Tuesday, July 3, 2007

On 8th and Main

This past Sunday I had one of the more unique experiences of my life (and that’s saying something). One of the requirements of my internship this summer is that I attend at least two African American churches. The intent is both to connect me to the neighborhood and to experience being an outsider and minority. So this past Sunday I showed at Westside Church of Christ (the sign outside read: Established 33 AD) at 9:52 AM for the service. I was the only white person out of about 400 in attendance, so it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Fittingly, in the very first song, the entire second verse was simply a repetition of one phrase:

"Forget about myself, and glorify Him."

The timing was tremendous and I can guarantee I broke into a huge smile at that because that was an extremely necessary reminder. It’s not about me. No matter how self-conscious I may be, no matter how far out of my comfort zone I may be, no matter how much my mind is trying to figure out what the people around me are thinking, its not about me. It’s never about me, its all about Him.

I definitely learned a lot in my visit. One thing I observed is that the presence of a white guy is not commonplace at that church. Right before the service started, a 9 year-old kid three rows in front of me glanced over his shoulder and then immediately did a double take and looked again, with a look of astonishment on his face. A moment later, an elder introduced himself to me and stated he was in charge of coordinating programs for visitors, note he had no need to ask whether or not I was a visitor, he knew. I also learned what it’s like to be a visitor, and for everyone else to know it, as everyone was quick to introduce themselves and even to go out of their way to do so.

The enduring thing I experienced was being the minority. Honestly, it was tough to jump out of the car and enter the building, knowing that I was going to be at least in some regard out-of-place. I had to will myself to do it. I was deliberate about it. Also, how ‘bout this, a couple times I caught myself telling myself not to slouch in my seat, nor to sit up too straight because I didn’t want to appear either disinterested nor conceited. Knowing that I was different than the rest of the congregation made me hyper-aware of my own actions and appearances . . . but I get to go back whenever I want and be the majority. Further, I get to not even consider questions like the ones I was asking myself unless I put myself in a situation where I might have to ask them. At my university my race makes up 90.1% of the students, not 2.4% like it does for African Americans.

For me this was an isolated occurrence, not a lifelong recurrence.