Were you one of the lucky kids who got to play “kick the can” on the street in front of your house or apartment growing up? I did, and I loved it. I got to play it again the last three days at the National With Collective (W/) conference in Denver that our church helped sponsor. Only this time I was one of the cans. As a straight, white, male I know I’m at the top of the heap of privilege in our country, but at this conference some of the cans that were being kicked included women and LGBTQIA persons – if they were white.

And I thank God for this extremely uncomfortable and exhausting time which was quite a shock after having just returned the day before from 3 weeks of bliss in Europe with my wife, Leanne.

I thank God because about 25% of the people at this conference were people of color, which is way higher than last year. I thank God because the conference planners made sure to center those voices and experiences.

In our short history together, this gathering of mostly white people has focused on supporting churches, leaders, artists and thinkers who have parted from their Evangelical background in order to create LGBTQIA inclusive and affirming churches and spaces. In each other we found our “tribe,” a place to belong; but this place to belong was really, really white. And that had to change.

It’s one thing to say that the work of dismantling racism and white privilege will be long, hard and uncomfortable. It’s another thing to be involved in a Christian conference where white men, in particular, don’t know what to say for fear of looking stupid, insensitive, ignorant or self-important. Imagine that! A Christian conference where white men feel unwanted, unneeded, in the way, and at a complete loss. “Praise be to God,” says much of the world that has felt like that, not for two and a half days but millennia. Hallelujah, it’s about time.

It’s hard for us white male pastors when we can’t clear things up and give a hopeful spin to difficult times with our mouths. We are so used to being thanked for our words and wisdom that when we get the message that we need to shut up and listen we are shaken to our core. When we realize there is nothing we can do but stay present and squirm, we want to retreat to our phones and computers because surely someone “out there “will validate our voice, since apparently no one at the conference will!

If only redemption could happen with two and a half days of discomfort rather than a lifetime of kenosis; having the mind of Christ who emptied himself of all privilege and became our flesh and blood. With eyes fixed on Jesus will we endure the cross while scorning its shame, or will we pout that we can’t help being white, carry the shame and withdraw from the race? (Hebrews 12:1,2)

Nothing but love—and a few bruises,

Mark