From the Nov-Dec issue of Nurturing Faith Journal
By Larry Hovis, CBFNC executive coordinator
As I was growing up in the same town as my widowed grandmother who lived with her two sisters, these three women exerted a profound influence on my father, my sister and me. To earn a living, my grandmother ran a boarding house.
She provided several men with a place to live and two meals a day. Although the popularity of boarding houses was beginning to wane, I still remember several of her boarders and the primary place where everyone came together: the dinner table.
Much of my family’s Sunday routine centered around food. We would have a big breakfast cooked by my mother, then dress for Sunday School and worship.
Next came dinner at Grandma’s house. It’s a good thing we had a big breakfast since Sunday dinner required a long wait. While the women finished preparing the meal, the men watched whatever sport was in season. When dinner was served, however, it was always worth the wait. The big, cherrywood table was loaded down with at least two meats — chicken, beef, turkey or pork; too many vegetables to count; biscuits or rolls; various relishes and pickles; potatoes or rice; enough gravy to cover everything; and at least two kinds of desserts.
Those seated around the table were as diverse as the fare. Joining my grandmother and great aunts, along with my mother, father, sister and me, were usually several boarders and other relatives and friends. The guest list changed Sunday to Sunday, but the food was always fantastic. Even more important was the fellowship that accompanied the whole experience. However, I would be less than honest to imply that my memories of meals at Grandma’s were all positive.
My sister and I sometimes spent Saturdays at Grandma’s house where Aunt Belle was in charge of the yard. She loved working the soil and planting flowers. An old, Black man named Robert helped with yard work for many years.
Since he started early in the morning and stayed until late afternoon, he was there at lunchtime. Everyone would go to the dining room except Robert. His meal would be served in the breakfast room or on the back stoop. Nancy, my sister, and I didn’t understand this. When we would ask why Robert didn’t eat with us, we were told, “Robert would be more comfortable eating by himself.”
We didn’t buy their explanation, and Robert being left out of the table of fellowship didn’t seem right. At an early age, Nancy and I saw injustice firsthand.
Lately I have been thinking more about my grandmother’s table. On one hand, it brings back good memories of family and friends, comfort and nurture. On the other hand, it reminds me of the inequality and injustice that characterized my upbringing and gave me significant advantages over others.
My family wasn’t considered “privileged.” My grandfather died when my father was only six, and life was difficult for widows. Any safety nets had huge holes. My grandmother and her sisters established a non-traditional household to support themselves.
But my family did have advantages others simply did not. My father received an education on the G.I. Bill and, with my mother, started a business and bought a home with government loans. Those advantages weren’t available to Robert’s children.
My family worked very hard, but no harder than Robert’s family. It was as if we were both running a 100-meter race
but Robert’s family had to start 50 meters behind us.
Reluctantly, I’ve concluded that although I didn’t come from a wealthy family and my parents taught me to respect all people as being equal in God’s eyes, my whole life has been advantaged by a system of white supremacy. And the white church— from the slave trade to the Civil War to the lynching era to unjust economic and social structures today — has helped perpetuate that ungodly system.
The first verse of “Amazing Grace” says, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” That’s the way I feel about race. I was blind to a system that for hundreds of years stacked the deck against people of color in order to provide advantages to white people like me. And rather than fighting against that injustice, the white church has supported it.
It’s past time for white Christians to repent of our sin and join Black Christians and all people of good will who are striving for justice and equity to dismantle white supremacy. That task is core to our mission of bringing about God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
As I engage in that work, I do so in the name of Jesus and in memory of Robert. Both deserve my best effort.