A New Year’s resolution: Practicing friendship

Training for marathons has taught me at least one thing: Small, habituated decisions can lead to significant and even surprising results.

I am ambivalent about beginning the year with yet another resolution or collection of resolutions, but my ambivalence does not change the fact that making intentional decisions aimed at an achievable goal can be a really worthy endeavor.

I have wondered long and hard about how to engage constructively with the history of race in the United States. Race is a vast and subtle embodied experience that touches every dimension of our life. As I have explored and probed my own family’s history with race, particularly as it pertains to western South Carolina, I have come to realize that healing this centuries-long history will likely take more than a generation or two. In addition to time, it will likely require open, honest and specific intentionality.

I am grateful to be serving as a pastor in a denomination that seeks to promote education on race. The book “Waking Up White” has been immensely helpful to me; I read it after our co-moderators of the General Assembly recommended it.

In seminary, a white professor told us not only to read about black theology or liberation theology or womanist theology, but to read their literature. This sounded like wisdom, so I followed through. Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Willie Jennings and Howard Thurman have become enormously influential on my thinking about race. Local colleagues in ministry of races different from mine own have also been illuminating.

So, I have begun to wonder.

What if we begin to treat our relationship with our own race and the race of others like a New Year resolution? Of course, I realize the challenges are more complicated than watching less television, eating more spinach or going on weekly walks in order to slow down and smell the roses. There are a lot of variables that extend beyond our immediate, conscious control.

However, what if we begin intentional spiritual practices that facilitate life together with individuals and families of a race different from our own? Imagine the possibilities.

These spiritual practices could be as simple as running, eating lunch, praying, reading Scripture and going to the gym with individuals or families of a race different from my own.

Notice, I did not include worshipping together on that hypothetical list. Worshipping together is surely a good spiritual practice, yet isn’t it so easy to file in and out of a worship service without deepening a single friendship with another person.

Not everyone is going to sell their house and move into a different neighborhood, but I think we can at least start small.

Picture spiritual practices that can be conversational, that can lead to further mutuality, understanding and even relationship.

When I think of my friends, I think of the individuals whose stories I know, whose families I know and whose experiences I share. So, I wonder, “What are the spiritual practices that will promote intersections in these areas?”

After a week and a month and a year, notice where you have spent the most time, who your new friends are, and how new stories have influenced your perspective. Have you felt vulnerable, uncomfortable? Have some previously held beliefs faded from view?

As much as I value education on race, I think at some point we would do well to make seemingly small, simple changes in the way we going about living our day-to-day reality. Tweets and Facebook updates will likely not be the balm for our centuries-long woundedness, but new friendships might be.

Because God is reconciling the world (2 Corinthians 5:19).

SAM CODINGTON is pastor of West Haven Presbyterian Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He and his life-partner Esther have a three-year-old son, Ezra, and can often be found running along the Tar River Trail.