When I was in ninth grade in the early 1970s, I lived in a medium-sized city in Indiana that was required by a judge to integrate the schools. The decision was made to close the downtown school where most of the black kids attended, and bus them out to several schools in the city and suburbs.
I was on the basketball team, and I would like to tell you that the sport brought us together in an inspiring way. It didn’t. What we had was a mostly uneasy situation, sometimes tense, occasionally with the beginning of something like friendship across racial lines. After growing up playing in the driveway with my white friends, dreaming of the days we would play high school hoops, I was now the only white starter. This was not going to be the schoolboy basketball career any of us had been waiting for.
One of the things I remember was leaving school after practice to walk the seven minutes it took me to get home. I would pass my black teammates who were waiting in the parking lot for one of their parents to make the forty minute round trip to the school to pick them up.
I was vaguely aware, but only vaguely, that something wasn’t right. Only later did I wonder why it was the black school that closed. Only later did I think about what it must have been like to be forced to attend a different school in which you were suddenly the minority. Only later did I think about how disappointing it must have been for my black teammates to have their boyhood team divided, just as ours had been. And only later did I think about how unfair it must have seemed to watch your white teammates walk home while you waited for somebody’s father to get off work and pick you up.
On Friday President Obama said a few things about the Trayvon Martin verdict. He did not question the jury but he did try to explain why what happened is of great concern to many African-Americans. It took me back to my 9th grade basketball team, and something I began learning in ninth grade and have to keep learning. About how important it is to step out of my own Converse All-Stars and try to think about what it’s like to live in someone else’s. About the black experience in our country being very different than my own.
In the New Testament, the apostle Peter tells us that people of faith are to be stewards of the grace of God. Think about that image, try it on for size, tie up the laces, and see how it fits. You are a steward of the grace of God. What makes us different as people of faith in divisive times? What sets us apart as followers of Jesus when people so often see things so differently? I hope it’s that we see ourselves as stewards of God’s grace. As people who are intentionally trying to spread that grace around our homes and our neighborhoods and our country. As people who pray, as St. Francis prayed, not so much to be understood, as to understand. From Abraham Lincoln to Nelson Mandela, the best among us are able to firmly work for the right as God gives us to see the right, while at the same time walking in the other guy’s shoes.
We’re called to be stewards of grace, Peter says. If the shoe fits, wear it.