(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Sukup)
Behind The Book: The Third Option – Steps
An Interview with Miles McPherson
By Sarah Komisky
Miles McPherson is on a mission to advocate racial reconciliation. However, it’s his approach that might surprise you. In comes the Third Option. Here is a deeper look into his most recent book as Sarah Komisky sits down with the author, former NFL football player, and the pastor of The Rock Church San Diego for our newest issue, “Steps.”
Sarah: In this book (The Third Option), we really get to know the person, Miles McPherson. You courageously and candidly share about your own experience being a multicultural person who grew up in a racially segregated neighborhood and attended primarily white schools, while also playing on diverse sports teams, living in diverse neighborhoods, and pastoring a diverse church. All of which shaped the person you are today. Share a little bit about this journey and what it has meant to you––opening up on your personal experience with racism.
Miles: A lifetime of experiences—growing up a mixed-race kid in a segregated era of our nation’s history, living in a black neighborhood, while going to school in a white neighborhood, playing on a diverse NFL team, and pastoring multiethnic congregations—has given me a deeper understanding of God’s heart for his people to live in loving unity. My highest calling is to love others the way Jesus calls us to. While I’ve failed in that endeavor more times than I can count, my greatest desire is to grow more perfect in love, especially toward those who don’t look like me. My book, “The Third Option,” is my earnest attempt to help others do the same.
Sarah: I wanted to pull one of my favorite quotes from your book. You say, “Culture plays a big role in perpetuating of racism by wrongly insisting that there are only two options you can choose from: us or them. Culture pits one group of people against another by promoting a zero-sum game mentality that says, ‘You must lose in order for me to win.’ God, however, offers us a Third Option that stands in stark contrast to the two offered by culture. God’s Third Option invites us to honor that which we have in common, the presence of His image in every person we meet. When we honor the presence of His image in others, we acknowledge their priceless value as precious and beloved of God. The Third Option empowers us to see people through God’s eyes, which enables us to treat them in a manner that honors the potential of His image in us.” Practically speaking, how can we press in more to the third option?
Miles: The Third Option frees us from culture’s false dichotomy by offering us the grace we need in order to admit that we are imperfect in our love for others and opens the eyes of our hearts so that we can acknowledge biases where they exist. The principles in the Third Option enable us to define who we want to become, so that we can wholeheartedly pursue our God-given mission to love and honor all our neighbors equally. In choosing the Third Option, we acknowledge that our biases may unintentionally cause us to do and say racist things, but we can learn to live more honorably.
Sarah: One of the things I appreciate about you is your ability to have conversations with others who are different than you. This, you say, is how we learn. Recently, you have been a guest on several popular shows like TMZ and Anderson Cooper 360. Our new issue theme is called, “Steps.” In light of that, how can we too take steps to not be afraid to have conversations and engage with those that are different than ourselves and believe differently than we do?
Miles: In “The Third Option,” I address how to have a race consultation in which you seek to listen and learn. When having conversations with people outside of your normal circles, or out-group, it’s best to start in comfortable places where common ground exists. Take advantage of what you have in common—things you both may be learning, experiencing, or struggling with. If people of different ethnicities can learn to honorably communicate with and about themselves and each other, we can all move toward unity.
Sarah: In your book, you share about walking in someone else’s shoes, which I think is so great: to get perspective. Share a little about this.
Miles: In order to really understand someone else’s experience, we must first step out of our comfort zone and into their shoes. Walking in another’s shoes is never a comfortable experience, but it’s essential to understanding their perspective and learning how to honor them.
Even though we can never really know what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, sometimes all it takes is a glimpse into their world to touch our hearts. The better we understand the burden others carry, the easier it is to honor their pain, and the more likely we’ll be to try and alleviate it.
This motivation to learn is not necessarily due to individual guilt or fault. We seek to understand others to honor the image of God in them. We honor others by acknowledging their plight and allowing ourselves to experience a little discomfort in an effort to understand them.
You too can step into the shoes of the “other” and be unexpectedly blessed. There is so much that God wants to teach us about the lives and experiences of our brothers and sisters—things that you can only learn when you take the time to listen, observe, and participate in other’s lives, on their terms.
Sarah: You have said that racism affects us all and that we all have a response (whether we realize it or not). How can we move out of a place of defensiveness, self-righteousness, helplessness, or apathy toward racism?
Miles: It is critical that we must first all recognize that we have a personal social narrative or preconceived bias that we have developed from a lifetime of exposure to cultural attitudes about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status, and nationality.
Many of us are affected by these social and cultural influences, because that’s how we were raised. But God wants us to buy into His truth instead: that every person—regardless of the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, the color of their eyes, or any other physical traits they possess is equally worthy of our love.
As Christians, we must vigorously reject the lie of “idealized standards” by recognizing that it originates in our fallen culture and runs counter to God’s truth. As we train ourselves to look past outward appearances, we’ll begin to honor the hearts—rather than the skin tones—of our brothers and sisters. Then, and only then, can true racial reconciliation begin.
Sarah: In a recent interview, you talked about a way to progress forward in honoring others by having a race consultation which leads to a coming together based on our similarities instead of our differences. Expand on that thought.
Miles: When it comes to addressing racism in America, not enough is said, so not enough is done.
A lack of interracial dialogue about racism prevents real change from happening. On the flip side, a meaningful conversation about racism is a critical starting point for a solution. If people of different ethnicities can learn to honorably communicate with and about themselves and each other, we can all move toward unity.
What is a meaningful conversation? I suggest it’s a dialogue in which all participants grow and learn a different facet of the truth. If you’re not seeing new truths from different perspectives, you’re probably not having a meaningful conversation. A meaningful conversation occurs when two people stop trying to talk each other into their point of view and a third truth emerges for both parties.
Choosing the Third Option emboldens us to engage in real, truth-seeking dialogue with those who don’t look like us. There are seven keys to encourage and embolden you to initiate honoring conversations about race.
- Key #1: Acknowledge the reality that you’re always having a race conversation in your head.
- Key #2: The race conversation in your head will not stay there.
- Key #3: Honor others by allowing them to self-disclose.
- Key #4: Take every opportunity to enlighten.
- Key #5: Practice by just having a conversation.
- Key #6: Set clear boundaries.
- Key #7: Start in familiar environments.
Find out more about Pastor Miles and “The Third Option” by visiting milesmcpherson.com