#Day 9 An Open Letter to the White Blogger at the Conference
You were sitting there with me.
We were all tearing up, or dabbing with a tissue scrounged from our handbags, we didn’t want the mascara to run in case we got caught in a group shot after and had to smile through puffy eyes and black streaks.
I’ve sat at this table with you for the past two and a half years. I’ve pushed my white plate toward the centerpiece on the linen tablecloth until a brown-skinned server whisks it silently away after every meal. I’ve looked them in the eyes and said thank you but it’s never enough.
I’ve shared cabs and burned red-hot shame when you walked away with your luggage after paying your part of the fare and I stuffed extra bills into their hand for a tip and thanked them.
They look me in the eye and something passes between us, my silent apology. I feel sick every time. But I had hope.
I’ve watched the slide shows, seen the presentations, heard the pitch to extend our hearts to a broken and needy world. But that world always looks so far away with black-skinned babies and foreign tongues. It’s easy to love that world with a donation or a prayer or a blog post. It doesn’t cost us much right here.
We are bloggers, we are Christian women, we carry words with us and the power of story.
It was something I believed in, hoped for even. What a tremendous blessing to go on a blogger trip and learn, to sit with and listen to the stories of our sisters and brothers overseas. To champion causes I know and love.
I am a missionaries’ kid. I long for the third-world the way some long for a Paris vacation. I have always felt displaced here. It might be the gift of being a third-culture-kid, to see a common gospel.
I assimilate and I stand out. I can’t help myself.
I believe in the work of the people. The ones who live right down into where they’re planted and serve day in and day out without blog followers and stats and pictures for their Instagram. But I also believe in the power of story. And so many of you have told beautiful ones. I know you put your whole heart into it.
I’ve set foot on blood-red Ethiopian soil, wrapped my arms around women and didn’t want to let go. I’ve come home challenged in my faith and wanting to rethink how I live my day-to-day obedience.
I know that those stories matter because empathy is birthed when we remove scales of privilege and practice and learn a new Kingdom way.
I believe in mercy and generosity and hope but I also believe in diversity. I believe it matters because we are image-bearers. Those faces on the screen are not a fundraising goal, a project, or a face to go on a pamphlet. We are more than our anecdotes and our life-lessons. I know you believe this too.
But I’m crying. Harder now and it’s getting awkward because my shoulders are pitching forward and I feel the break of a sob clawing it’s way out from the hidden places. And I know I’m not crying for the same reasons as you.
You are crying because you see something beautiful and I am crying because I see something broken.
I’ve spent the last two and a half years flooded in a sea of white faces, beautiful women I know and love. Beautiful women who God is working in and speaking through. I refuse to discount that to make room. But I feel so alone as I look up to see the faces of the servers lined against the wall, hushed in the darkness as the lights dim and the screen lights up with faces and countries and so many trips and they are all white bloggers smiling prettily amid the Ugandans, and Filipinos, and Ethiopians, and Guatemalans.
And I wonder what the servers and the taxi drivers and the hotel workers think when we flood conference centers, when every meal and worship service we speak of the body of Christ, the church, the world changers among us and the need to love the world around us and yet we are so blindingly homogenous, so shockingly segregated.
We are so other from them in every way. So often every speaker, every conference planner, every contributor blog is primarily white.
What are we silently saying when we paste pictures of what our service to God looks like and the only ones the staff ever resemble are the ones being served in their poverty? But here they have no voice, they are here to serve us. They are the voiceless faceless hands that refill our coffee and bring our plates and I hate the flimsy gospel we bring when we can’t even do this right. I hope we are kind, but sometimes kindness isn’t enough.
“Charity is giving someone crumbs off your table. Justice is giving someone a seat at your table.” – Bill Moyers via Jenny Yang
Are we charitable and kind or are we just?
Lack of diversity in the church in any area subverts our credibility and witness. If we truly believe Jesus came for all, how come it’s so hard to find all anywhere?
But I get it.
We want the names that people know, the ones that get traction in the world. The ones that will make people sign up and register and pick a child packet from the sponsor table.
We want what we know. And what we know is privilege.
But maybe the gospel demands we do more than that? Maybe the gospel demands we stretch wider than what we’re comfortable with? Maybe the gospel demands discomfort, and asking who our neighbor really is? Maybe it demands we embrace a world that sees the tears of the woman next to you, or across the tracks, or the globe and asks how you can shoulder that burden?
I know that race and reconciliation and diversity are touchy. I know. I will lose followers for this. You might be mad at me. You might think I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I can’t help that.
But you might ask me how to do better. You might wonder what that means practically for you. You might want to have a conversation.
I stood in the hall that night looking for a safe place, running questions over in my head and feeling the ache of all that we keep missing. I’m not exempt here. I join the lament of things I get wrong.
And you might have been there. You might have been one of the women God used that night to pull me in close and tell me you see it too. Or didn’t but wanted to. You might have said, “Help me understand.”
And I might have wept like a pitiful child right there, arms extended across the table, because isn’t that what we all want? To be understood.
So you might notice this started quite the discussion in the comments and elsewhere online. This isn’t just about a blog post or a conference or how to be nicer to servers and taxi drivers. God is working, He does that. So I’m stepping back and letting Him.
My inbox got flooded, and the comments keep coming, and the tweets and the conversations we’ve taken offline give me so much hope, really they do. I’m processing through them so If I haven’t responded know that I’ve read them and I appreciate them and it might take me awhile. Grace?
If this post struck a chord, you might be talking about and processing this in your own way or with those around you. I’m taking a day or two off from responding here because I’m tired and this is hard stuff to talk about and sometimes it just feels rough and raw and I have kids to feed and laundry to do and other posts to write. But I’ll be back soon. Just seeking a little Sabbath.
I love the conversations that are happening, I love the questions you’re asking and the stories you’re bringing. Keep em coming. Just know if I don’t respond right away, it’s not because your comment isn’t appreciated or your contribution to this conversation isn’t valued. It’s just that God saw fit to give me a small capacity and I’m all worn out.
So carry on. I’ll be back.