This may be my favorite section from John Piper’s book, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian (Crossway, 2011): 232-33.
No lesson in the pursuit of racial and ethnic diversity and harmony has been more forceful than the lesson that it is easy to get so wounded and so tired that you decide to quit. This is true of every race and every ethnicity in whatever struggle they face. The most hopeless temptation is to give up—to say that there are other important things to work on (which is true), and I will let someone else worry about racial issues.
The main reason for the temptation to quit pursuing is that whatever strategy you try, you will be criticized by somebody. You didn’t say the right thing, or you didn’t say it in the right way, or you should have said it a long time ago, or you shouldn’t say anything but get off your backside and do something, or, or, or. Just when you think you have made your best effort to do something healing, someone will point out the flaw in it. And when you try to talk about doing better, there are few things more maddening than to be told, “You just don’t get it.” Oh, how our back gets up, and we feel the power of self-pity rising in our hearts and want to say, “Okay, I’ve tried. I’ve done my best. See you later.” And there ends our foray into racial harmony.
My plea is: never quit. Change. Step back. Get another strategy. Start over. But never quit. Langston Hughes, one of the twentieth century’s most notable African American poets, expressed the cry for not giving up like this (titled “Mother to Son”):
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor— Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
To white or black—or any other race or ethnicity—that is my plea. I’m not saying you have to make it the number-one emphasis of your life. Some are called to that. Not all. But I am saying to make it an emphasis of your life. Again Shelby Steele, in his stirring book The Content of Our Character, issues the call in words that I find very moving.
What both black and white Americans fear are the sacrifices and risks that true racial harmony demands. This fear is the measure of our racial chasm. And though fear always seeks a thousand justifications, none is ever good enough, and the problems we run from only remain to haunt us. It would be right to suggest courage as an antidote to fear, but the glory of the word might only intimidate us into more fear. I prefer the word effort—relentless effort, moral effort. What I like most about this word are its connotations of everydayness, earnestness, and practical sacrifice.
Amen. Earnest, practical, everyday effort. What I have tried to do in this book is show that the gospel of Jesus Christ—the death and the resurrection of the Son of God for sinners—is the only sufficient power for this effort, and the only power that in the end will bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross. It is the only power to bring about Christ-exalting harmony, which, in the end, is the only kind that matters, because all things were made through him and for him (Col. 1:16). To his grace, and his name, and his Father be glory forever. Amen.