First Day – November 2018

FIVE BOYS …

When I was age nine our family moved 600 miles to a “borough” outside of Philadelphia. We lived there less than three years, but my experiences there forever shaped me. In my new school class were two Jewish boys appropriately named David and Jonathan. David’s dad owned the furniture store, while Jonathan’s father became my dentist. Then there was Kevin.

At my 10th birthday party my mom asked my sister who was the black boy. (Please know in those days that would have been the appropriate way to reference him.) Amy told her, “That’s Kevin.” Mom had heard me talk much about Kevin, but I had never mentioned he was black. It never occurred to me that this was something to talk about. When we got to the fifth grade, Bruce came to our school. He had always gone to the Catholic school, and thus had some adjustments to make to public education … like not needing to stand to answer the teacher.

We were five boys … just five boys. We played ball of every sort together. Rode bikes together. Walked from school together. Traded baseball cards. Interestingly, we all came from families of faith, but very different ones. Every autumn David’s family constructed a sukkah (temporary shelter) in their yard to commemorate “Sukkot” (Feast of Tabernacles). Jonathan picked through cafeteria food trying to determine “kosher.” Kevin’s family were “three-hour” Baptists. Bruce was about as devout as a fifth-grade Catholic boy could be. He often mentioned going to “confession.” (Hearing about it made me grateful I was a Nazarene, where nobody ever sinned … or at least admitted to it.)

We were just five boys. We didn’t know anything about racism or bigotry … at least with one another. We were just five boys living and enjoying life.

As I was turning 12 our family moved again … 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. Last week in Pittsburgh a man killed 11 worshipers in a synagogue … just because they were Jewish. Three years ago a young man killed nine members of a Bible study in Charleston, SC …  just because they were black. What these shooters did was horrendous. So are the influences of those who shared in poisoning their minds.

In 1996 Mona and our girls and I moved to South Carolina. It is a beautiful state with so many wonderful people. It also is a place with history. Over the years our church became increasingly racially mixed. We were not trying to make a point. We were just “Jesus people” loving and liking one another. A nearby youth pastor at an all African-American church said to me one day, “Some of us area youth pastors were talking about your church. We are amazed at how your congregation is so racially integrated; but even more amazing is that it doesn’t seem to be a big deal to any of you.”

Exactly.

“Except you become as little children you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

gk