Romal Tune has dedicated his life to generating connectivity between faith communities, corporate and public entities, social-change advocates, and underserved young people. The heart of his incredible journey: Turning placeholders into stakeholders; Building navigable bridges and broadening the road less traveled by populating it with education pathfinders, main street civic architects, and inner city cultural luminaries who have all come to know the 40-something spiritual reformer affectionately as ‘Tune.’ He is the Founder and Executive administrator of the national non-profit Faith For Change and FFC Consulting and author of, God’s Graffiti: Inspiring Stories for Teens.
KW: Tell me a little bit about your childhood and how that shaped your views and desire to write God’s Graffiti.
RT: Like too many kids growing up today my childhood was lonely. Not simply because I was an only child but because very few people paid attention to me and most conversations were verbally abusive. I think my family thought picking on a kid, cracking jokes, etc, was what makes a kid tough. The reality is that it destroyed my self-esteem. My dad wasn’t around and my uncles bullied me. By seventh grade my mom had become an alcoholic and drug addict. We lost everything and by the time I was thirteen I was fully immersed in street life, hustling to take care of myself – despair leads to desperate behavior. My mom eventually got clean through a church rehab program and by then my life had changed, as well. I was in church and had accepted a call to ministry instead of going to medical school.
I say more about this in the book, but in short, my mom and I healed our relationship but she died of lung cancer at the age of 53. I was devastated, angry with God and ready to give up on church. One day I prayed and said “God if you want me to stay in church you’re going to have to show me someone in the Bible like me. Someone who has been through the pain I’ve felt all my life: feeling unwanted and like nobody cares. I opened my Bible and God opened my eyes. The result was God’s Graffiti.
KW: How does the Bible help you (and us) shape your experiences on our path to fullness of life in God in the midst of our circumstances?
RT: The Bible gives me a lens through which I can look at my life at make sense of all the things that happen. The good, the bad, the moments that bring sadness and those that bring joy. When we humanize the experiences of people in the Bible and move beyond looking at the miracles and the victories, we are able to see that they were just like us. When I look at the Bible I ask, “What did that person feel like while they were trying to overcome obstacles?” When we tap into the emotional experiences of people like Moses, Joseph, Esther, Hagar, Ishmael, and others, we are able to see that they experienced the same emotions we experience. Humanizing instead of glamorizing the experiences of men and women in the Bible enables us to see God at work in their lives in new and refreshing ways. That’s what I tried to do in God’s Graffiti.
KW: On your website you say, “Real change is a contact sport.” What do you mean by that?
RT: There are so many hurting people in the world who aren’t only looking for a word from the Lord but someone who works for the Lord. Sometimes they hear God’s voice when we speak and see God’s presence when we act on His behalf. I firmly believe that when you pray and ask God to act, he also gives you something to do. Too often we pray, “God give me,” instead of “God use me.” When you ask God to use you He gives you what you need to do whatever He is using you to do because He knows what you need to get it done. If I unpack that I would simply say that we cannot sit on the sidelines of life and watch things happen, ignoring the opportunity to help hurting people. Sometimes it is easy to be spiritual spectator. That’s when you hear people say things like “my relationship with God is between me and God.” That’s not true, we cannot covet Jesus. God is active in our lives and calls us to be active in the lives of others: “What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Matthew 25:45 and James 2:24 are two other good verses.
My life would have turned out differently were it not for caring people who helped me when I couldn’t help myself and I’m so grateful they cared enough to try. That’s why I believe change is a contact sport and maybe that’s all God wants – for us to care enough to try.
KW: What is one of your favorite stories from the book and how does it exemplify what you want people to take away when they read the book?
RT: One of my favorite stories from God’s Graffiti is the story of Jephthah from Judges 11. In that chapter I talk about why I joined a gang, some of the things I saw my mother do, and how those things impacted my life in some not so good ways. I really identified with Jephthah’s story of being shamed by his parents’ behavior, rejected by his family and community and then escaping it all by running to the wilderness “where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.” For me, and kids like me, that wilderness is street life and gangs.
That was the hardest chapter to write because it forced me to really confront the pain of my childhood and be honest about how much those things really hurt me. I did not want to write it but I felt the Holy Spirit pushing me and telling me that my truth and transparency was going to help someone. That’s all I cared about. I remember telling myself, “Don’t be ashamed. If it’s going to help someone then it’s worth it.” I was afraid of what other people would think of me. To overcome that and keep writing I would quote Romans 8:8 and 8:28 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
KW: What do you hope people take away from reading God’s Graffiti?
RT: Don’t be ashamed of the pain in your past but be honest enough to admit you’ve been hurt, confront the pain, forgive, heal and then let God use your transparency as a tool to transform the lives of others. So many people are looking for someone who not only understands but for a road map to healing that was first traveled by someone else. Not just thousands of years ago in the Bible, but today. That’s how the Disciples knew Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, when he showed them his wounds.
We don’t show people our wounds but we show them our scars, the evidence of our healing. The other thing I want people to know is that your story matters, your life matters, and your future matters. You are not alone. Never give up on your dreams or the belief that God can turn mistakes into miracles.