Race-less Gospel

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


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A Declaration of Exceptionalism

I am an exception to the rules of race.  I don’t follow them; I live to break them.  I live my life above the laws of race.

Race cannot put me in a box and check me off.  I don’t fit and I won’t bend or contort to do so.  There is more room in this world than what race has to offer, available if I don’t buy into the lie of inferiority.

I am made of new stuff not old stereotypes and cultural prejudices.  I am a new word spoken into existence by the God who does new things (Isaiah 43.19).  I am a new creature, a new beginning (Second Corinthians 5.17).  I start here.  My life begins now.

I will not repeat the segregationist relationships of the past; I choose my own friends.  My family is God’s family– without exception.  And I will love and be loved exceptionally.

 

 


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How believing in race lowers our self- esteem

“I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

~ Psalm 139.14, NRSV

“I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!”

~ Psalm 139.14, The Message

Our belief in race makes us dependent.  It teaches us to prop our selves up on our appearance and the judgments that persons make about our appearance.  The problem is that some of us are born with the physical attributes that our society has deemed beautiful and others are not.  For some cultural groups, beauty seemingly (and thereby approval and acceptance) comes naturally and it is often considered or argued as inherent.  But for others that do not possess the same external attributes, beauty is a process or a chore and social acceptance is hard won.

The psalmist praises God for the way in which he was made.  He speaks of the God who is “acquainted with all of his ways” (cf. 139.3) and knows what he is going to say even before he says it.  God can do more than finish his sentences but truly knows what the writer is thinking.  The psalmist is completely known, his goings and comings, his thoughts, his habits.

In fact, there is nothing that is hidden from God because there is no place for the psalmist to hide: “Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence (cf. 139.7)?”  Notice that it is the psalmist who is considering life apart from God.  God knows everything about him and yet, God is unmoved, unchanged, fixed, faithful: “You hem me in, behind and before and lay your hand on me.”  God has seen and heard and known it all– and ahead of time but He does not take a hands off approach to His creation.

Why?  Because God made the psalmist and He made us.  God knows what we are made of: “For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust” (cf. Psalm 103.14).  God is the seamstress or sewer of humanity.  It was God who knit us together in our mother’s womb.  God’s hands were on us long before race and touched us before the doctor spanked our bottom.

Race lowers our self- esteem because there is no talk of the God who formed our inward parts; we don’t praise God for that.  We praise God for good hair, pretty eyes, the perfect nose and a pouty lip.  Race lowers our self- esteem because:

1.  Race invests our meaning and subsequent value in external attributes.  It says that who we are and will be can be determined just by looks.

2.  Race determines based on our external attributes the condition and status of our spiritual lives (i.e. socially colored black= heathen, absent of light; socially colored white = saved, the definition of purity).  It says that if you are in the “out” group (versus the “in crowd”), then you are bad version of a human being and must not have a relationship with God.  Or, because you are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige, God does no desire a relationship with you.

3.  Race says that the overall value of human beings is rooted in our appearance and that value is determined by human beings who also gain their position to judge based not on divine right but social approval and according to the appearance of their flesh.

We can esteem ourselves because of the way that we have been made and in praise of the One who made us.  It is not what we are made up of that matters but how we were made and Who made us all.  Our personal esteem, the means by which we evaluate our worth, should be rooted and grounded in the love of God.  It should not be based on the approval ratings of our society.

“God proved his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5.8).  That how much God esteems us.


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How Race Slowly Kills Us

Are you living or dying?  Well, if you believe in the social construct of race, then your life is a slow yet acceptable death.  At birth, we are told that we are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige, that this is the way things are so we might as well get used to it.  Get use to being stereotyped and pre- judged.

Welcome to the world!  Now, go ahead and die: die to your divinely inspired self, kill your dreams and aspirations– because race says so.  Because you are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige, this is what you are allowed, expected and limited to doing, being and believing about yourself (and other cultural groups).

Race tells us who we are; it does not assist us in our becoming.  Instead, race stunts our growth and stops any conversation that centers around the divine gifts that God has created us to be.  Race says that we are a problem to be solved, fixed, eliminated.  But, God says that you are a gift to be celebrated, opened and appreciated.

And you are not even a new problem but more of the same old problem we’ve had with “those people.”  No, we have nothing new to contribute; our life is nothing special.  We are just like “them,” more of the same stereotypical human beings.

Race tells us to join the crowd, to stand behind the color line like the rest of them.  Race says that we must jump into a box so that it can check us off.  Our becoming in terms of race is then finished.

Some say, “Things will never change” but I am not a thing.  I am a new creature in Christ and am being changed (Second Corinthians 5.17).  Others say, “That’s just the way it is” but that sounds like a eulogy.  I am not dead but alive.

Stop the funeral procession!  I am still moving, still growing, still able to impact the world– even if it’s only my own.

“So how is race slowly killing us,” you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you and remind myself.  Race slowly kills us because:

1. We prepare our lives for the worst.  Race tells us that simply because we exist, bad things will happen, that people will believe bad things about us, that we are bad people who do bad things.

