Race-less Gospel

A race-less life is a Christ- filled life.


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A Profile in Goodwill

imgres-2Today is a humbling one for me.  I received the email notification that I would be profiled on the Ethics Daily website early this morning.  I answered the questions for the interview about a month ago.  I knew that it was coming.  Still, I am deeply grateful for the acknowledgement.

Some people work for praise and expect it.  Others work because they are driven by productivity.  I am a member of the latter group.  I love work and I love my work.

People ask why I am so passionate about race and saying good riddance to it.  The answer is simple.  It’s what I was born to do.  I was created to do this.  I don’t have anything else to say to race.

So, when the praise comes, it is unexpected.  I am not writing for an audience so the applause startle me.  I must confess that while I share this blog with you, I am writing for me.  While I am thankful for the attention, this work is more personal than some may realize.  This is why I don’t argue in the comment section; it is because I am not an argument but an agreement.

I am in agreement with the Word of God and it is to God that I give the glory for this profile in goodwill for it is simply an expression of God’s will that must be done on earth: reconciliation.


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Raise the questions

url-1The question of race is one that I use to wrestle with.  For a long time, it won because I thought that its answers to my identity were stronger and better trained.  Looking back, I think that I let race win because I did not perceive it as an enemy but more like a coach, a sparring partner.  I thought that it was a friendly match and I am not real fan of fighting so I gave in.  I didn’t take the ring seriously.

In terms of race, one of the hardest things I had to do was question it.  In fact, it was a question that answered me:  Do I have to be black?  Because for me, race is about being and becoming.  It is not just about who I am or how society defines me but who I will become.

Raised in the South, questioning authority does not come standard for me.  It is not how I was taught; neither adults or God are to be questioned.  It was understood and I never entertained the possibility.  The mere thought I considered to be heretical.

But, the thought came to me.  And I was also taught not to be rude so I entertained it.  I raised my head, cleared my throat and interrupted the conversation that race was having about me without me.  “Excuse me.  Who  gave you this authority?”

Question raised and I’m still standing.  Question raised and I was not struck by lightning.  Question raised and I am answered.

I fought race and I won.  Get in the ring and raise the questions.

 


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Let it be

images-1When I speak of the social construct of race, its prejudicial view and stereotypical identifiers and our leaving it behind, persons get nervous.  They seem to ask, “Where do we go from race?”  Or, “If we get rid ourselves of race, there will be something else to replace it?”  So, let’s just stick with this tyrant, you say?

But, if the possibility of liberation is possible, why continue to entertain this oppressive identity?  Why believe that it will be replaced with another box or category?  Why not rid ourselves of the social construct of race and experience the freedom of a race-less life for however long that may be?

And even after I have given a historical overview of race, identified its parents, provided the date when these racial identities came into being, still persons want to know what they are to do with their color now.  What meaning can I attribute to my skin now? (As if it is somehow useless if we do not identify it by race.)

I can see a color and though it not beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow/ white, there is a color there.  So, what should I call it and more so, how am I to refer to myself because I am the social coloring of my skin.  What does this difference in pigmentation mean apart from race?

Nothing.  It means nothing.  There are other ways to identify ourselves and to ascribe value, worth, meaning and purpose.  The social coloring of our skin is superficial at best.

So, let it be.  Let skin be skin.  Don’t expect it to be power or beauty, the mark of privilege or burden.  Don’t let skin put you in the center or the margin of society.  Don’t let your skin tell you what to do or think.

Instead, let color be.  Let color be color.  Don’t imagine it to be something else.  Don’t invest meaning where there is no possibility of real return.

Just let the skin cover and protect.  Let it inform you of temperature and texture.  Let is participate in how you feel– cold, hot, afraid, nervous and excited.  Let it sweat or turn red.  Let it get goose bumps and perspire.  But, no more.

How we managed to make it more than that still baffles me.  How we could allow our flesh to determine our future still frustrates me.  Why would we place such knowing on something so outside of ourselves? Why do we want so much from color and why do we think that it can provide it?

Let is be dry or sunburned.   Let it be bruised or scraped.  Let it be smooth or hairy.  Let it be young and taunt.  Let it be old and wrinkled.  But, just let it be.

And perhaps, we will see that there is something more to us, that if we let our skin be, then we can be more of ourselves.  I think that we are afraid to find out and so we stick to the surface, too disoriented to dig deep within ourselves, afraid to let ourselves be.


