An Unlikely Friendship?Who are the people of a different race, ethnicity or culture that God might be leading you to befriend?
Some people may say that John Hambrick and I are unlikely friends. In a sense, I suppose that may be true. I am black and John is white. I am young(ish) and John is more, shall I say, seasoned in life. I am from the east coast and John is from the west coast. I am a woman and John is a man.
There are differences between us, but there is nothing “unlikely” about our friendship—not because of who we are, but because of the Person in whom we believe.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, helps us understand how this is possible. Paul was writing to a church where ethnic and religious differences were causing division among the people. Of course, race did not function in ancient Greco-Roman culture the same way as it does in the United States. People did not create hierarchies based on the color of a person’s skin. Group identity was grounded primarily in religion, so the division between Jewish people and Gentiles (non-Jewish) was quite real and deeply rooted. In fact, the people were allowing these ethnic and religious differences to factor into determining who was to be counted among the people of God. Paul addresses these divisions by reminding the church that in Christ, Jewish people and Gentiles alike are brought near to God as they come together to create “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15, NIV). Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, the longstanding religious and ethnic barriers that separated Jews and Gentiles are eliminated, enabling one body through the cross (Ephesians 2:16, NIV).
John and I are different in terms of our gender, age, race and place of origin. Prevalent cultural norms would seem to suggest that we cannot be friends or even that we ought not to be friends.
And yet, we are friends.
We worked closely together in ministry for several years and during that time, we had countless conversations about our families, our lives, sports, food and the daily news. I met my husband in John’s office, and John played a pivotal part in my husband’s scheme to propose to me. Then, John officiated our wedding under an oak tree in central California. Though we no longer work together, John and I talk on the phone every Friday at 1 p.m. We are friends—not in a superficial way, but in a deeply connected way that is made possible by the reconciling power of Christ.
Challenges of the Past
One new humanity is made possible in Christ, but that does not mean creating or sustaining such connections across differences will be easy. In the summer of 2016, these challenges came to the forefront of our friendship. There is not a point in the history of this great nation that race and racism have not stained our social fabric. Though racism seems to be our constant companion, there are moments in history where racial strife and division were especially heightened. The summer of 2016 was such a moment.
That was the summer that I, along with many other Americans, watched cellphone video footage of Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez shoot Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop. Even now, I can hear the pop of the officer’s gun and see the blood spreading across the front of Philando’s bright white T-shirt. Philando died later that day. The horror of Philando’s killing on July 6th was intensified because Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot by police the day before in Louisiana. Then, on July 7th, during a protest of the killings of Philando and Alton, Michael Xavier Johnson ambushed and killed five Dallas police officers.
The events surrounding each of these events were different, but each involved the tragic loss of life and race was the common thread that ran through each incident. My soul ached for the people who were left behind to mourn, and for our nation, too. I wondered if it would always be this way.
“There are differences between us, but there is nothing ‘unlikely’ about åwe are, but because of the Person in whom we believe.”
The Beauty of Lament
In the midst of this pain, I had a choice. I could keep it to myself or I could share it with my friend, John. I chose the latter and it not only changed us, but catalyzed us to engage in the work of disrupting racism in our church and community. Paul instructs this community to “be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). John heeded the apostle Paul’s call to the Christians in Rome to a radical empathy.
For Paul, one of the marks of Christian community is the communal experience of pain, where the pain of one is felt by all. John did not respond to my pain with skepticism or contempt. He did not argue that Philando and Alton did something to deserve to die. He sought neither to excuse, nor explain these tragic events. Instead, he listened. As I moved toward John in vulnerability, he met me there and we lamented. Lament is the term the Bible gives to the communal and individual expression of mourning before God in response to suffering. The Bible is full of examples of lament, but Psalm 82 is one of my favorites where the psalmist pleads for justice for the weak and asks God to “Rise up!”
Lament changed our relationship with one another and with God as it allowed us to enter into a cycle of empathy. As John and I grew in our relationship across racial difference, our love for one another as brother and sister in Christ grew. As our love for each other grew, we were able to experience the other’s pain with them—my pain became John’s pain and vice versa. It is from this place of mutual pain that our lament was voiced before God who hears us, loves us and is already at work setting all things right. The cycle comes full circle as lament further strengthens our bond to one another. Lament cultivates and sustains trust in one another and in God as it binds us together in Christian community.
“Lament cultivates and sustains trust in one another and in God as it binds us together in Christian community.”
Perhaps my friendship with John is an “unlikely” one. I can’t be sure. But what I do know is that God has used our friendship in mighty ways to impact our church and our community in the pursuit of racial justice.
Who are the unlikely friends in your world? Who are the people of a different race, ethnicity or culture that God might be leading you to befriend? God wants to use us in accomplishing His purpose in the world, which looks something like “a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language” worshipping the Lamb of God (Revelation 7:9).
For Further Reflection
Read Psalm 82. Consider reading it aloud, this time offering it up as a prayer to God on behalf of someone else’s or your own experience of racial injustice. Consider how God might be leading you to be part of an answer to your prayer.
Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick explores how their friendship has enabled them to see the world from the other’s point of view. They discuss systemic and personal racism and how God uses friendship to disrupt racism in the church and beyond.
Teesha Hadra practiced law for nearly seven years before beginning full-time ministry in 2013. As she completes an M.Div at Fuller Theological Seminary, she serves as the Executive Pastor at Church of the Resurrection, an Anglican parish in Los Angeles. She co-authored Black & White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at a Time with her friend, John Hambrick.