Race-less Gospel

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


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Judgment: Lessons learned from Ferguson

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Judgment.  We just can’t seem to get it right.  We forget who we are in the courtroom: all sinners, guilty as charged.  We forget that Jesus defends us all, that Jesus is a friend of sinners, a friend to Officer Darren Wilson and the late Mr. Michael Brown, Jr. before and after they met each other (Matthew 11.19).  We don’t like to hear that, which is how we find ourselves in the Judge’s seat.  We really don’t like God’s justice, which is God’s unconditional love– because it is for all.

The truth is that we want God to reserve judgment when it comes to our failings but scream “let it roll like a river” when it comes to those we hate or disagree with (Amos 5.24).  The truth is we only respect God’s judgment when we approve of it, when we feel that God has reached the decision that we have.

We also want to keep persons on the hook.  We don’t want to forgive them.  But, Christians, what kind of fisher of people does that?  Are those we perceive to have done wrong in the case of Officer Darren Wilson and the late Mr. Michael Brown, Jr. now not eligible for the ministry of Christ? Have we judged them unworthy of God’s grace and mercy because of the decision they have made?  And if so, by what criteria? Where did it begin and when does it end?

We want justice now.  We put demands on when justice happens and how justice looks to us.  And if our demands are not met, then we judge not just the jury or the law enforcement officials or even the media but we judge God as incompetent.

The tragic events that led up to the death of an unarmed teenager, the late Mr. Michael Brown, Jr. have brought us to the same place.  We are using excessive force, punishing business owners that had nothing to do with the event, destroying property that was not a part of the crime scene, hurting hundreds of other people… though it started with just two.

This is what happens when we judge.  I’m scooting over as I am in no position to.

 


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No Indictment: Lessons learned from Ferguson

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Ferguson, Missouri has commanded the attention of many persons across the nation for months now.  Police brutality, even suspected excessive force in cases involving European American police officers and African American suspects, is a sensitive issue in America for many reasons, some of which are founded; others of which are not.  Many persons see this latest case of suspected police brutality as more of the same and they are responding with more of the same: “They” give us no justice so we give them no peace.”

But, I believe that there are those whose appetite has change, who are craving something different in America and desiring to be better than the conditions that we have inherited.  I, along with these brave few, will not pass to the next generation more of the same old hatreds, aggressions and stereotypes.  We’re simply tired of race and racism as usual.

I don’t know much but these past few months, I’ve learned a few things and after hearing the jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, I heard the Teacher even clearer.

Lesson #1:  Anger is easy.  Acceptance is harder.  We have talked for hundreds of years in America about what we have done to each other and blamed race for it.  We have yet to accept who we are because of the ways that we have chosen to love and live with each other.  We have yet to accept that we are all oppressors.

Lesson #2: God’s love is unconditional and so is God’s forgiveness.    We are called and challenged to forgive before all of the facts come in.  It’s only fair since “God loved us while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5.8).  And we forgive before the person even figures out that she or he has wronged us, praying the prayer of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34).

Lesson #3: I have heard again the familiar dismissal of a belief in justice in the quip, “There is no justice. Just us.”  But, it is only just us if we do not involve God in the judicial process.  I’m sorry to inform you but race does not determine justice for God.  It is in cases like the one in Ferguson that we forget our place and find ourselves in the Judge’s seat. Get up.

Lesson #4: It is easier to judge than to understand.  It’s easier to say, “You’re wrong” than to ask, “What’s wrong?”  We really don’t care why they did it.  Yet, without this discussion, we expect them not to do it again.  Ferguson will repeat itself if we continue to say the same things.

Lesson #5: Blame- shifting just moves the burden of responsibility around.  We’re all guilty and no one person or cultural group is guiltier than another.

Lesson #6: You can’t be a crowd pleaser and a Christ follower at the same time.  Christians are called to “walk circumspectly,” prudently (Ephesians 5.15).  This means that sometimes we have to walk away from the group– even when it is unpopular to do so.  We also have to go against the majority, the normative response and repeat after Christ instead of the culture.

Lesson #7:  Keep the faith– not in people but in God.  There is no incident so sweeping as to eclipse our commitment to Christ.  We must not break the commandments of Christ in order to be faithful to our culture or to uphold the traditions of race.  That would be the most detrimental of brutalities.

 


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Five facts about the life of race

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  1. Race is a modern invention of the European Enlightenment: “European Enlightenment thinkers retained the Greek ideal of reason, as well as this reason’s categorical function of discriminating between the cultured (now called the ‘civilized) and the ‘barbarian’ (the ‘savage’ or the ‘primitive’). It can be argued, in fact, that the Enlightenment’s declaration of itself as ‘the Age of Reason’ was predicated upon precisely the assumption that reason could historically only come to maturity in modern Europe, while the inhabitants of areas outside Europe, who were consistently described and theorized as rationally inferior and savage.”[i]
  2. Race, here being the hierarchical system that socially positions human beings according to the social coloring of skin and other external features, did not exist prior to the 17th century: “Enlightenment philosophy was instrumental in codifying and institutionalizing both the scientific and popular European perceptions of (human beings).”[ii]
  3. Race rose to fame and notoriety when the Bible’s story of creation was reasoned to be irrational: “The rise of science in the Enlightenment period had overthrown the biblical story of creation and replaced the authority of religion with that of reason, nature was still conceptualized as a hierarchical system (the Great Chain of Being), in which every being, from humans down to fauna and flora, had a ‘naturally’ assigned position and status.”[iii]
  1. The power and influence of race can be attributed to travel writings: “During the two centuries prior to the European Enlightenment, an enormous amount of exploration and voyages around the world had produced numerous published accounts of distant lands and peoples as well as the great expansion of European wealth. These popular travel writings contributed significantly to the perception of Europe as familiar and ‘civilized,’ living in the Age of Light, while the peoples of other lands (Asia, Africa, America) were of ‘strange’ habits and mores. Savagery could then be physically located outside of Europe, outside of light, so that Africa, for example, was considered the Dark Continent, and a terra nulla.”[iv]
  1. Neither colored people, that is socially colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/yellow/ white, existed neither the belief that persons were mentally, physically, socially or spiritually inferior based on appearance prior to 1680. Winthrop Jordan explains, “After about 1680, taking the colonies as a whole, a new term of self- identification appeared—white.”[v]

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[i] Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader, (Blackwell Publishing Ltd: Malden, MA, 1997), 4.

