Assistant Ostrich Ranch Manager
Growing up in a small south Texas town afforded me several unique experiences that shaped my life forever in ways that I could have never anticipated as a child. Going to the beach on a Tuesday, running crab traps with my grandfather and fishing Aransas Bay nearly every Saturday morning were things I simply accepted as a normal part of life.
And then there was feeding the ostriches.
Maybe that’s not so unique to south Texas. Maybe that’s just me.
But it was part of my life.
At the tender age of 12, I was given a hat by my uncle along with a new title: Assistant Ostrich Ranch Manager. It wasn’t a glamorous job. Ostriches are large, flightless birds weighing in at nearly 1,000 lbs with a brain the size of a small walnut. That brain to body mass ratio is one that makes “managing” a bird like that nothing short of a comedy of errors, especially when you consider that what they lack in intelligence, they make up for in orneriness.
I learned a great deal about these birds during my teenage years, though, and I’m thankful for the lessons I learned and the experience of working with such unique animals. One of the things I learned about ostriches is that much of what we think we know about them simply isn’t true. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Bury your head in the sand”? It came from the belief that ostriches stick their head in the sand to avoid being seen by predators. I was really hoping that my new job as ranch manager would afford me lots of opportunities to see seven-foot tall birds standing straight up, with their long necks stuck straight down into the sand below. I was crushed when I found out this isn’t true.
Be that as it may, this phrase still holds a lot of truth for us. Little is gained in life by burying our heads in the sand, pretending not to see the problems that are encroaching upon us. You would think that the assistant manager of an ostrich ranch would have learned that lesson well, and yet my confession to you is that for much of my life, I have remained far too ignorant about the issues that are now front and center in our national dialogue. Racism was an issue I preferred to ignore in my young life. I was somewhat aware that it existed in the small town I grew up in, but it wasn’t something I was comfortable talking about or thinking about too deeply. As a pastor, I have long been aware of the fact that most of the people worshipping in the churches I have served look just like me, but I mistakenly accepted that this is just the way things are. I didn’t like the implications of the thought that maybe there is a reason for the lack of diversity in our congregations that goes beyond personal preferences and style of worship.
The demonstrations we have witnessed in our cities along with the conversations happening all around us have served as a wake-up call for all of us who have spent our life ignoring the problem of systemic racism. It is time for all of us “ostriches” to pull our heads out and confront an issue that has too long been ignored, especially in our faith communities. This is not easy or comfortable, but it is what the Gospel demands of us. In Philippians 3, Paul admits that he is far from perfect in being like Jesus, and yet he commits himself to, “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) This prize is not a crown, but a state of being: of being perfect in love, just as Jesus is perfect in love.
For me, the loving response to my friends of color is to both seek understanding of their own experience, and also to confront my own flaws in how I have thought about race. In August, our church will launch a new series of small group discussions called “Vital Conversations on Racism”. This 9-week study will equip us to begin dialogue with one another, face our misconceptions and fears, and move deliberately to spiritual, community and social transformation. I have received a number of e-mails, texts and phone calls from people hungering to take a step forward in their own understanding. In the coming weeks, there will be opportunities for each of us to join a small group, either virtually or in person. I hope you will join this conversation with me as together we press on toward the goal. The stakes are high, and the prize is worth the effort. I’ll “see” you on Sunday!