I recently read the amazing story of Derek Black. I won’t try to retell it here except to say that Black was raised in a racist family which was a part of leadership in White sepratists movements during the 1980’s and 1990’s. He was groomed to be the heir apparent of that movement. You can read the story of his life thus far here.
There are unbelievable turns and twists in his story, most of which made me cringe when I read them, but there was one moment that I want to lift up here, the moment that I consider an act of life changing peace-making. Black had already become a notorious leader in the white racist movement in the US and was also attending the university, seeking a degree when his friends found out who he actually was. Immediately, he become the object of scorn, rejection and threats himself on the college campus.
Imagine what you would do if you found out that one of us in your trusted community, among your good friends, was actually engaging in the work of hatred, was fomenting ideas and attitudes among one group of people against another, was actually working for civil war in this country again. Which would you do–make as much distance between yourself and that person, or invite them to dinner?
One of Derek Black’s friends at the time was the only Orthodox Jew on the campus where they attended school. He had begun to offer to his friends a Friday night Shabbat dinner where they gathered around traditional Jewish food, the Shabbat prayers and then conversation about all the issues of the day.
After finding out that Black was the leader of this white hate group, and after much pondering over what to do, he decided that the best possibility in his relationship with Black was not to reject him, but to invite him to dinner. And so he did. And, Black came, every week for months. Many in the original group who came to those dinners fled the dinner in fear, but over time, they returned. And there, at the table, surrounded by food, friends and what can be called nothing short of compassion, courage and curiosity, Derek Black began a transformation. So did everyone else at that table.
This is building the House of Peace. We might even say that this is building the House of Peace, one dinner at a time, one invitation at a time, one bold idea at a time. This invitation to dinner became the ripple in the unified field, if you will. Take the time to read his story (it is long, but it is very well written) as what happened there, week after week, not only changed Derek Black, but it began to change and affect his other relationships as well.
As I read the story, it reflects back to me some of our own words of faith. A simple moment of compassion–the decision to include and not to exclude–created an act of courage–to invite one’s enemy to dinner–where the slow and careful work of curiosity broke down walls and broke open hearts and minds.