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Opportunities to heal racism

From the March 3, 2003 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

A CO-WORKER INVITED ME TO JOIN HER at a special program given by her African American community in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a new experience for me to be in an audience where I was the only Caucasian person. For 23 years I had lived where I rarely met people of races other than my own. Then I moved to a city where I lived in a very diverse neighborhood. Admittedly I had been feeling some disorientation, and even apprehension toward some people I now saw every day in my new neighborhood. And I felt a little strange sitting in this audience, because I wasn't used to being "in the minority," so to speak.

The program was presented primarily by African American educators who spoke with inspiration and love. I loved the deeply religious tone that confirmed an innate conviction that trust in God could lead to the healing of racism. I found myself praying throughout the program, knowing from my own experience that prayer is effective. I wanted to support those who were turning to God for the courage to overcome hatred with gentleness.

I thought of one of my favorite passages in Science and Health: "Tenderness accompanies all the might imparted by Spirit" (p. 514). Here Spirit is a name for God.

At the end of the program everyone stood and sang "We Shall Overcome." A young girl sitting several seats away came over and took my hand while we were singing. A gentleman sitting behind me took my other hand. I was truly moved by the experience. On the way home, I asked God to show me how to be free of any taint of prejudice—how to love my neighbors and feel comfortable in my new neighborhood. In the weeks that followed I began to see reports of neighborliness and caring in the community newspaper, and I prayed to see everyone in the neighborhood as fully expressing his or her God-given nature of kindness and mutual appreciation. Soon I felt completely comfortable out on the street and enjoyed encountering the people who passed me each day and warmly returned my greetings.

One day when I came home from work, I saw a police car across the street from my home. There had recently been several incidents of crime in the neighborhood, so I approached the African American policeman who was sitting in the car and asked him if everything was all right. His response was gruff and unfriendly. It surprised me, but I managed to say, "Well, thank you for being here."

Feeling I'd missed the opportunity I had been praying for, I again asked God to show me how to express more love—Christly love, and not just my own well-meaning human love. When I walked back down the street an hour later, the police car was still there. As I passed by, the officer beckoned me over.

He told me that he had not been to this neighborhood for several years and that it used to be one of the most unsafe in the city. He was surprised at the change. And he added, "It's because of people like you."

We continued talking for a while about a recent murder that had made newspaper headlines for several weeks and was discussed on every TV and radio news station. Police brutality and racial profiling had outraged many people in the community. Churches in the city had called special prayer meetings. I remarked to the policeman that the meetings were a sign that many people wanted to love more. I said I felt that the mutual caring in which people of many races had come together to pray would be effective in healing hatred and opening the way to better community relations. He asked, "Do you think that could ever happen in my neighborhood?" As I left, I saw tears in his eyes.

Jesus taught that God requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It's not a choice.

Science and Health states, "The greatest wrong is but a supposititious opposite of the highest right" (p. 368). To me, that means that right where a terrible wrong appears to be happening, in that very situation God has already provided what is entirely right. As the Bible says, God's entire creation is "very good" (Gen. 1:31). Therefore, the "very good" has always been present, and is present at every moment. It follows that the opposite of good—evil—can't actually be present in a creation that is entirely good.

Relying on this concept to be true, I sometimes like to search for ideas that are the exact opposite, the reverse, of a difficult condition that appears impossible to change. I ask myself, "If I could have the best possible situation to replace the problem at hand, how would I describe it? How does God see His creation?"

Jesus gave several parables to illustrate the reversal of discordant conditions. The one known as the parable of the Good Samaritan could be seen as an example of reversing racism. In Jesus' day the Samaritans were a despised group of people. By describing the kindness expressed by a Samaritan to a wounded man whom others had passed by, Jesus illustrated the healing qualities of brotherhood and sisterhood, compassion and mercy. If a person finds that he or she has subtle racist feelings because of labels, jokes, or stereotypes heard over the years, it may seem very hard to replace those feelings with a purer love. But Jesus taught that God requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It's not a choice. We're required to be obedient to God's laws in order to be right with Him. I think the first step must be to want to.

In "Prayer," the first chapter in Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds" (p. 1). The desire to love more comes from God, and we can trust God to send us the thoughts we need to show us how to do it. Practical opportunities to share love and brotherhood will surely follow.

Cali McClure, a former junior high school teacher, is now a Christian Science practitioner living in Barrington, Illinois.

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