice cream!
But it also gives me hope that obnoxious things like “whites only” water fountains are now contained in the archives and that we can share new and better pictures with the children and grandchildren to come. But it will take purposeful action in our lives, faithful to Jesus, to make it happen.
Keep me posted on how the Spirit is leading you; I promise to do the same!
Reconciled to Christ and to you,