To Do, To Love, To Walk Humbly . . .

by Kirsten Patterson

March 20, 2019


I grew up with the last name White, and drove around in a Suburban with a personalized plate that read “WHITE.” It was an Olympic plate from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and in a spirit of patriotism the California DMV had added the prefix “US.” Once a stranger at the carwash sidled up and spoke in a conspiratorial way about havens for white people in the U.S. and it was some minutes before I realized with burning cheeks that he thought our license plate was a political statement, not our last name.

Growing up amidst the diversity of Southern California, I was well aware of the many ethnicities in our communities, but I don’t think I ever suspected just how differently we may have experienced the same neighborhoods. As a white kid, I did not live in fear that law enforcement or other authorities would misjudge or prejudge me because of the color of my skin. I did, however, worry that I might be perceived as insensitive or prejudiced by others around me, so I adopted a position of “colorblindness,” trying hard not to see color and to step very carefully around the subject of race.

Not long ago, a friend invited me to read a book about race and faith with several other women and in our discussions around the table I felt uncomfortable and argumentative. The idea that I could be considered complicit in systemic racism quickly stirred up a self-righteous anger in me. How could I be held responsible for events that happened decades or even centuries before I was born? But the explanation that I was privileged simply by the color of my skin hit home. Whether or not I had set up the system, I could recognize the benefits and opportunities that had accrued to me and a whole world of challenges and fears I have never had to navigate or even consider.

Talking and writing and thinking about race in our world is tricky. It feels like there are so many pitfalls between finding the appropriate vocabulary and language and tone and wanting to be inclusive and careful and empathetic. And I can get so tripped up by all of these—and the swirling nuances around affirmative action, reparations and critical theory—that it’s just easier to avoid the subject altogether. But the hatred and the venom in our world continue to mount, as I saw even this morning when I read the news about the attacks on the mosques in New Zealand.

On February 17, our church hosted a lecture in the ThinkWell series entitled “Race Matters” with guest speaker Lamont Hartman of Emmaus Church in Santa Ana. Pastor Lamont spoke about racism as a heart issue, and reconciliation as an issue of discipleship. He talked about being made in the image of God, being clothed in Christ, and the assertion in Galatians 3:28 that our human distinctions of Jew/Gentile, slave/free and male/female are differences but not divides in the church body. In Mark 8:34, Jesus challenges those who want to follow Him to deny themselves and take up their cross . . . Pastor Lamont suggested that perhaps the reason we don’t want to have these conversations about race in the church is because it will cost us something.

I’m just a wife and a mom, a daughter, employee and friend, living in the spaces between school, work, church and home. What can I do about all of this anger and injustice? I wonder—as I pay closer attention to the news and my internal dialogue, as I begin to uncover and identify my subconscious prejudice and bias—what might the Holy Spirit be calling me to? What kind of work might He be doing in our church body? I hear the words of Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The “walking humbly” bit catches at me as a good place to start, praying that the Holy Spirit will give me eyes to see and ears to hear, and the courage to move into the action of those verbs – to do, to love, to walk.

To listen to the ThinkWell message with Dr. Hartman, click here.

Kirsten Patterson, née White, grew up at Fullerton Free and is raising the fourth generation of the White family at our church. She loves to read and drink coffee, and considers research into almost any subject one of life’s greatest adventures.

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