For I see your face as one sees the face of God… Genesis 33:10
We were walking across the parking lot of the old Hillsborough Walmart, excited (I thought) about a shopping trip. My eight-year-old niece clutched my hand a little tighter.
“I wish I was white.”
My stomach churned. This was not the conversation that I had planned for the outing.
“Really? You wish you were white?”
“I hate having a black father and a white mother. It’s embarrassing.”
“Well,” I said lamely, “It’s OK to be mixed up. I bet we see a lot of people in Walmart who look like they’re both white and black.”
So we examined the faces of shoppers in the store, and found many who might be a combination of white and black, with Native American and Asian thrown in for some. It was fascinating to really look into people’s faces, because the stories obviously went so deep. By the time we left, my niece was happy, and race went onto the back burner for a moment. But I was disturbed. I had grown up with this ideal that race could be transcended; that if we just focused hard enough on our common identity as human beings, race would eventually fade away.
Human beings, however, hold on fiercely to tribal identities, learning as small children who is “other,” who is better, who is to be trusted, and who is to be feared. My niece had figured out that it was decidedly not OK to be mixed up; one or the other would be better, and white would be best. All the platitudes and little games her family played with her would not make that go away.
History and memory stalk us as Christians, making it nearly impossible to live into the new story of no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, black nor white. I stand in the pulpit and preach that new story, often with the heavy hand of reality dragging down my heart. But isn’t that the challenge of the church, in all times and all places, to keep doggedly pointing to that other reality—that future reign of Christ—when all these divisions will end? In the midst of violence and war, we share the peace of Christ; in a world of brokenness, we speak of grace and forgiveness and reconciliation.
Jacob and Esau struggled with each other, and as brothers, lived a life filled with competition, hatred, fear and betrayal. Their descendants would live out divided identities. But they have that moment, that glimpse of God’s face and God’s grace.
Brothers and sisters, in a nation of fierce racial identity, let us look into each other’s faces, and, just for a moment, catch a glimpse of the face of God. Let’s keep relentlessly pointing to that new story, the one worth laying everything else down for. Let’s keep pointing to Jesus, the hope of the world.