BY DAVE RODRIGUEZ, SENIOR PASTOR
Marc Williams attends Grace Church. He's African American. He believes it's time to stay in the room. He believes it's just as important how we manage our conversations as it is to have them with one another. He believes it is time to listen, share, weep and learn from each other. Dave Rodriguez is the Senior Pastor of Grace Church. He's Caucasian. He believes that no other institution has the level of inherent power to rescue an entire culture as the church. But he believes it is just as largely not applied. He feels it's time to listen, share, weep and learn from each other.
Dave & Marc started having a back-and-forth email conversation over the past few days in response to the tragedies happening around our country and our world. We are posting their words verbatim. We hope their conversation spurs some of your own. Get in the room and stay there. Listen to each other - face-to-face, race-to-race. Share, weep and learn from each other. Check out Part 1 below.
Dave Rodriguez: Hey Marc, thanks for chatting with me on this. I need to process, and I know you've been open and honest about your own agonizing, and I trust your perspective and your faith, so...yeah...lets talk.
What the heck are we supposed to do now? I woke up to the news of the Dallas shootings and I gotta tell you it felt like 9/11 all over again. It was cumulative. First Alton Sterling then Philandro Castile then Dallas. And of course this follows months and months of tragedies and shootings of all kinds. I agree with Spike Lee America is broken.
This weekend I'll address it in my sermon and call for us to respond appropriately but what do you think is appropriate?
Marc Williams: Well, I think it's appropriate to say that all of this is really disturbing and confusing. The actions of a few are dictating the actions of many, many people. That seems to go against what we wish happened. ""Strength in numbers"" sounds good, and is good sometimes, but now we have a few people swinging the pendulum of life. That is a lot like 9/11. A handful of people, even if you extend your belief into weird conspiracies, moving the country's attention. But, that's how strong the devil is, or at least that's what I think.
But I guess if I lay it on the devil that makes it easier for me to say, ""well I'm not equipped to battle the spirit realm"" then I can go back to feeling helpless because I told myself that I am. I bet a lot of people feel like that. So to beat that, Christ followers gotta own the power they have via the Holy Spirit. We don't have to be bystanders. We don't need to draft a 10 point plan then sit on that, but we do have to reflect and think about our roles in the world and how we get in the room and stay in it.
The biggest immediate threat to all of us is how we manage the conversations post-tragedy. I've already seen people get in their corners on Facebook and Twitter which means it'll soon hit real-life conversations. Fear and racism are gripping the country. So to me, bickering about who did what and who started what is only productive to an extent. People need to be aware of the context but beyond that, the evil is the culprit. The fear we harbor and hold by living in varying degrees of solitude is not helping. Chronic anxiety about everything feeds that fear too. So we really gotta be careful about getting sucked into dead end conversations in the next week or so.
As I scrolled back up to halfway proofread this, that's a lot of stuff! But key things: leaning on Jesus, finding a way to stay in the room, and some empathy for anyone who says they feel hurt. Now is not the time to play the ""who hurts more?"" game.
Dave: Yep, as a friend says to me frequently ""there's a months worth of sermons in there."" So, let me start with the conversation thing. I know you like the concept of ""get in the room and stay in the room"" (btw...that idea is from my friend Jim Henderson. It stuck with me). Who do we get in the room with? (bad grammar) It seems to me that we're ideologically, racially, and politically isolated or in solitude, as you said. I choose my friends, my neighborhood and my cable news network ...and maybe my church...to feed me what I already believe. So, who do I talk to? How do I open a conversation and with whom? What room do I get in?
And, it seems to me that we need to do a lot more listening than talking. Who do you listen to? And with whom have you discovered the best conversations? Does it help with the pain and frustration?
Marc: I do my best to listen to people who are not as engaged in things as I am. Mostly to get an understanding of how and why they appear to be less engaged. I keep up with race and all things pertaining to it because it affects my career so when I find out that others aren't doing the same, I honestly don't get it. The aggressive part of me assumes people don't care but from listening, I end up hearing that people do care but are just not sure what to do or say. I was on a panel about a lot of this last night and that's cool but the room is probably full of people who are already active. Somehow, we should be listening to people who don't engage in the ways they we do. Not necessarily people we disagree with, which is good too, but people who engage with the world's happenings differently.
By circumstance, I get to hear different perspectives from more white people of different backgrounds than anyone else. I think I'm a lot of people's only black friend so I think my friends feel like I'll listen to them without passing judgement. But mostly, I look to hear from people who have a different view. Sometimes we have to force those interactions but for me it happens pretty organically.
Dave: Don't know if you want to go there but...how DO you feel today? You always seem to keep a level head and steady emotions even when you're dealing with intense stuff. Are you numb to this? Furious? Afraid? Heartbroken?
Marc: Well I might be in and out the rest of the night because I'm doing some emcee work. But how do I feel? Mostly tired. All of this has become commonplace which is terrible. I've always been emotionally moved by people getting killed which is probably from knowing that some of my family members are gun violence victims even before I was born. So now I have to filter a lot of it or it'll eat me alive for days on end. This stuff is depressing. Dave, I guess I wonder how you balance your personal feelings and emotions with being ""the face"" for a large organization. I like to believe that pastors probably want to just wallow in their rooms too!
Dave: Yeah, it's hard to balance my feelings and my responsibility to my calling and job as pastor. Frankly, I don't say everything I'm feeling and thinking. So often after I see things like the video of the Alton Sterling shooting I just want to erupt with thoughts in a sermon or tweet. Can't do that. It's not that I feel the need to be politically correct but the responsibility to help people from all points on the spectrum think sensibly. I'm sure I frustrate people. I frustrate me. And yeah...I'm tired too. Heart weary.
Marc: So the remarks today (after attending church services on July 9 & 10 and watching the video above), I think your comments were on point, which I'm sure was hard to do. I don't think there was any room for people to say you favor one group over another. The tone I got was that all of this is damaging for a number of reasons. Some people are just defensive because they continue to clutch this imaginary respectability concept that tells people that if they just ""do what's right"" they'll have no problems. We know that's not true. Job was doing what's right. Daniel was doing what's right. Jesus. John the Baptist. A lot of the black people killed by cops. The cops killed by civilians. Those who seek to persecute and oppress don't care if you're doing what's right. They already have their mind made up. It's always been like that.
So this construct that says if we just play by the rules then everything will be ok, that's a lie. A dangerous lie. Not to say we should all be on guard all the time but we gotta know that even the righteous face persecution, because that's the devil's M.O.
Yeah people should do what's right. And we ought to encourage people to walk in a way that would shine light on Jesus. But we have to know that even if we do that, we still will have resistance.
Dave: About doing what is right...puts me to mind of this warning of Jesus : ""I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."" You said it the other day...we cannot be business as usual. We have to be innocently loving and vulnerable but at the same time absolutely not naive. I'm not sure I'm ready to say we're in a civil war like some people are saying but we certainly are in a spiritual war. It'll take some version of battle-readiness and alertness if we have any hope of bringing the light of the Gospel of love to this mess.
Interesting side-note...a woman approached me after services yesterday and pointed out the front page of our website. It said: ""Every Life Matters"". I gulped! And then remembered it has been a slogan of sorts for months to remind us of the need for evangelism. It wasn't there as a comment on the Black Lives Matter movement. So we changed it immediately...but I think being sensitive to our words, our posture, our tone has to be part of our being ""shrewd as serpents"".
Read Part 2 of Dave & Marc's conversation.