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Eating the Elephant

Eating the Elephant

You ever hear the old adage that begins, “How can you eat a whole elephant?” I guess unless you are that lady who ate the fly, I doubt you can swallow an elephant. It’s a huge task after all. Dauntingly big, it creates inertia, nothing moves. I give the endeavor a thought and then move on. The elephant is still there, looming. Witness my attendance to a conference on Diversity. The days spent there were very good, and there were great speakers; the breakouts by and large were good. I learned a bunch. I got some books. It is commendable that there are so many churches wishing to be a place for all God’s people to come and unite together as Christ envisioned. Think about it—check, done! Okay next thing; ready to move on.

Oh, but it wasn’t that easy. I SO wanted to fly away. I had no desire to self-examine. I didn’t want to have to hear that we still have a problem with this diversity thing—it is the elephant. Dag! It would not leave me alone. I heard about race reconciliation a lot. I felt a bit put out to be honest. After all, I am a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant; yep, a WASP with pre-revolutionary heritage. How cliché right? I have heard that I’m privileged, in charge, oppressive and a majority. So my first instinct is to retreat into defensive debate style, refute mode whereby through whit and intellect I defuse all the arguments. Ah, I feel better. No I don’t.

The unvarnished truth of it, and I believe it to be common to all of us categorized as white middle/upper-class educated people, is that we have no clue. I do not know what it is like to be a person of color that faces a daunting social structure each and every day, all day. Yeah I’ve felt like I was on the fringes at times, but I could, and can, each and every day decide to be and to see myself in the middle of the “ruling class” if you will. It’s quite different for others. My fight and ego instincts feel threatened by that admission. Some people label this first step of compassion “White guilt.” It gets boxed up, named and then dismissed. But I ask myself WWJD? What would He do?

The question is rhetorical of course. I know what He would do. That’s what is convicting me. Now some will stop reading right here (eye-roll, ‘just another diatribe on race relations,’ they might think). Trust me that’s not what I’m saying. I profess to identify myself as a Christ follower, and I truly don’t judge others on color or ethnicity, but that doesn’t mean that I enter into their struggles either. My stance of compassion is lacking, and I’m not talking pity or guilt or anything with political or social overtones. I’m talking about my character. All my hairs are on end, my thoughts are swirling. “I’m not a bad person;” “I’m not prejudiced.” These statements are true. What I must do on-behalf of all those that don’t, is acknowledge the divide that exists. That’s what is hard for me. I would prefer to believe we are beyond that in this day and age. Why would I be fearful? Contrary to what some have said, I don’t think those that live as a minority want to overthrow the majority and enslave us in some type of retributive vengeance. But with dignity that is due them, I have to acknowledge that I personally haven’t wrestled with the issue as I should, hence the discontent in my soul.

I worshiped and listened to my fellow Christ followers, those with different cultures, colors and denominations and I was confronted by Christ’s vision of all nations. Like Babel and the creation of division, it is more comfortable to retreat into my life circumstances, much of which I simply have by birthright. Unity in Christ is powerful and beautiful—almost frighteningly so. Christ teaches us about our rebirth. Paul talks about the renewing of our minds. I was fully confronted during these few days and realized just what that rebirth or renewing entails. It is hard to admit, to realize my own inadequacies. At the same time, if that admission helps to breakdown my guard, to become transparent, to let me see and be seen as Christ would, then what would the world look like if we all did that? Too big, too abstract, an elephant I can’t swallow. I can only be concerned with the small world that is around me—palpable, influencing. That’s where I can eat the elephant “one bite at a time.” I think that world can look like the Kingdom. Imagine. That can be my church. That can be our church.

About Bill Gray

Bill Gray works as director of grow ministries for Floris UMC. He is responsible for the connection, education and group life of Floris' adult congregation. Bill is married to his wife, Monica, and has four children.

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