I was a senior in high school a few years before Columbine. Brad and I were walking to our cars when we heard a loud bang. You could immediately tell it was bad. The hunters were the first to react, they heard the sound and instantly recognized the implications.
I don't remember much that happened after that. It was a blur. I barely had time to get home and process that a shooting had happened at my school, when the phone rang--my grandmother, MaCile had been rushed to the hospital. She was having a heart attack.
I remember being in her emergency room space. Separated by only the fabric curtain between beds, I sat and listened to my friend, Bobby's family absolutely come apart as the reality that their son, their grandson, their family had been murdered simply leaving school. As doctors monitored MaCile, I sat in shock and heartbreak as I heard his family overwhelmed with grief. His life was gone, simply because during P.E., he had insisted on pitching. Because of that, a kid with underdeveloped reasoning skills had gotten a shotgun and killed him in our school parking lot.
I grew up in a small town in Alabama. During integration, Macile was an elementary school principal. When she hired the first black teacher, she defiantly declared: “the black kids who come through my school will not see the only people who look like them in janitorial roles. They will see that they can be whomever God designed them to be”. Thankfully my family never instilled in me a sense of entitlement or superiority. I don't know if I even realized that until much later in life.
As I grew older, it shocked me to hear people talk ugly about people because of their skin tone. When I started middle school, one of my first friends was a black boy. My parents later told me they had to have hard conversations about what it would look like if that friendship became more. It was unheard of back then. They decided that their standard for me was that he would love Jesus and treat me like I deserved. Anything outside of those criteria, they would be prepared to defend for me.
When Bobby was killed, the first question people asked was "was it a white guy?" This was frantically asked with panic-filled eyes, because we all knew our town would come apart over a racial shooting. We all felt it. It was boiling, but until now, under the surface.
In spite of this, I was largely naive. I was a completely awkward nerd, I had my own issues that preoccupied my thoughts...However, as I reflect back on my own prejudices, they were definitely there. I was guilty of group mentality that somehow happens when you aren't intentional to stop it. As I grew in my faith and learned to love Jesus and therefore people deeper, I have spent significant time unpacking the things I have associated with people groups. I learned a lot about myself during a diversity class in grad school. We were required to weekly put ourselves in situations where we were the minority, and journal our experience and feelings. That is an amazing exercise. One I highly recommend if you have never thought to try it.
I have learned so much more from our church. When our pastor began the church, one prayer was for God to bless it with the gift of diversity. He didn't just want black and white people going to church together for the photo op. He wanted us to be united as the body of Christ. He wanted diversity in socioeconomic status, race, religious background, the broken roads that lead us to the cross. It's not uncommon for a former crack addict to serve together with a CEO at our church. We aren't perfect by far, but we wrestle through it. We are a church who WANTS it to be healthy. We all want to do the awkward thing, the hard thing, have the conversations that bring understanding and healing.
Inevitably, when we are intentional, we find common ground. We find things that we both laugh about or dream about. We find the things that connect us, and then have a better foundation to deal with the things that are different. As I think about the most recent headline, sadly the one of many incidents that actually caught the wind of public outcry, I ache for Ahmaud's family. I ache for my black friends and the common tension they all share looking at this video, looking at their sons, terrified that this could be the future for their innocent little boys.
I also think about the little white boys who are equally innocent, being raised to hate and fear by the people who should teach them to love. I ache for us all, as we once again face the intense emotions that sin causes to reverberate through violence and fear.
I challenge us to all stop and pray for healing in our own hearts, for healing in our church, for healing in our community, and healing in our world. I challenge us all to beg the God of justice to remind us that He SEES, He knows, He will handle it. He will never forsake us. Out of that, peace that passes all understanding can flow. Out of that, we are safe to beg Him to give us compassion to see each of the people He died to save with fresh eyes. We can use that compassion to speak up when the people around us haven't dealt with this part of their hearts. We can settle in our own hearts what Godly truth actually is, so when the time comes that we need to speak that truth, we will be able to speak it with love. That is how change happens. It will simply never be the overflow of an angry argument. Change happens when we speak the truth out of love. Godly truth is the only truth powerful enough to fully heal.
As I scoured the internet looking for Bobby's story, I was shocked that I couldn't find anything. Which made me so sad. I remember you, Bobby. I'm so sorry your life ended so young. I’m sorry that to some you were just another statistic. You were also the boy who bought candy bars from my band fund raiser box instead of the vending machine. Some days you bought two. Even though they cost twice as much.