[ii] Ibid 5

[iii] Ibid 4-5

[iv] Ibid 5

[v] Winthrop Jordan, The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States, (Oxford University Press: New York, NY, 1974), 52.


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If you hate

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Race allows us to categorize people, to lump entire human populations together, to pack them into overcrowded boxes and store them in the socioeconomic basement of our society.  Race helps us to forget our commonality as human beings, “out of sight, out of mind.”  It focuses on and creates more differences than even exist in an effort to maintain the illusion of superior and inferior human beings.

Race is not liberating or powerful.  In fact, our belief in race and our acceptance of this superficial, social and pseudo- identity is not an expression of self- love, self- understanding or even self- esteem.  Instead, our incorporation of race into our understanding of human beings and human relationships means the exact opposite.

The truth is, our belief in race has not made us more loving or understanding of our selves much less other persons from different cultures.  Race has done and is doing more harm than good.  It has not told us who we are but who we are not and can never be.  Race has not adequately answered the question, “Who am I?”

Why do I say all of this?  It is to remind you of the track record of race, to reorient you to the truth that race does not love us.  But, also to point out the obvious problem of race as a source of human identity and as a molder of human relationships.

We will never come together around race as it calls us to hate.  Not only does race foster self- hatred but you cannot hate someone without hating yourself.  You cannot hold hatred in your mouth without it staining your teeth, impacting your bite, without some of its energy dripping onto your self- image.

Race requires that we live in a perpetual state of hatred, which means that we must die to love.  If you hate, you must die to Love.  You must separate ourselves from God’s Love because in the presence of God, there is no hatred.

If you hate any one that God has created, that God has made different from you, because it was the prerogative of the Creator, then you hate the work of the Creator.  You cannot hate God’s creation and love God.  You cannot think less of a human being and think highly of the Image in which we are made.  Hate + Love ≠ Love.  

We choose to hate and we can choose to love.  The fact is, if we cannot love everyone, then we cannot love any one, including ourselves.

 

 

 


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The Benefit of a Name

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Names are important.  Nick names are cute but birth names carry a lot of meaning.  Parents name their children after persons they love and admire.  They hand down names of those who they have left an indelible mark on their lives and they choose to remember them through their child.  Parents also name their children based on who they desire them to be or believe that they are.  They give them strong names, beautiful names, popular names, catchy names, thoughtful names.

Strangely enough, we do not invest much in our understanding of them.  Sure, we know our name.  We can spell our name.  But, we do not see ourselves based on our first name.  Instead, we repeat the names, live the names, identify with and answer to the names, that bullies, bitter family members, strangers and our society calls us.

I have an interesting name: Starlette.  Not many people have it.  I have counted fourteen people so far.  We are small group but the name is great.

Often when I tell people my name, I add, “Yes.  It’s my real name.”  I know that there are Hollywood starlets but this is not a stage name. And the name has great power.  It’s hard to be a wall flower, a shrinking violet with a name that means “brilliant performer.”  Brilliant.  Performer.

Simply saying my name has reassured me, comforted me and reminded me of who I am.  I need only say it and it sets the record straight.  I need only repeat it to gain my footing.  I need only introduce myself by it and come to light.

Now, I don’t know your name or its meaning but I am sure that it has more benefits than the name that the social construct of race calls you.  My name is race-less as anyone can be a brilliant performer.  So, what’s your name?


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What race is really about

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It’s about hate versus love.  We will have to choose whether we are going to live in hatred or walk in love.  Before hatred kills, it cripples and without love, we will never walk unimpeded.

It’s about us versus them.  We will have to choose to accept that there is only us.  There is no them and there never has been.  We are all in this together, unable to be separated, segregated.  Our humanity is shared.  There is no one who is more or less human than another.

It’s about pain versus forgiveness.  We have hurt each other but returning hurt for hurt leaves everyone in pain.  It does not heal anyone.

It’s about a lie versus the truth.  Race is a lie and we made it up.  It is the lie we tell to ourselves and about others.  But, it’s time to tell the truth.  And the truth is, we are all created equally to to be loved by all of us.  We must not let pain have the last word.  Let forgiveness say something.

 


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What can we expect of race?

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What do we expect of an unjust system, an unfair practice that bases human value and purpose on the social coloring of skin?  Why do we ask of skin, look to the surface to give our lives and the lives we live with others a deeper meaning?  Why place such an expectation on race?

Why did we think that race could bring us together when it thrives on division, when it calls for separation and segregation?  Race creates categories not circles.

There will be no hand- holding, no singing of “Kumbaya” here.  God is not present in race.

How could it ever make us better when it casts members of our humanity as worse– based solely on looks, appearance, our sight instead of God’s vision?  Why did we ever expect that race would make us see ourselves and others more clearly when it prescribes prejudice and stereotypes?  Why did we give our eyes to it instead of keeping them fixes on Jesus?

What can we expect of race, this social construct that prizes and praises the flesh of some over others?  Nothing.  In the end, it will return to the earth just as our flesh.  It will not rise with us so maybe we should lower our expectation of it.

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