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Keeping Appointments: A Personal Message to the Community I Love

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lateI am a Christian man of faith, but those who know me well, also know that I normally wear my religion in my heart, not on my sleeve. I love and respect people of different faiths, and those with no faith at all.

In light of recent events, however, I feel the calling and need to open my heart and take the unusual step of allowing my faith to travel freely down my sleeves to the humble hands that type this message.

I have been enormously blessed in so many ways during my life, but the greatest by far is the blessing of my two sons. They are both fully grown now — one in California and one in Florida — one just recently married, and the other now a father himself.

From the moment I welcomed each of them at the miracle of their birth, I have recognized that, though they are brothers sharing common blood, family and childhoods, they are also unique — very different, each with their own blessings and their own shortcomings.

They have both been the source of occasional disappointment, but mostly of enormous pride.

Because of that, I have always loved them both — totally and equally — and, no matter what, I always will.

They are both my children — just as I have been taught and truly believe that we are all God’s children — ALL of us, both men and women, and with a full spectrum of colors and varied attributes — yet ALL created in His image.

And so, as I’ve reflected on the current political turmoil created by the recent racist comment of one County Commissioner, I have also reflected on precisely what makes that comment so repugnant to me: It’s because of the all-too-predictable resulting turmoil, stirred up by those with knee-jerk reactions to retreat to their separate corners, either offended or defensive. Community conversations about race have often had that same negative result.

This issue should not be about race, but rather about transcending race.

It’s imperative that we not let this controversy launch another season of mindless finger-pointing, fostering misunderstandings, mistrust, animosity and retribution. (Is anyone paying attention to what the pervasive eye-for-an-eye mentality has done for the Middle East?) Let’s not go there.

Sunday, I once again prayed for our offending commissioner and for our entire community.

While I detest public expressions of racism, especially from someone in whom we’ve placed our trust to represent ALL the people, I hope and pray she will see the error of her words — but also the error of her ways, which caused her to speak those divisive words.

And so, as one of her most vocal critics during this recent controversy, I decided to take time on Sunday to make an overdue return visit to one of my favorite churches in our beautiful “City of Churches” — Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Grier Heights. Pastor Donnie Garris presided and introduced a guest preacher, Pastor Ngwedla Paul Msiza, visiting from Pretoria, South Africa.

The sermon referenced Luke’s story of Peter, who had fished all night, yet had only empty nets in the morning to show for all his labor. But Peter didn’t let his dis-appointment as a fisherman keep him from his “appointment” with the Lord. It was an inspirational and deeply moving message.

Oddly, It wasn’t until I joined the procession of the faithful in their monthly communal taking of bread and wine that I first realized that I was the only white face in the packed sanctuary. That realization left just as quickly as it arrived, though — meaningless because I was filled with the knowledge and experience of being among my brothers and sisters joined in worship. There was nothing to divide us and everything to bring us together. I was welcome and at home.

I hope my own Pastor won’t mind, but it all made me question why it had been so many months since my last visit to Antioch. I had arrived with a heart hungry to be fed, and left filled with not just a meal, but a spiritual banquet.

Why is it, then, that the Sunday worship experience of community, and the supporting lessons of faith, occurring weekly in our churches usually wind up afterward being too quickly and easily forgotten during the short walk to our cars?

That needs to change. And we’re fully capable of making that change, if we would just commit to it long enough and strongly enough to recognize and reject the distracting detours of divisiveness and intolerance as the destructive dead-ends they really are.

But that change, and the effort necessary to realize it, cannot be unilateral. It requires effort from all sides.

In order to feed power or purse (even at the expense of the community as a whole), some forces are always at work to divide our community into “Us and Them” — jeopardizing the promise of the harmonious, peaceful and prosperous future we all want for ourselves and for our children.

Is it really very much of a revelation that a leak on your side of the boat still sinks my side of the boat — and we all drown?

Being “in this boat together,” let us please commit now to reject the arrogance and ignorance of racism, bigotry and the hateful hypocrisy of double standards — so we can finally come together, live together, work together to heal our community and help all our people prosper — proving once and for all that there really IS no “Them.” Look around. There is really only “Us.”

For a while now, I’ve been deeply disappointed in the divisive words and actions of our community leaders. Perhaps this personal message was my “appointment.” If so, both for me and for this community I love, I hope and pray that I’ve kept it.

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Contact Wayne Powers: www.facebook.com/waynepowers

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