My host church of St. Peter has an elderly congregation, with the youngest regular-attending member around the age of 60. A lot of wisdom comes from the mouths of these amazing people, but also, a lot of outdated thoughts.
This is a story of the evolution of the outdated thoughts of one particularly amazing woman:
Before every service, there is a group of us that join for Bible study. This particular Sunday we studied Mathew 22:34-39.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
After some discussion, we decided this meant loving courageously.
Loving outside the norm.
Loving far beyond expectation.
The attempt to live out Agape toward every human we cross.
One woman expressed her concern in following this commandment. She mentioned that an African American family had moved in across the street from her, and she wasn’t sure how to act. This had never happened in her lifetime in Granite City.
My heart sank. I had never heard someone so blatantly speak about his or her prejudices in my entire life. Was this really the place I was supposed to live for a year? Was I truly surrounded by such closed minded people?
I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with anxiety over where this conversation was going….
Another asked, “Well, what would you do if they were White?”
She replied, “Probably nothing.”
“How are you going to love them courageously?” The words just popped out of my mouth without my effort. I hoped I didn’t offend her. I couldn’t just sit there silently while people were having this conversation…
You could see her cogs turning. She didn’t know how to respond. She had never been asked this before. The conversation continued, but I did not realize the lasting impact my statement would make on this woman’s heart.
Since this day, she has made a very obvious effort to challenge her way of thinking.
The Wednesday after Veterans’ Day, she and her friend who is a 93 year old WWII veteran, presented a book on WWII to our youth group. It is important to note that our youth group is mostly black middle school aged boys.
During their presentation, one of the boys asked, “Were there any Black soldiers?”
She proceeded to show them the chapter on African American soldiers. Their eyes widened as their interest in the subject grew.
“Were people racist back then?” Another chimed in.
There is no possible way I could capture how eloquently she responded. Telling them the truth of the matter while explaining how significant her time with them has been to challenge the thoughts that had been engrained in her mind since childhood. How she is now beginning to see the youth as her own, regardless of their race.
This wasn’t the last time a conversation like this came up in youth group, and every time she has presented her truths with such a grace and vulnerability. She has created a safe space for these conversations to take place between young and old, black and white. She has expressed to this group how important they are to her. How they are helping her change her ways. They are showing her how to love courageously….
Maybe, just maybe, you can teach an old dog new tricks.