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The Double- Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

27029_360054929042_83975054042_3430697_4705708_nThe conversation I entered into with the attendees of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ChurchWorks this week picks back up and concludes here:

I suppose that it is a matter of pride and it’s a mind game. James uses the descriptor “double- minded” when speaking of the doubter who prays[i] but this two-ness is found both in the Old and New Testaments. “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” asked the prophet Elijah.[ii] Isaiah recorded the voice of the Lord saying, “These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me.”[iii] Jesus spoke of Pharisees who were clean on the outside but inside were “full of greed and self- indulgence.”[iv] He asked them, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?[v]

Great question, Jesus. God made the outside as well as the inside, flesh and spirit.[vi] So, God knows the spirit and while we have a hand in our formation, our nature is a sight unseen by us. And the outside of us does not fool God. He sees everything.

In fact, God knew us before we were in our mother’s womb,[vii] before texture of hair or eye color, before shape of nose or size of lips, before the social coloring of skin. God beheld a form that we cannot see and that no label can attach itself to.

And Paul echoes this spiritual reality and ends the culture war by waving this white flag at the Galatians and Colossians, who are now in the Body of Christ, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek.”[viii] Consequently, race does not form us spiritually but socially and should not inform us spiritually but assist us in understanding our society. Therefore, we must retell the story of our spiritual formation, our Christian identity without it, beginning with God.

Race has nothing to do with it. It is our idolatrous belief in the social construct of race, our support of its prejudices, our use of its stereotypical lens that has made the Church unstable. We waver between two opinions behave as if there are two gospels, two sets of commandments, two segregated heavens and hells. But, we forget that we cannot serve two masters, God and race. [ix]

Therefore, Christian education must challenge social realities and subject them to the scrutiny of Scripture. Christian educators must keep race in its place— out of the pulpit and pews, out of our hymnals and Bibles, out of our fellowship and worship. Christians must serve the Lord with their minds, not merely repeating after society but examining ourselves, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”[x]

We must change our minds about race as it does not renew us.[xi] We must learn about race in order to unlearn it. We must see race for what it is so that we can see our selves and our neighbors as they are. We must speak up about race in order to take its voice and find our own.

Because our faith and race do not agree. Race is not a partner in our becoming. It says that God creates no one new, that God is a Copycat, that we are all members of a boxed cultural set.  Race teaches us that God stereotypes.

Race says that it is a part of God’s plan, that God makes some persons better than others, that God decides who is best according to the image that He made us in.  Race teaches us that God judges and prejudices our physical features.

Race also says that we can put God on our side— the side of the oppressed or privileged, that we can discern based on the outward appearance who God loves and hates, accepts and rejects, blesses and curses.  Race teaches us that God racially segregates us.

But, race is the false teacher, an instructor without credentials, made up as we go along.  We must stop singing and teaching about race as it is a learned behavior that neither edifies us nor glorifies God.

Believing in race changes our confession of faith, compromises our witness and confuses our allegiance, fighting for flesh instead of standing in the solidarity of God’s Spirit. The theology of race both deifies and demonizes our flesh. Calling us to worship whiteness, one color becomes our symbol of righteousness and the other of social condemnation.

Suggesting that we are saved by our skin, it becomes our social messiah. Race says that our standing with God and in society is determined by our epidermis. Race says that it knows who we are and that the inside of us, our inner being, our spirit cannot change that.

So, how did we come to believe this, support and endorse it? How did we, spiritual people, get stuck on the surface? How did the Church of the living God submit its mind and members to the power of the flesh? When did we change our minds about the God who loves us all and sent His Son to die for us all in order to support a divided and double- minded Church, a color- coded and dismembered Body? What were we thinking when we began to categorize God’s love, to divide the image of God—all for us and none for them? And what of our witness to the little children, to the next generation?

Do we really believe that Jesus loves us and that he can love us without race? What do you think now? Where do you stand?

________________________

[i] James 1.8

[ii] First Kings 18.21, NRSV

[iii] Isaiah 29.13, NRSV

Also, the writer of Proverbs speaks of a “double heart” (Proverb 25.26).