2.  We believe there is no hope.  Convinced that because we cannot change the social coloring of our skin that we are stuck in a particular social condition, we do not aspire to live beyond the stereotypes or to think outside of racial prejudice.

3.  We agree with race and deny our true selves the right to speak.  We take the word of race over our own and will quiet our dreams out of respect for the prejudices of race.  We want even allow our hearts to speak.  Unfortunately, we believe more in race than our selves.  We believe more in our socially constructed race than the Divine image in which we were created and in so doing, race slowly kills us, by telling us who has been and not who we are.

 “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

~ Psalm 118. 17

 


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What are you looking at?

17621The Bible says that when we are baptized, we put on Christ (Galatians 3.27).  Our appearance changes and the social value placed on our external attributes loses its effect.  Or, it should.  Instead, we are to strive to have the mind of Christ, to live the life of Christ and to practice the love of Christ.

And while we are so busy trying to defend and depict him as socially colored black with dread locks, socially colored white with blonde hair and so on, Christ didn’t pay much attention to our physical attributes.  He did not die to change our hair texture, the shape of our nose or the size of our lips.  He came to die in order to save our souls from sin, hell and separation from God.    He did not die for just your culture or mine.  No, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3.16).  That would be every body.

The fact is, God looked at the billions of people in the world and couldn’t imagine life a part from any of us.  He did not desire to lose a single soul to Satan so He did not pick some cultures and leave others to make their own way to heaven.  When God looks at us, He does not see socially colored people but His children, created in his image.

God’s Word is our mirror and it says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ (James 1.23; Galatians 3.28).”  So, what are you looking at?

 

 

 


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If you are looking for the image of God

“But (God) said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

~ Exodus 33.20, NRSV

“No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

~ John 1.18, NRSV

The Creator cannot be molded or fashioned out of clay.  Our hands cannot make God as God made our hands.  God is not a sculpture, made of metal or dirt.  God is the Creator of metal, dirt, the sculptor and potter.

The Creator cannot be painted, filled or colored in.  God cannot be captured in a painting, not even a glimpse is there.  God gave the colors their name; how can they then be used to describe God?  God is the Creator and source of the rainbow and the painter.

The Creator, the Holy One of Israel, is not atop a steeple or seen through a stained glass window, in a robe or within our liturgy.  God cannot be set in stone neither is the true identity of God found and fixed in our minds.

God is Spirit, blowing where He desires not where we tell Him to (John 4.24).

The Creator cannot be found in nature.  God is not a tree or water or fire but God is the Source of these things, giving the tree is breath, water its coolness and fire its heat.  They are used by God and thus, cannot be used to re- create God into an image we can see.

The Creator cannot be captured by what He has created.  The face of God remains unseen but His image is everywhere.

So vast is His image that it cannot be captured by a statue or a canvass, in nature, in a building or in one group of people.  No, the image of God is upon all people.  If you are looking for the image of God, look into the billions of faces around the world. No one exists without it.

 

 


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The Race-less Gospel in Twitter Fashion

I write often about race and at length about the ways in which our belief in race impacts our practice of the Christian faith.  Unlike many Americans, I am quite comfortable talking about the taboo subject and scrutinizing it based on Scripture.  But, I also share my thoughts on race and race-lessness on Twitter (@racelessgospel).

And like most preachers, I love to talk and I can talk for a long time (though this is not my practice on Sunday mornings).  Blame it on my love of words.  But, I can keep it short and sweet when necessary.  Don’t believe me?  Well, let me prove it to you.

What is the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ in 140 characters or less?

God does not care what your ‘race’ has done. God saves us because of what Christ has done.

Total word count: 140.


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Looking for the Right Question

“Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” ~ Matthew 7.7, NRSV

“Ask and it shall be answered.”  How I wish that this were one of the promises of God.  But, unfortunately, this is not the case.  The Bible is filled with questions for which no answer is given:  “Why do the nations conspire and the people plot in vain” (Psalm 2.1)?  Even Jesus asked a question that went unanswered, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27.46)?

I find it amazing that the Book of Life includes unanswered questions, that the God who knows all things does not tell us everything.  Selah.

Still, questions are necessary for they suggest that an answer is possible, whether we know it not.  Life is not just about finding the answers but looking for and discovering the right question.  Questions not answers increase what is possible.  It is not if we believe the answer but rather if we find the question that opens the door.

Race causes us to question.  This social construct leads us to question our life’s meaning and worth, the motives and intentions of neighbors and strangers and even the very love of God for us.  Some questions are not good for us as it is possible to ask the wrong questions.

They are wrong because they are asked of someone or in this case, something (i.e. race) that cannot and will not ever be able to provide a truthful and thereby valuable answer.  When I began my intense study of race nearly ten years ago, I began with question upon question, initially believing that race was the answer, that it would explain everything, that it would clear up the matter of the command of God to love and the command of race to hate, that it would bring some sort of balance to my practice of the Christian faith and my belief in race and its socially agreed upon identities.  I interrogated race for years and I have discovered that race does not have the answers that I or you are searching for.

