During this Lenten season, we seek to draw nearer to God by walking more closely with Christ. Like the Christ, who demonstrated in the wilderness that true identity is revealed not through what we so easily accept but by what we unequivocally deny, we too are closer to Jesust when we deny our racialized selves (Matthew 4.1-11). What temptations do we avert in doing so? Good question.
There are many but here are just a few. When we see ourselves as racial beings, we are tempted to satisfy our appetite for provision, protection and power through physical not spiritual means. We begin to look to the creature versus the Creator to feed, defend and strengthen us. Or, we look to ourselves as the source, the beginning and the end of all that we need. We say that we don’t need more of God but more of those who “look like us.” But, we have only one Creator and thereby one source for all of these things.
It takes spiritual discipline to deny the racialized self and to affirm that our identity in race is not enough. Start with these spiritual disciplines and add others as you continue this sacred journey.
1. Make race your enemy (Exodus 20.3).
Race is identity enemy #1. See it for what it is: a favorite idol, “a guilty pleasure.” We know that we are not racial beings but human beings, that we created race. But, we like the power that it gives us even if only social, superficial and temporal.
Socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people are the imaginary enemy. Most of the disagreements we have had with socially colored persons are in our heads. It is a war over what we would have done if this or that would have happened to us. The truth is: it didn’t. “They” didn’t and haven’t done anything to you.
Stop talking to race and don’t allow race to talk to you about anyone. It is not your friend, your bosom buddy or confidante. Race does not have your best interest in mind and does not know you best. Don’t invite it to any functions– personal, professional or otherwise. Don’t share your secrets or successes. Don’t plan your life around race. Walk away from it and don’t look back.
2. Pray for your racially determined and/ or imagined enemy (Matthew 5.43-48).
Again, this enemy is not real and by this, I mean that this total cultural group (i.e. every member) has not offended you. You do not have an aught with every single socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige person in the world because you do not have a relationship with all of them. “They” are the historical not the present enemy that we are always fighting against.
Change the way that you feel about socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people by praying for them. Prayer changes your perspective on the person or people group that we have been taught to view as “the problem.”
Or, if you view yourself as “the problem,” then look to God and the sacred Scriptures to begin healing your image. Start confessing that you are made in God’s image not in race’s image. Your physical appearance is not your enemy.
3. Love your racially determined and/ or imagined enemy (Matthew 5.43-48).
Love covers a multitude of sins (First Peter 4.8). Let love have its way. Allow it to overrule you, to challenge you, to convict you regarding your racist thoughts, beliefs and practices. Let love have the last word and the final say with regard to your treatment of those who have mistreated you or your ancestors. The golden rule applies to everyone (Matthew 7.12).
Love without the expectation of reciprocity; don’t expect to be loved in return. Love her and him without question or wavering. Don’t think about why or when or for how long. Just love. First Corinthians 13.1-8 provides the job description of lovers/ Christian believers.
4. Bless your racially determined and/ or imagined enemy (Luke 6.28; Romans 12.14).
Speak peaceably and kindly to and about socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people– no matter who is around. We must challenge our reality if we are to ever change our reality. Don’t allow race to bully you; you don’t have to say what others are saying.
The power of life and death, the ability to bless and curse is in your mouth (Proverb 18.21). Don’t join the historical, racialized conversation. Begin a new one and say something new. Fill your mouth with possibility not with pain.
Be present; don’t live in the past. It is not about what they did but what you are doing about it. Your plan of action is simple: bless them.
5. Befriend your racially determined and/ or imagined enemy (Luke 6.31-36; First Peter 4.9).
Not just one. “This is my ______ friend.” It is so easy to talk negatively about “the other.” Race makes our skin strange and the people who don’t possess the same social coloring of skin strangers. We must extend our hands, not point fingers. We must stop blaming and start befriending.
I challenge you to make more friends not imagine more enemies.
6. Abstain from prejudice (James 2.1-13; Galatians 3.28; Ephesians 4.29; Colossians 3.11).
Get to know people. We must leave our thoughts, come out of our minds and entertain the reality of those we walk past. We don’t know as many people as we think we know. Prejudice gives us the illusion of omniscience; it is but a categorical knowledge. It only works when persons agree to fit into them or when we choose to force people into them.
Think outside of the lines. Who is she and he really?
7. Confess and repent of hatreds (Leviticus 19.17; Proverb 10.12; John 13.34-35; First John 2.11; 3.15; 4.20).
This is a tough one. We all want to believe that we are loving people, nice people, good people who would “not hurt a fly.” But, this is not true.
We know that we own a fly swatter and hate with passion whether spoken sweetly, proclaimed publicly or shared privately. Whether said behind closed doors or shouted in the marketplace, the whisper and the shout have the same effect. The volume of our hatred does not affect its value. It’s all the same.
Listen to what you say about other persons but don’t stop there. Challenge what you say. Question the rationale for your belief. Why do I hate– not “them” but her or him? What am I saying really?
Accept that you hate and then, get rid of it quickly and constantly.
8. Prepare and be ready to reconcile (Matthew 5.23-26; Second Corinthians 5.18-21; Ephesians 4.32; Colossians 1.20-22).
We are so used to hating each other, being on opposing sides, having differing views and living separately. I don’t think that we are prepared for the possibility of our togetherness. We have a ministry of reconciliation but we don’t practice it when it comes to the social construct and contract of race (Second Corinthians 5.16-20).
We don’t have faith in unity but have convinced ourselves that there is more power in segregation. But, “how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm 133.1) It is not only a good thing but it feels good to live in unity. And we are to “strive for peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12.14).
Where do you begin? With you. We must first be reconciled to our true nature and spiritual ourselves. We must settle our differences; rebuke the flesh and live by the spirit. Give an account for our Christian faith and racialized living, understanding that we cannot keep them both.
If you choose your identity in Christ over your identity in race, then look inside of your heart and see what prevents you from reconciling. What barriers have you constructed? What borders have you erected? What stands in the way of new relationships, an increased manifestation of God’s love for you, your neighbor and the stranger? Yes, we are to guard our hearts but we are also called to let down our guard, to trust the God who calls us to love our enemy (Deuteronomy 28.18-19; Proverb 4.23; Ecclesiastes 4.9-12).
Examine your thoughts and get rid of those that encourage you to remain in isolation of other cultures. Stand in front of the mirror and practice looking, seeing, acknowledging your full existence and in so doing, you will not look over the human beings, the brothers and sisters, that you pass by every day. Do you really see what you are saying? Where are these socially colored people?
Then, start moving your lips; practice smiling because joy is coming your way. Get ready for committed and authentic relationships with persons of other cultures and a happier and healthier relationship with yourself and your God. But, remember: practice, practice, practice. Let the race-less church say, “Amen!”