People of different races can’t possibly understand each other’s lives, I’ve been told of late in discussions surrounding the George Zimmerman trial. You’re a racist! You’re illogical! How can we possibly be friends? Perhaps by being brothers and sisters.
It’s thirteen years ago now, but our church held a hoedown in the sanctuary, disguised for the evening as a barn with pumpkins and hay bales. A professional caller taught us square-dance moves, line-dance steps and traditional reels. (I myself am hopeless at line dancing and get dizzy when swung.) Beaded belts and boots, silver collar tips and gingham dresses whirled about the floor.
My friend Mariela, who comes from Colombia, had decorated her straw hat with bright flowers. I told her it reminded me of Minnie Pearl. Crystal, from Taiwan, got thumbs up for her plaid shirt and jeans. Claudio, a transplant from Chile, got teased for hailing from western South America. Rose, a tall, dark, elegant African in a denim shirt, danced with her French husband. He knew minimal English and didn’t understand the caller, so they often wound up in the wrong place, but always with big smiles on their faces.
A teenage boy picked up one of the bandanna- bedecked toddlers and danced with her. During a reel, each pair of dancers raised their hands in an arch for the rest of the dancers to pass under. When two tiny girls took their turn, one of the big men got down on hands and knees to crawl through.
The caller, the real thing in his tall hat and assertive belt buckle, took a break from explaining steps and teasing the square that somehow wound up with three sides to tell us a story. “Once upon a time, a bunch of wonderful people came to Pine Ridge Church. That’s it,” he said. We cheered.
Later, I said to Rose, “You’ve experienced some real American culture tonight.”
She replied, “I love it. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
Soon I realized how much we both had said. Until the multiculturalists hacked America into hostile, competing groups, each asserting that our oppression is worse than your oppression, the United States was a place where everyone could share an ideal of constitutional government and equality before the law. We’ve had plenty of missteps and failures, sure, but most of us could be nudged toward fairness by an appeal to the ideal. That’s why the civil rights movement succeeded in spite of the dogs and fire hoses.
The church also offers unity around an ideal. Our pastor points out that people were divided into separate tribes with different languages at Babel. Then they were reunited at Pentecost when the Spirit of God came to live within His people, and those who had come from afar heard the praise of God in their own languages. We’re all cousins, the Bible reminds us, and there is no room for racism in the family. By faith, we gather at the cross of Christ with absolute equality.
As our society fragments, this message ought to be shouted from the rooftops. Here and there, people are living it. What do you say? Want to dance?