Pretty much all my life I've admired my parents' choice to leave behind their white, rural upbringing and settle — for much of their adult lives — in a black neighborhood in Washington, DC. With their words and with their actions they taught me the importance of reaching out across cultures and working to make positive change in the world.
In the aftermath of the fall 2016 US presidential election, I've been pondering their legacy. I think about how much money and time gets put into politics in our country. I think about how much good my parents were able to do, completely outside of politics and with very little money, by intentionally making a cross-cultural move to a low-income, urban neighborhood. And then I wonder, are political investments the best way to bring change?
Politics is necessary — a necessary evil, some might say — since any society needs a governing structure to function. But there are some things government is ill suited to do, and bridging racial and cultural divides is one of those things our country's bureaucracy does not do all that well.
Mending the fractures caused by unequal treatment based on race requires hard, messy, on-the-ground work, and that's the kind of work Elmer and Fannie Lapp, my parents, did in the Kenilworth neighborhood. Living at the edge of the most politically powerful city in the world, they ignored the political system and still somehow — little by little and with many missteps — brought love, peace, and hope to many in a community that had very little access to power.
The July 2017 edition of The Mennonite magazine contains an opinion essay that I wrote with more thoughts on how my parents made change outside of politics. Unfortunately, the editors took out my favorite sentence, which appeared toward the end and commanded readers to "make change with casseroles." (Smile) And they didn't post an online version of the article. But you can easily read a pdf of it by clicking on the image below.
Many thanks to Steve Carpenter for the scan of the article, as my copy of the magazine hasn't yet reached me in Hanoi!