When she knelt in front of me on the cement floor of the conference event center, I gave the answer I usually give, but I wished I’d had more to offer. She wanted to know, “How do I raise my little girls to be better? How do I teach them everyone matters? How do I raise them to embrace everyone?”
I gave my standard answer, sitting on my folding chair, my knees resting against each other and my toes pointed inward. I told her to notice who sits at her dinner table, and I told her to think about the people who invite her to their dinner table. And, I think that matters. I do. I think it matters when our children see people of all cultures and races and religions and abilities and political parties and languages joining us to break bread, right under our roofs.
That beautiful young mom thanked me and she hugged me and squeezed my hand before she walked away, but she got me thinking. I’ve been mulling her question over in my mind and in my heart. Standing in the shower, breathing steam into my lungs, I’ve wondered about a better answer I could give her. One with more practical steps and tangible ways to build a new normal for her girls and for our world.
Because that’s what we’re aiming for, isn’t it? We’ve taken a good look around us and we’re realizing we can do better, when it comes to making space in our worlds for people who are different from us. We are feeling the changes all around us, and we are happy about the walls that fall and the bridges being built.
So, I’ve been thinking about what I’d tell that mom if ever I got a second chance, and here are a few things I’d say:
- Read books to your children that feature children of color, and make those books your go-to books. For one week, one month, or an entire year, let the books you and your children read together be the ones that feature children of different races, cultures, abilities, and ethnicities. Consider these suggestions, courtesy of a few of my Facebook friends: The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, My Name is Sangoel by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed, or The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster. My Facebook friends had a lot to say about this. Their hands-down favorites are The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, and Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe (also available in Spanish). Check out all their suggestions, here.
- Attend story time at a library in a different community. Or, if your child is interested in gymnastics, dance, soccer, or some other activity, consider enrolling them in a program in a different community, where you and they will each get to interact on a regular basis with people whose daily life is different from yours.
- Consider embracing a sister church. As a family, find a church that is different from yours, and attend that church once each quarter, or even once a month. Get to know the people there and become familiar with the style of worship. Participate. Meet with the pastor and pray for the congregation as a family. Be open about this decision with people in your home church who wonder where you disappear to each quarter or each month. Go out to Sunday dinner with the members of your sister church, and think about inviting friends from both of your churches to share a meal at your home, or a night out together.
- Enroll your child/ren in VBS at a different church this summer, and sign up to be a volunteer. Whether at a church you designate as your family’s sister church, or some other church, invest in one week of fellowship, learning, and working together with the children and families of a church in a community that is different from your own. Get in touch with that church many months in advance of VBS. Establish a relationship with them and ask if it would be possible to serve in this way.
In every instance, the goal is to make the inclusion of people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, and abilities a normal way of life for your child. As they grow, our children should be more surprised when they find themselves in environments — especially among people of faith– where everyone they meet looks just like everyone else. Instead, their normal will include the richness of the knowledge of people and customs from many different cultures, each deeply loved by our God who created us all.
We get to gift our children with a new kind of normal, where every tribe and tongue and nation come together here on earth, as it is in heaven. After all, isn’t that what the prayer really means? Isn’t the power in us — the same power that raised Christ from the dead — sufficient to help us find our way across the lines and over the walls that divide us? This is the moment where we get to roll up our sleeves, in the right here and the right now, and live out the ministry of reconciliation to which we’ve been called.