By Chris Lahr
I want to share a story that I have never made public. When I was a teenager I would visit some friends living in a trailer from time to time to party and have a “good time.” The trailer was located in a predominantly white, rural setting. Occasionally people would come to the door to buy weed and have a short visit. I’ll never forget one particular visit as an African-American male came to the door. Knowing my friend was racist I was a bit surprised to see how excited they were for their visitor. They laughed, talked about randomness, made an illegal sale and he was out the door. My friend looked at me and said, “That was one cool n---” (sorry don’t use the derogatory term).
Reflecting back at this event, it dawned on me that what made this man particularly “cool” in my friend’s eyes (as if he were an exception to the rule) was the fact that they actually had a relationship. It wasn’t a deep meaningful relationship, but there was respect, and through their conversation you could tell there was real affection for each other. Even for someone who was blatantly racist, they put their beliefs to the side momentarily when they had the opportunity to get to know someone personally of a different race and as they found common ground.
Today there is a lot of talk of resistance. Some are resisting Obama as he leaves the Whitehouse as other resist Trump as he enters. It breaks my heart to see racism manifested in various ways in my city, and in my country, but I am beginning to think my articles of resistance aren’t enough as they only fall on deaf ears and get labeled liberal and tossed from consideration.
What is needed now more than ever is “relational resistance.” If we want to end racism, bigotry, sexism, etc. we need to begin developing real relationships with people that are different from ourselves: racially, politically, theologically, and ideologically over all.
A few years ago I brought a vanload of youth (Hispanic and African-American) from my current hometown of Philadelphia to my former hometown of Huntington, Indiana (currently 98% white). We were invited to join the local youth groups in an event called Operation Backyard. Each day the youth would spread throughout the community to do acts of love. My youth loved this and still talk about it today, hoping to return for a visit.
There has been a lot of bad talk about my former hometown and it doesn’t have a proud racial legacy, but its history does not define all of its current residents. During our trip the youth were able to form some real relationships that they have been able to maintain through social media. During our trip we had one negative incident. The final project was for each youth group to take a neighborhood, go door to door and ask for canned goods for a food drive we were doing for needy families in the community. Ten minutes in the neighborhood, as I sat in the van watching with pride as our youth walked door to door, a man drove up next to me and asked what we were doing. I informed him of Operation Backyard and the mission at hand. He then proceeded to tell me he was part of the neighborhood watch and that we should leave immediately. Being a bit stubborn, I assured him we had the right to be there and that this same event occurred in their neighborhood the last 10 years and no one was ever kicked out. He left and the police were called.
The police showed up, I explained what was going on. The police were super cool and told us to enjoy ourselves. I called the facilitators of the event and they were shocked. They said it was the first time they had seen something like this and they were embarrassed and angry.
My youth were actually gracious about the whole thing. I can’t help but to think something important happened. My youth entered a town with a hard racial history, and yet the majority of the people they met were friendly and thrilled to get to know them. Then some white folks living in Huntington began to understand the realities of racism in a more tangible way than they had in the past. The youth were not complaining or making something up, there really was a guy trying to kick us out of his neighborhood because my youth were not white!
Going forward we may need to start up some of these trips again so that we can cross these barriers once again. The end goal in unity is not uniformity but an deep and heartfelt appreciation of diversity. Let’s not fear the unknown, but rather, let’s begin making what is unknown, known. Let’s resist injustices in their various forms through real relationships.
Chris and Lara Lahr live in Philadelphia, where they raise three daughters. They have been married twenty years, with 17 of them taking place in the city, where they reside. Lara is a community nurse working with babies and mamas in their neighborhood. She is currently going to school to become a midwife. Chris works with a non-profit called Timoteo (www.timoteosports.org). Timoteo is a mentoring program that uses flag football as a means of mentoring urban youth. The Lahr's are strong believers that they are called to be neighbors (instead of missionaries), which calls them to celebrate, struggle, worship, and live life in the neighborhood they serve. Chris is a graduate of Asbury Seminary and Eastern College. Lara is a graduate of Asbury College.