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My 91-year-old mom spends the night with us on occasion, and I’m embarrassed to say we’ve made her sleep on a 25-year-old mattress for far too long so a couple of weeks ago I ordered a new one. But then I made the mistake of taking a good look at that guest room and before I knew it, we were in the middle of a messy renovation. I say we because I dragged poor Joe into it when I started stripping wallpaper and realized what I was up against.
In short, under the textured, painted paper that has adorned the walls for at least a couple of decades, lay a layer of white paint, and under that, another coat of vinyl wallpaper, circa 1980s floral. I wish I could blame it on the previous owners, but we are the previous owners.
For days on end Joe and I picked and pulled and sprayed and sanded and scraped and tore those walls up, trying to ready them for a fresh coat of paint. DIY projects bring out the worst in Joe and me, and I’m pretty sure Joe got the bad end of that stick. But in one of my calmer moments, I commented how much easier it would have been had I done it right years ago, adding under my breath, “I feel a blog coming on.” Well, we finally got down to the nubs and after an amateur re-texturing job, were able to paint three walls. I covered up the fourth with bead board—just didn’t have it in me to tackle it.
In the back of my mind I assumed I’d blog about personal transformation and how covering up or plastering over sinful patterns will only make things that much harder—you get the point. But then George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer and our nation started coming apart at the seams. Bedroom remodels felt inanely irrelevant in view of the collective pain and angst that poured out as people took to the streets to protest systemic racism in city after city. Looters and violence aside, there have been tens of thousands of protesters across the land—people like you and me—peacefully calling for change, almost nonstop. I have felt undone.
Bedroom remodels felt inanely irrelevant in view of the collective pain and angst that poured out as people took to the streets to protest systemic racism in city after city.
The thing is, I did not want to write this blog. Words are cheap these days, and as a white, middle-classed evangelical, the last thing I want is to be one more voice in a sea of platitudes that does nothing to facilitate change.
But then there was this wallpaper fiasco and the still, small voice I’ve learned not to ignore, whispering in my heart about a country that has papered over injustice for millennia, and has slathered on short-term fixes like that paint on my wall. Brenda Salter McNeil, a African American, Christian professor and author, writes that catalytic events like the ones we’ve experienced these past several weeks can force needed shifts, but it isn’t easy, and will always first produce distress and chaos (Roadmap to Reconciliation, published by InterVarsity Press).
I came of age during the civil rights movement, but the reality is that we simply haven’t done enough of the hard work of digging through all the layers, of refusing to stop or give up until racial oppression is no longer palatable
I came of age during the civil rights movement, but the reality is that we simply haven’t done enough of the hard work of digging through all the layers, of refusing to stop or give up until racial oppression is no longer palatable—personally, and in our cities, states and indeed, the world. I guess you could say I am writing this blog as a form of accountability—I do not want this to fade away and die down so I can go back to a normal that allows a man like George Floyd to be killed as he pleads for breath.
If you are like me, you find yourself wondering what you can do. This is such a personal decision, but our pastor offered a simple acronym yesterday that I think we can all embrace. It is time for a new ERA:
The lesson of my wallpaper is that there is no quick fix here, that it is going to be painful and difficult and at times it will feel as if we’ll never get the job done. Yet we must press on.
I’ve thought a lot these past few days about the efforts at racial unity I’ve been a part of over the years, particularly within the church. There have been powerful and meaningful experiences, and yet I do wonder what impact they have had. The lesson of my wallpaper is that there is no quick fix here, that it is going to be painful and difficult and at times it will feel as if we’ll never get the job done. Yet we must press on. In all honesty, I am not sure how, or what difference I can make, but I am leaning into prayer like never before, and listening more carefully than ever before, trying to understand what it means to be a broker of God’s kingdom in this moment.
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Author of 7 books and pastor of Global Leadership Development at All Peoples Church in San Diego, Tricia specializes in helping others experience God’s presence through practicing soul-care.