*The following is part of a series called “A Changed Perspective” to challenge the way in which we view the world, culture, people, and places from a biblical perspective. Undoubtedly, for Christ followers to live in the world but not be of the world is a challenging task, but with humble spirits, teachable hearts, the Word of God, and His Spirit that lives within to guide and lead us, He allows us to be part of His redemptive work in the world around us.
I recently asked my wife if she had noticed how many men, young men, now adorn themselves with mustaches. I have to say, I never thought I would see the day when mustaches were cool once again, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. In the past number of years, the chic “classic” has slowly become the new hip. I can’t help but chuckle when I see yet another social media post of a guy with the new hairstyle (and now mustache), a sweet old school suit (probably one with a vest), one foot casually resting on a knee looking solemnly in the distance with a glass of scotch in hand as a puff of cigar smoke envelops the scene. Iconic, to be sure. What humors me is that we try and imitate what we seek to embrace as our own; in this case, a sense of manhood. Unfortunately, far too often we settle for the imitation as we try and relive a distant memory, but every once in a while we encounter the real deal.
Allow me to introduce you to Rod. Rod is the real deal – a 63-year-old African American, he is undoubtedly one of the best dressed people I know. Always looking dapper, if his style doesn’t win you over, his exuberant smile will. As a 6’3” man, he carries himself with an air of confidence (but not cocky confidence) and charisma that sucks you into his vortex as you are consumed with curiosity to know his story, what it is that makes him tick, and why he seems to bright and full of joy. Needless to say, my curiosity got the best of me and before I knew it, I was introducing myself to Rod, one of our newest CLDI office tenants as he works as an addictions counselor for New Day Ranch. Meeting him for the first time, I knew that this was a person I wanted to get to know better.
Rod was born in Akron, Ohio as the eldest of five kids. Interestingly, Akron was known as the “Rubber City of the World” and provided many jobs for blue collar workers trying to earn a living and provide for their families. His grandfather, originally from the South, moved north of the Mason Dixon line to Akron because of the opportunities that were available, especially as an African American man. While Rod had a roof over his head and food in his belly, life was difficult in his poor African American community. As the eldest, he was expected to care for his siblings and felt the burden of providing for his family. Even as a young man, Rod was looking for his ticket out of city and the cycle of poverty that surrounded him. He worked hard to get good grades in school, played every sport he could, and had enough foresight to take vocational welding as a high school student in order to have a skill in his back pocket in case sports was not an option. Though he was an all-city defensive end, when it came time for college football recruiters, he was overlooked as at 6’3”, he only weighed 150lbs! His chances for escaping the cycle of poverty were looking dim, that is until his coach learned about a school in Montana that was interested in providing a scholarship for him to play for their school, Eastern Montana College, now known as MSUB! Rod, an inner city black kid, jumped at the opportunity, and despite the chagrin of his family, moved to the wild west!
Rod didn’t know what to expect upon moving to Montana. Raised in a family where he was told he couldn’t trust “white culture,” his curiosity and love of people drove him to dive into Montana culture head first. He was warmly welcomed by his teammates and spent many weekends away at the homes of his friends, mostly small ranch communities speckled throughout the state. In 1975, Rod was one of the first black people that many of these Montanans had interacted with. Life in the wild west was unlike anything he had ever experienced in his urban, African American culture. Most notable to Rod, with his introduction to Montana culture, was that everyone seemed to drive a truck. Equally notable and surprising was his learning about keggers, hence the needs for pickup trucks! It was the wild west indeed!
Unfortunately, after a couple of years Eastern ended their football program and Rod was without a scholarship and way to pay for school. But rather than return home, he decided to stay in Billings and put his trade as a welder to work. It wasn’t until he started working as a welder that he experienced racism as a black man, questioned as to his abilities and how it is that a “black man” could know how to weld so well. Feeling the most comfortable in the South Side because of the ethnic diversity, Billings became his permanent home as he married a beautiful South Side woman and fathered two daughters. Up to this point, Rod would have considered himself a spiritual man as years of his grandmother dragging him to church gave him a sense of comfort with Jesus, but eventually his life choices gave in to the culture of drugging, drinking, and womanizing that surrounded him. “Church” simply became something he attended with little regard given to Jesus throughout the rest of his week. It wasn’t until he almost lost it all that he really turned to the Lord. Getting home from work, his wife had finally had enough and left him, taking with her their two daughters. Standing in the backyard, Rod cried out to the Lord – “If you will deliver me from this way of living and my addictions, I will give you everything.” The Lord heard his prayer and everything changed, not overnight, but slowly, day by day. Since that time he hasn’t given another day to his former addictions and the Lord spared his marriage; his life has never been the same. Eventually, with the economic crash of 2008, Rod found himself without work and with the prompting of the Lord, decided to enroll in college to complete his degree as a 50 year old man! Before too long, Rod had graduated college and since that time has been working as an addictions counselor to work with those who have been court-ordered to participate in the addictions program offered through New Day Ranch.
What amazed me most about my interview with Rod was his perspective on life and racism. While Rod does not deny color and race, he says, “we all have the same color blood and in our core we aren’t any different from one another.” I can only imagine what it must have been like to be the token black person in Billings, or to be treated unjustly by your co-workers for the color of your skin, or to be constantly viewed as “less than” and stared at as you walk down the aisles of Walmart, but Rod has chosen a different path, the path of love. I consider it a great honor to not only work alongside Rod, but more importantly, to call him my brother and friend. O, how I pray the Lord continue to tear down the walls of racism that divide us as a people! May we all be more like Rod – curious, a learner of culture, and a lover of people.