Embracing the Gospel Through Racial Reconciliation – a guest post from Adriana Kassner Cunningham

[I am so pleased to be able to host my friend Adriana Kassner Cunningham today. She writes about life and literature and faith at Classical Quest, a blog well worth your time. Her post here is part two of a short series on race and the kingdom of God. I wrote part one and posted it yesterday.]

***

All of us make mistakes . . . Sometimes intentionally, most of the time unintentionally. All of us have much to learn from one another. All of us can take away a new level of awareness through what we walk through and experience. ~Vivian Mabuni, A Place of Abundance

My husband Joe is a masonry contractor. A few months ago he was building a parking garage in our city. At lunch time he and his brick mason walked across the street to a small corner store. The proprietor was a black man of late middle age. He nodded in greeting to these two white men as they entered.

“I honestly just wanted to be friendly to the guy,” Joe told me later. “I tried to start a conversation. I noticed that he was playing heavy metal in the place. I thought that was odd, so I said, ‘This don’t sound like your kind of music!’”

A shadow passed over the man’s face. Joe’s brick mason cringed and looked away.

“Now, why would you say that?” asked the shop owner.

Like many cities in the United States, our city has a long history of racial tension. Blacks and whites often view each other with suspicion. On both sides, there is fear. Misunderstandings are common; old wounds run deep.

“I realized immediately that I had stereotyped the guy.” Joe told me. “I felt like such a dummy. I went ahead and bought a sandwich. It was awkward.”

A few days later I offered to pack Joe’s lunch as he prepared to leave for work. “No need,” he said. “I think I’ll buy lunch from that shop across from the job site again.”

. . . God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34-35)

The second time Joe entered the store, the owner looked surprised. Joe got right to the point: “I need to apologize to you. I stereotyped you the other day when I made that comment about the heavy metal music. I’m sorry.”

“What? Stereotyped me? I stereotyped you!” said the man as he set to work making Joe’s lunch.“I’m glad you came back because it’s been on my heart. Before you came in that day, I was listening to gospel music, but when I saw you two white boys walk in, I switched the station to heavy metal!”

He handed Joe a sandwich.

“You know the Lord?” asked Joe.

“Yeah — Let me show you something.” From behind the counter he held up his Bible. “I’m preparing for a Bible study tonight.”

In that moment Joe and the shop owner recognized Christ in each other. They smiled, then laughed! As Joe’s bewildered brick mason stood to the side scratching his head over what had just occurred, Joe and the shop owner shook hands. They bade each other farewell, exchanging mutual blessings as brothers in the Lord.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10)

Have you ever experienced a moment of racial reconciliation? Please share in the comments!

***

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22 Responses to Embracing the Gospel Through Racial Reconciliation – a guest post from Adriana Kassner Cunningham

  1. Jeannie says:

    So beautiful, Adriana — it brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful moment.

    • Adriana says:

      Thank you so much, Jeannie! Sometimes Joe protects me from information that might cause me to fret, like when he is working at a high elevation, for example. While he was on this particular job — the parking garage in the city — there was a shooting nearby. Racial friction was more intense than normal. He didn’t share this story about the heavy metal music mix-up as it was unfolding. He waited until the Lord wrapped it all up nicely.

      P.S. Your encouragement has helped to prod me out of my shell and finally write something for Tim. I’ll write a post for you next if the offer is still open! 🙂

  2. michellevl says:

    The real power of this story is that the first interaction wasn’t the final one. Going back despite an awkward first impression is where the real reconciliation began. Thanks for sharing this, Tim and Adriana. It’s a good reminder that understanding happens when it comes out of persistence.

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    Beautiful!! I am so encouraged by this, thank you.

  4. Tim says:

    Adriana, thank you so much for allowing me to post this today. This piece had me literally holding my breath by the time I neared the end. You’ve written a powerful testimony to the work of our redeemer God whose Spirit is a Spirit of reconciliation.

    • Adriana says:

      Tim, what can I say? THANK YOU! I’ve learned a ton from you in the past year. When you first offered to let me write a guest post, the thought of it made me dizzy with stage fright! Over time I’ve come to feel that we’re all friends here. There is nothing to prove and SO MUCH of the goodness of God to share with each other.