[iv] Matthew 23.25, NRSV

[v] Luke 11.40, NRSV

[vi] Job 33.4

[vii] Jeremiah 1.5

[viii] Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11

[ix] Matthew 6.24

[x] Second Corinthians 10.5

[xi] Romans 12.1-2


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The Double-Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

divided-heartThis week, I was in Decatur, Georgia and presented at ChurchWorks, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference for ministers of spiritual formation and education.  I, along with several others, spoke about the theological rumblings and ruminations of our shared ministry with Christ.  I will present part one of the message here:

“Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.”[i]

 This refrain from a popular children’s song demonstrates the inclusion of racial identity, the connecting of God’s love to social categories. This song teaches the little children that they are loved according to and/or in spite of the social coloring of their skin. I say social coloring because there are no physically colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow or white people. It is not seen. Instead, we believe it by faith. We walk by race, not by sight.[ii] And this song splits our vision, divides us and makes us two people— children of color and children of God.

This song also suggests that the love of Jesus and thereby the love of God is determined, informed and influenced by the social construct of race, that God shook and agreed to the social contract of race. We are, in fact, teaching our children to think that Jesus loves them not because the Bible tells us so but in the way that race tells us to.

And it is our singing, our worship that divides us. When asked about our sacred Sunday morning segregation, many people will say as a matter of fact that we worship differently. It’s a matter of taste, of cultural preference. But, no one really wants to say it. Race divides us— believers and churches, “the light of the world”[iii] and “the Body of Christ.”[iv]

Race. The mere mentioning of the word makes us uncomfortable. We hope that no one mentions or acknowledges it, that it rides off into the sunset of history never to be seen or heard from again. Regrettably, we don’t know what to say when it comes to race.

It confuses and unravels us, shames and unnerves us. People who serve the Word- God, the speaking God, are afraid of a word that we created. More specifically, race came from the mouths and minds of Enlightenment thinkers. Practitioners of this scientific racism attached humanity to the “Great Chain of Being,” introduced a second Genesis narrative[v] to account for the different cultures and measured skulls[vi] in order to categorize humanity: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid. But, race was not in the beginning with God.[vii]

So, how did we forget that our theology matters and should not be offered up to the false god of race or its progeny, that our spiritual identity in Christ should not be sacrificed for a racial identity though it provides social acceptance, privilege and security? How did we forget that in order for the Church to work, we cannot accept identities that work against our new nature in Jesus the Christ? How do we now focus on spiritual formation when we have invested so heavily in the social realities of race? Bishop William Willimon asked, “What are we to do with a church that speaks to people on the basis of their gender or race, all the while baptizing them on the basis of Galatians 3.28?[viii]

And where did our theology go wrong? Who gave us the directions to race and why do we continue to follow them when in search of identity? We’re going around in circles, coming back to “the color line” because no one wants to stop and say that we are lost, that we have lost the Way.

_____________________________

[i] The words are by C. Herbert Woolston (1856-1927). The music was written by George Root and was originally for an American civil war song according to http://www.cyberhymnal.org.

[ii] This is a play on Second Corinthians 5.7: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

[iii] John 8.12

[iv] First Corinthians 12.27

[v] Gossett, 45-47.

[vi] This science was known as anthropometry.

[vii] Genesis 1.1; John 1.1

[viii] William H. Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 7.


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Gungor’s God is not a man

I am attending the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s ChurchWorks conference in Decatur, Georgia.  Hosted by the First Baptist Church of Decatur, it is my first time at the event created primarily for ministers of education and spiritual formation.  I expected to learn new things but I was not prepare to hear something new in worship.

By this, I don’t mean a new song though it is a new song to me.  I did not expect to hear these words in worship.  Hallelujah is expected.  Amen comes standard.  In fact, at the end of song, there were no applause.  We all just sat in silence and in the truth of it.  Throughout the song, we just looked at each other in shock.  Did he just sing that?

Okay.  I’ve said enough about it.  I’ll just let you listen to it for yourself.  I present to you, “God is not a man.”


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Christianity Today discusses racial microaggression

enhanced-buzz-19395-1386285370-28Racial microaggression is not a new term but has recently gained popularity as persons look for ways to discuss experiences of racism that are not overt or perhaps were unintended.  While America is not a post- racial country, many of its citizens certainly have come a long way in their thinking.  Or, have we?

Have we merely internalized racism, making its lens our vision of humanity?  There are those who think that our beliefs concerning race remain the same while the practices have changed.  Kristie Anyabwile describes racial microaggression and outlines how little comments and questions create problems in relationships.  But, she does not end the conversation there.  She offers ways in which to reconcile the matter in her work “No Offense: The Dilemma over Unintended Racism.”

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