I admit it. I walked right past. I didn't toss in any change. I didn't slip a dollar in the kettle. I walked right on into the mall.
But I had a reason.
Actually, several reasons. I never carry cash...I didn't have any change...and it was cold. I walked right past because the young man ringing the bell was between me and Starbucks. We nodded at each other, offered each other a quick Merry Christmas, and I made my way through the crowd to Starbucks. This time, the hot beverage in the recycled cardboard cup wasn't for me, though. I got in line, ordered a hot chocolate, and headed back toward the front doors of the mall...back to the red kettle...back to the young man ringing the bell and wishing strangers a Merry Christmas.
The look on his face as I handed him the cup of hot chocolate said exactly what I had hoped it wouldn't.
"Nah, I'm good."
"It's for you. For real. It's cold out here."
I haven't mentioned yet that our skin colors were not the same, but they weren't. I saw a young man donating his time for one of the biggest charities in the nation, but I'm not sure what he saw. Uncertainty. Distrust. Honestly, I don't blame him. I don't know how I'd react, either, if a stranger handed me a cup of hot chocolate...especially today...especially given the differences between he and I...especially after all of the mess that's been the news lately.
I grew up after the Civil Rights movement of the 60's, so I missed the tensions and wars of that time. I'm a child of the 70's and early 80's. My kids are growing up now, in the 21st century. Things are different, but at the same time, not really. I wasn't taught hate as a kid, but some were...some still are. Instead, I was taught the cheesy little song, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world..." and I believed it...still do...and it's led me to make decisions that I might not have made otherwise.
I've walked away from an organization that I loved because I couldn't bring an African American friend with me. After years of struggling with the dichotomy of being a pastor on Sunday morning, and a member of this organization on Thursday night, my conscience finally won out and I stopped paying my dues. I knew I would be suspended but I just couldn't do it anymore. My parents did not teach me to hate, or to sit around telling off color jokes, or that I was better than because I'm white. They just didn't, and I thank God for that.
Sure, he and I were different, but in so many ways, the same. I'm a guy. He was a guy. I'm raising my family. He's raising his. I donate time to charities. He was donating time to a charity. I cuss when I stub my toe. He probably does, too. I'm sure he gets impatient sitting in traffic just like I do. But...I know that I'll never be able to fully understand what thoughts run through his mind because we do have different life experiences.
Hate? I can't do it.
As I got in my truck and drove away, I looked back at the front doors of the mall and saw the cup of hot chocolate sitting on the sidewalk at his feet. It wasn't going to help warm him up that way, but it said to me that there is still so much work to be done.
What's the answer? Honestly, I don't know. It's going to take a hell of a lot more than a cup of hot chocolate to fix what's wrong. It's going to take some honest conversations, and a lot of changed hearts. It's going to take realizing that, by dang, the cheesy little song is right. Jesus does love the little children...all of them... It's going to take repentance and forgiveness. It's going to take more time.
But in the meanwhile...there are small things we can do to show that not everyone hates any who may not look exactly like we do. We can pray "Thy kingdom come," and actually mean it. We can extend a hand and offer peace. We can listen more and scream less. We can stop focusing on the differences and celebrate all that we share in common:
Children of the Living God.
Sons and daughters of Abraham.
Co-heirs with Christ.
The beloved of the Almighty.
My prayer this season is that a gesture as simple as offering a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day be the beginning of the end of hate.