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  6. christine says:

    I laughed out loud at this story! What a hoot! First I found myself amazed that the store owner would change the channel for the sake of his customers. On one level a stereotype on another a thoughtful attempt to please and attract customers. The fact that your husband realized how stereotypes happen is the jewel…and his apology pure gold. This is a really good story. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Adriana says:

      Thank you so much, Christine. 😀

      I think it’s safe to say most white construction workers listen to heavy metal. The shop owner’s decision to change the channel could certainly be viewed as a practical one.

      P.S. I’m blessed to have a spouse who knows how to say, “I’m sorry.”

  7. I found this story to be an amazing story for two reasons:

    1) It shows how deeply we are buried in our own minds when it comes to stereotypes and assumptions we make about “the Other”. And it happens on all sides of any conflict. But it also shows what self-awareness of those assumptions can do as they aim to move us towards reconciliation.
    2) And it shows the amazing power of repentance when it comes to reconciling relationships and building community. The fact that repentance led Joe to go back and, by doing so, allowed the shop owner to also have the opportunity to repent. And as they both aimed themselves in a different direction (um… that’s what repentance means, after all), they found that they were aiming in the same direction all along…

    FABULOUS story. Loved it.

    • Adriana says:

      Thank you, Robert. I really appreciate your insights. You are right — repentance is essential for reconciling relationships and building community. And like Michelle pointed out above it takes persistence to reach a point of understanding. One thing propels us in this process — and that is LOVE! I like how Martin Luther King Jr. referred to Jesus as “an extremist for love.”

      .

  8. Jeni says:

    When I first moved to Hungary, I was a bit shocked at the absolute hatred of the Roma (Gypsy) population. Hungarian Roma are not even considered Hungarian. The two groups are Hungarians and Roma. It seemed everybody but I could tell who was Roma based on appeareance. It was not about skin color- there are Hungarians who are darker than Roma. It is about facial features, clothes (Roma women often prefer bright tops and long skirts), and dialect. The hatred was not masked by people desiring to be seen as politically correct. I have heard statements like, “The only good Gypsy is a dead one,” or “If guns were legal in Hungary, I would kill a Gypsy every day.” The Roma were targeted right along with the Jews during the Nazi occupation, and the Neonazi movement (Jobbik) is strong enough today to have representatives in Parliament.

    A couple months ago, I was invited by a fellow teacher to a Roma music festival. I was the one who stood out with my blond hair and blue eyes, having Irish-Danish heritage. The host of the event was making his way around, and when he came to me, he asked where I was from. He welcomed me, then when he took the microphone to announce the next group, me mentioned that he had met an American Gypsy from Cincinnati, Ohio! He pointed in my direction, the spotlight following his cue. I waved with both arms at the cheering people, feeling honored to be included as one of them. I will never forget that experience.

    This group of people (known for stealing) trusted each other, leaving their handbags and jackets without worrying about them disappearing. Unfortunately, there is high crime by the Roma population. But I wonder how they are to break the cycle as long as employers are not willing to give them jobs. Parents pull their small children closer to them when a group of Roma are nearby, and everybody gets a death grip on their bags- or moves- if they see Roma coming their way. Not all Hungarians hate Roma, but my Hungarianized American eyes see this hatred openly blasted from so many, and I hurt for the Roma population.

    • Adriana says:

      Such a interesting perspective on the plight of the Roma, Jeni. The fact that hatred is so commonplace and blatant is chilling. It seems you are in a unique position to perceive needs and minister to those who are living under the heavy weight of social stigma.

      I’m not at all surprised that the spot light shined on you — you radiate the love of Christ wherever you go! But oh how I wept with laughter when I read that part! I just wish I could have been part of the cheering crowd!

      “An American Gypsy from Cincinnati, Ohio!” . . . I love it. 😀

      Thank you so much for sharing this with us, dear friend!

  9. What I love most about this story is how God weighs heavy on the hearts of Christians enough to cause them to rise to the occasion, admit wrong, and seek forgiveness, which is never easy. It takes courage, but how rewarding it can be.

  10. Christine R. says:

    I am in tears right now. Tim, thank you for hosting my dear friend Adriana. Adriana, thank you for sharing this story. It took courage to share it. Joe, thank you for being a man of faith and courage. It is truly inspirational.

    • Adriana says:

      Christine, since you were the only person to read my blog for the first three months, since you left a cheery comment every time I put up a post in those early days, since you have prayed for me every step of the way, I’d say you are a big reason why this post went up. Thank you for your encouragement, once again! ♥

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