Category Archives: Healing from Race

Race is not the way

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“Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ way, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.”

| Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”  We repeat his words as a matter of fact, not as a challenge.  It has been named and noted.  But, rather than shake our heads in agreement, I ask, “What are you going to do about it?”

Don’t just change seats; switch churches.  Get up and follow Jesus somewhere outside of your comfort zone, gated community, tradition, perspective, cultural and personal experience, worship style.  Jesus did it and if we are following Jesus, we should too.  Don’t spend your whole life pointing out the problem.  Don’t just shake your heads; put your heads together.  Figure it out.  Solve it.

Because Jesus doesn’t go the same way everyday, talk to the same people all the time or travel in the same neat circles.  There is nothing routine or traditional about his ministry or his message.  Jesus was not the expected Messiah, the predictable Savior.  Persons did not point to him and say, “I knew it was you!”  Just listen to the people who were around him who asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  And hear his own disciples who questioned if they really knew him, “What kind of man is this?”

Because if you meet Jesus and do not walk away from life as you knew it, then you did not meet Jesus.  If you and I can meet Jesus and return to our regularly scheduled programming, then we may have met Jesus but we do not know him.  Life with Jesus does not consist of a mere introduction but a lifelong conversation to include long walks like those with the disciples on their way to Emmaus.  We need to listen to Jesus until our hearts burn (Luke 24.32).

If we can remain hard- hearted when it comes to race, then we need to have more than “a little talk with Jesus.”

Because isn’t it a sad commentary that Christians in America cannot come together one day a week for an hour or two, that though Christ prayed that we might become one, it is hardest to answer and to embody this prayer on Sunday (John 17.21)?   That we have integrated businesses and schools, hospitals and cemeteries, buses and hotels, lunch counters and restrooms but not sanctuaries?  That praying hands still section themselves off to worship the God who “so loved the world”?  That a space marked sacred still has the signs of segregation hanging above its doors, that our churches secretly or unconsciously signal, “For white people only” or “For colored people only”?

If anything, Sunday should be the one day that we can come together.  Or, is the Holy Spirit not at work or unable to overcome the challenges of our flesh?  What do we walk in if not the Spirit and where are we going if we are not walking in the spirit of truth (Galatians 5.16; John 16.13)?  We cannot claim the creative power of God, the resurrection power of Jesus and the fire power of the Holy Spirit but continue on as if powerless to challenge and change the social realities of race.  What of this new identity in Christ?

During this season of Lent, we are called to give up our carnal cravings, our fleshly feelings in order to shorten the distance between us and Jesus.  Friends, I assure you that race is not the way.  We are no closer to Christ than when we first begun if we put anything before or in front of Christian: black Christian, white Christian, Republican Christian, Democratic Christian, female Christian, male Christian.  Christ is all or nothing at all (Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11).  Following Christ is a one way street and it leads to Calvary.  We cannot continue to follow the prescriptions of race and claim we want to go all the way with Jesus.  Because it is a death walk; race and our racialized identities simply cannot survive.

When fighting, leave race out of it

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“America is in trouble, and a lot of that trouble– perhaps most of it– has to do with race.”

| Michael Eric Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

This is between you and me, us and them, us four and any more who want to join us.  Pick a side and put up your dukes!  Take your best shot!  Let’s see what you’ve got.

Let’s get it out and in the open.  Let’s say what we mean and how we really feel about each other.  Let’s fight hard and long.  Let’s raise our voices and invite others to sing along.  Let the shouting match commence.

Let’s go back and forth about who’s good and who’s bad, who’s in and who’s out, who should be first in line and who wins every time.  There are no boundaries and no comment will be considered out of line.  Speak freely and over each other.  Don’t beat around the bush.  No fig leaves, there is nothing to hide here.

Come out swinging.  Let’s fight all night until the morning.  Let’s come up with everything that is wrong with each other.  Let’s fight with no breaks, no naps and no excuses.  Let’s fight like we mean it and hold nothing back.  Let’s fight without an end in sight about the beginning.  Let’s fight about how we met and how you never got my name.

We never got off on the right foot.  John Rolfe saw “twenty Negroes.”  But, I saw next of kin.  They called them animals; I call them people.  Slave is not a pet name.

And they were kidnapped before race was invented.  This was made up as they went along.  Race didn’t make you do it though as time went on, we claimed that race introduced us.  But, race didn’t pick a fight because it wasn’t even there.  So leave race out of it.

Bootstrap or slaver’s lash, how did America become so great?   We never got our story straight.  Rope around their necks, this was not a match made in heaven.  And so they fought like hell.  They were not happy to be enslaved or to be far away from their homeland.  That is a lie and repeating it constitutes fighting words.

So let’s fight every dotted i and every crossed t, about everything and over anything.  Let’s fight tooth and nail over every physical feature, every scrap of land and sea, who’s right for the world and whose wrong innately.  Because it was only made for one “race” of people, right?

Let’s fight ’til the end and to the death of our consciences.  Just do me one favor.  Leave race out of it.  Because I have heard it said on many occasions, that if we no longer had race, we would find something else to fight about.  So, what is the fighting, the endless duel of cultures really about?