The best question that I ever asked that changed my conversation with race was this: “Do I have to be black?”  I know now that it was the right question.  Initially, I didn’t know what the answer would do.  But, it unraveled the cords of race from around my life; it loosed its grip on me.  I was being liberated, becoming race-less just like that!  The question suggested that it was possible for me to live life without race and the question alone stripped race of its authority over my life.

Of course, for race and I to continue our relationship, the answer would have been, “Yes.”  I could be nothing else.  I could not change.  Race would have no use for me any other way.  But, I couldn’t accept my new position as a new creature in Christ and remain the same racialized self.  The question challenged me to make my life the answer and my search for the right question was over.


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A Declaration of Independence from Race

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for you are one in Christ Jesus.”

~ Galatians 3.27-28, NRSV

I love the book of Galatians.  The letter written to the church is direct and full of passion.  Paul is angry and disappointed with the new converts.  So important is the message that Paul has to share with them that he does not even provide a thanksgiving.  After his greeting, he gets right to the point.  He skips the formula and gets right to the facts.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (cf. 1.6-8).  Christ has delivered them from old bondage but this new freedom is perhaps too new and unfamiliar.  So, they go back to what they are use to.

Their message message is more of the old: regulations according to the flesh (i.e. circumcision) and not the freedom found in Christ’s sacrifice as Paul preached.  Jesus has done it all.  He has paid it all through his flesh; there is nothing that ours can do to add to our salvation.  “It is finished” (John 19.30).  We are not dependent on our flesh to do anything; circumcision is a solely physical exercise.

***

Race makes us dependent upon the social coloring of skin for meaning, purpose and value.  We look at our skin for our identity.  We look to our flesh for counsel and direction.  We ask race to tell us how to behave, what to believe, how to treat persons and ourselves.  We are not willing to imagine our lives independent of race.  Despite the work of Christ on the cross and in his body, we continue to turn to ours as proof of our chosen-ness.  Like Paul, it is my task to remind us of the message of Christ and his ministry to all nations, reconciling us to him irregardless of the social coloring of our flesh.

And in celebration of our country’s independence, I thought it necessary to make a declaration of my own.  You are certainly welcome to join me.  I must warn you that it won’t come with fireworks and family gatherings over barbecue.  There are no parades (just yet) for this declaration but you can wave and smile in the mirror if you like.  Throw a few pieces of candy if you like.

It is a unanimous decision of my heart, mind and soul to no longer view my body or its existence in God’s world through the lens of race.  I believe it necessary now and hereafter to separate my body and its members from the government of race and to acknowledge the full and uncompromised power of God over my life.  I confess that race is an idol, conjured by the human mind and created with human hands.

I will not relate to my family members, friends, neighbors, strangers or the like according to the prejudices of race.  I will not restrict the possibilities of my faith and the God that I serve to the stereotypes of race.  I declare that the work of Christ’s flesh provides my salvation and frees me from the body of this social death.  Today and every day, I declare my independence from race.


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Salvation Country

My Country ‘tis of Thee,

Sweet land of Divinity,

Of Thee I sing;

Land where my allegiance is tied to his body crucified

Pierced hands and side,

He took death’s sting.

 

My Salvation Country, Thee

Land of the purchased free

Thy place I love

I love thy peace that stills

Thy mercy against my trembling will

My heart with gratitude is filled

Up, over and above.

 

Let praise swell my heart

Never ending once it starts

Sweet Relief’s song

Let the earth begin to quake

Let all bow and partake

Of the sound that faith makes

And that sound prolong

 

Our God, independent Thee

Author of our liberty

To Thee we sing

Eternal Your land is light[i]

Filled with freedom’s holy sight;

Produced by Your sovereign might;

Great God, our King!

 

_______________________

[i] This is an adaption of the lyrics of “America” written by Rev. Samuel F. Smith in 1831.

 


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When our neighbors are our enemies

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”  

~ G.K. Chesterton

“Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

~ First John 4.20, NRSV

When I was a child, I believed that Christians were practicing their faith both in church and at home.  In my twenties, I noticed that some Christians were great believers in church only.  They seemed to be on their best behavior but only in God’s house.  Now,  in my thirties, I see Christians who are not Christ-like in church.  I’m afraid of what I will discover once I turn forty.

As I’ve gotten older, my awareness has increased and with it, the volume of my lament over the dismembered Body of Christ.  I could not have imagined the depth of disconnection.  Sure, I was aware of the various denominations, theologies and styles of worship.  But, I never thought for a moment that we would not be able to worship our God together because of race.  I thought that our faith was greater than race, that we would set it aside when it came to Christianity, that people who pride themselves on being led by the Spirit of God could not be led by the social construct of race.

The truth is: we hate not only our neighbor but our brothers and sisters in the faith.  Christians hate other Christians because of the social coloring of skin.  Christians believe that they are better or worse than other Christians due racial stereotypes.  We choose not to worship with other believers because race has corrupted our theology, desecrated our worship and defiled the Body of Christ.  There is no such thing as Christian hatred.  Race has made liars of us all.  God, help us.

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