Answer this and I think it will take the fight out of us.  Because it is not about flesh or its hues.  But of course, you might want to fight me about the answer to this too.

Saying, “I don’t see color” is not the answer to racism

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I am not blind and I am certainly not color- blind.  That’s not what the race-less gospel means or aims to accomplish.  I am not hoping that the world will turn a blind eye to the different physical appearances of human beings across cultures and the globe.  Please don’t tell your eyes that they are lying.  They see color.

In a recent CNN townhall, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said, “As somebody who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn’t see color as a young boy and I honestly don’t see color now.”  He is also seriously considering a run for president of the United States of America.  But, he really can’t be serious.  In a move that made my stomach turn and made me turn down my usual tall cups of Starbucks chai tea latte,  two African American men were falsely arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend before ordering beverages.  They both later settled with the company with a symbolic $1 each.  In response to the fall out, Starbucks closed its doors for business to solve the issues of race, prejudice, stereotyping, profiling and racialized preferential treatment in four hours.

Clearly, they needed more time if Schultz can’t see color.  I think that it was better said that as a young boy, he did not see race.  Race is a social system based on the hierarchy of flesh,  skin tones specifically.  The lighter, the so- called whiter you are, the higher you go up the ladder and in the eyes of society while darker complexions are kept close to the ground.  This social agreement is explained and agreed to over time.  Schultz was too young then to enter into this social arrangement of relationships.  Saying he does not see color does not make it go away.

I am not blind.  I am also not color-blind.  But, what I can see is that the amount of melanin or the lack thereof in a person’s skin as a determinant of inherent worth, undeniable beauty, unearned economic privilege and social status and the inalienable right to live with dignity and to be treated with respect is wrong and unjust.  We are literally prioritizing people based on their flesh.  Consequently, when I see a person, I don’t see their socially constructed race and treat them according to its prejudices.  Because I don’t agree with that.

I also don’t find race to be a credible or unbiased witness to our shared humanity.  Pretending that color is the problem and not the way that we use color to make some human beings a problem is what must be acknowledged, addressed and changed.  Saying, “I don’t see color” just backs away from the conversation.  It’s not a response and it is not the answer.

The Color of Compromise: Jemar Tisby’s new book aims to talk about the difference race has made on American Christianity

His book arrived in the mail yesterday.  I must confess that it is one of forty books that I have ordered in recent weeks.  New home, new bookshelves, I am creating a library to support my future work on  the raceless gospel.  I want to be surrounded by these conversation partners.  I have also decided that I want to be buried under my books.  Please tell my family to pile them on top of me and now that I think about it, under me as well.

I will rest on pages.

But before then, I will read his book and so many more.  Tisby’s book is where the conversation on race and the church in North America should start: with the realization and acceptance of our role in its existence.  Race is not just a social construct, but an ecclesial one.  Beginning with the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, Tisby calls us to account for our complicity.  He writes, “Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity.  They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing, created and maintained a status quo of injustice” (17).  For him, we must start by owning what we have allowed by letting racial identities persist and racialized injustice to continue in our families, churches and neighborhoods.

Providing a historical survey, this is more than a history lesson but a call to action.  He recounts our sinful past so that we can face this present moment with the assurance that it need not be repeated.  We can say and do something different.  Tisby is convinced of the possibility.  He says, “Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today” (19).

From American slavery to the Black Lives Matter movement, the book concludes with a how- to list, which I will not detail here.  You will need to pick up the book.  Detailing the history of race in the making of the church in North America increases the sense of urgency for the healing work required and before we put the book down, Tisby has given us several assignments.  But, these are not ones you and I can simply check off.  The change that race has made on American Christianity will require more of our time and tongue.

Tisby’s words can change how we talk about race and in turn, our Christian faith.  Now aware and accountable, we are empowered to say something different and in so doing, to truly see each other without race and for the first time.

Don’t stop talking about race

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It is easy to reset, to move on to the next outrage, to the next shiny object.  “Ooh.  What’s that?”  We want to be distracted.  We hope that we can forget.

But, we cannot continue to let this be the case.  Race is a problem and it doesn’t just go away.  Instead, it is here to stay, stuck between our teeth, hanging on to our thin skin.  We carry it with us.  A word with sharp edges that we continue to wrap carefully and reuse, race is the weapon and the wound.

Still, we talk about race as if it is all we have, like it is all that we can say about ourselves, as if we are only flesh and blood.  We talk about race as if our lives depend on it, like we cease to exist if we are not socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  And though we cannot see the end of it (that is, post- racial), race is not our beginning. We cannot see past it but there is no future with race.

A socio- political construct, we talked ourselves into this belief in race and we will need to talk ourselves out of it.  You may not know this but we are not alone in this desire.  Recently, a number of books have been published that aim to discuss our relationship with race and empower readers to talk about it.  Please consider adding these to your reading list and your bookshelves:

Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).

Carolyn B. Helsel, Anxious to talk about it: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism, (Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2017).

Ijeoma Oluo, So you want to talk about race?, (New York, NY: Seal Press, 2018).

Derang Wing Sue, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015).

Shelly Tochluk, Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk about Race and How to Do It, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2010).