Category Archives: Post-racial Christianity

Segregated Sundays: Genuine Community

Cross- cultural, multicultural, multiethnic or intercultural, whichever is your church’s claim to inclusivity, please be sure that your invitation is sincere, that your congregation understands what these words means and what they mean for the congregation.  It’s about relationship and how we relate to persons across cultures not just during Sunday morning worship but throughout the week.  Because Christian community is not a Sunday morning commitment.  It’s a way of life.

It won’t happen in an hour.  It is not a slogan, a stock photo of diversity or a handshake and a close-lipped smile.  After receiving the “right hand of fellowship,” does your church have anything more to give its new members to make them feel like they belong?  More than giving them a church bulletin and pointing them to a Sunday School class, what are you doing to build a relationship outside of weekly church services?  What do you serve after the fellowship hour?  What do you say when the coffee is gone and there’s no more hot water for tea?  Community- building takes time and Christ’s community is more than food and drink (cf. Matthew 6.25).

Some church specialists suggest that it is now “sexy” to say that your church’s membership is diverse.  It is attractive to new believers and those seeking a faith to believe in.  Never mind the fact that Jesus asked his disciples to do share the gospel with all nations more than 2,000 years ago, now it’s popular for our sacred spaces to reflect the diversity of its communities (Matthew 28.16-20).  But, this desire for inclusivity is not true of every church and certainly is not the norm.

And it is quite a turn off when a church presents itself as diverse only to reflect the culture’s affirmations of white privilege and the positioning of socially colored white people in all the positions of church leadership and influence.  This plantation- style of ministry where the socially colored white people are in charge while persons of other social colors do the work of ministry is a sad commentary on the impact of the social construct of race in Christian community.  We simply do not share the gospel’s vision but instead, perpetuate the image of American slavery and its systems of dominance.

It is evidence that persons of different cultures do not share the same faith in Jesus and are not sharing in the same faith, that we are believing in Jesus for culturally- specific things.  We also do not share the gospel outside of our culture– unless, of course, it’s on a missions trip.  While the kingdom of God is not just for “me and mine,” it is hard for us to share our faith and worse still, to share a faith with those of different cultural backgrounds, experiences and expressions.  We would rather worship God separately, segregated on Sunday mornings according to the social construct of race: White Christians go here.  Black Christians go over there.  Red Christians go around the corner.  Yellow Christians go across the tracks.  Beige Christians go over the river and through the woods.

I suppose we believe that Christ is walking with each culture separately, that there are separate discipleship paths, different salvation tracks, that Christ divides his body and his time based on our social categories.

Drawn by Christ’s hands on a cross, we are unable to see him reaching for those whose hands do not “look like” ours.  Assuming that Christ only speaks English, we, perhaps unknowingly assume that Christ doesn’t understand what they are saying either.  Though Jesus is the Savior of the world, we have managed to reduce his salvific power to our area of the world.  And we call this faith.  We call ourselves the body of Christ.

Cognitively, we know that believers of other cultures are our siblings, that we share the same faith.  But, we stop short of accepting that God loves them just the same and offers them the same promises, the same blessed assurance.  Instead, we have to believe that God loves us more and differently.  Because the social construct of race says that human beings are physically different in ways that affect value, worth, treatment and life outcome.  We believe then that God loves us according to the social construct of race.

As a result, we invent cultural and racialized representations of divinity that affirm our practice of faith and ours alone.  This Christ is one of us– and not them.  This Christ is in our circle and understands why we worship without them.  This Christ supports our decisions to exclude and the witness that Christian community is a gated community.  These socially colored idols say that we are worshipping the right way, that we are the right people for the work of the Church, that we are the best hands and feet that Christ has ever seen, that we are the only hands and feet that God has in the world.  This god works for us.  We can accept and appreciate this kind of god.  But, God doesn’t work for us, at least not as a cosmic employee who has a serious commute to work each day.

Consequently, intentional inclusivity requires work and that we be willing to work with others.  This decision to accept and model the Great Commission as well as the Great Commandment is well- informed, personally practiced and a coordinated effort on the part of the entire church– not just the pastor, the worship leader or the outreach committee.  This calling to genuine community will require us to inspect the Christ we are following, to make sure that his path does not conveniently line up with our own.  Does he look like us?  And if so, why?  Who made him this way?  why is this a requirement in order for us to follow him and to remain in fellowship?

Because fellowship goes deeper than looking the same and sharing a password.  This isn’t about matching outfits and hairstyles, sharing a culture or a language.  It is more than sharing a pew or even singing in the choir together.  It is more than what takes place on Sunday morning and if you are not sharing your life during the week, then I would question if there is genuine fellowship at all.  Our community has something much deeper in common.  We share in the life and body of Christ.

So, if you only see each other on Sunday morning, why?  Why do you not live among, play with, work beside, rejoice and mourn with those you share a faith and hymnal with?  “One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” still persons come to church and expect a cultural representation of their faith (Ephesians 4.5).  Who told us that this was an option?  That this was a requirement for belief?  That Christianity was to be practiced in cultural silos?

Genuine community requires that we not open the doors of our church until we open our mouths, freeing our tongues of our terms and conditions for acceptance.  We need to be freed of pretense and perfunctory greetings in order to speak to the presence of race in our churches.  We need to have candid conversations about its impact on our fellowship and cultivate a desire to belong to Christ’s body and to each other– not just our own.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “For where the brother (or sister) is, there is the body of Christ, and there is the church.  And there we must be also.”

Amen.

Why do Christians believe in race?

Image result for questioning“Calls are essentially questions.  They aren’t questions you necessarily need to answer outright; they are questions to which you need to respond, expose yourself and kneel before.   You don’t want an answer you can put in a box and set on a shelf.  You want a question that will become a chariot to carry you across the breadth of your life.”

{Gregg Levoy, Callings}

I believe that I have been called to question the validity of the social construct of race in the practice of faith.  In my head, I had been questioning the social construct of race for years.  In conversation, I would correct persons in my mind when they colored people in.   My perspective was changing and I wasn’t sure of how to express what I was beginning to see.   Then, the question came, “Do I have to be black?”  I answered, “No” and the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ was born.

This question revealed my calling and will carry me the breadth of my life.  I will spend the rest of my life repeating the answer to this question and the impact of this truth on our faith in Jesus Christ.  The truth is that God did not create colored people; American society did.  As Christians, we are ex- colored people, no longer known by the names of race.  There is no longer socially colored beige, black, brown, red, yellow and white people (cf. Colossians 3.11; Galatians 3.28).  But, this is not to suggest that we are not persecuted and privileged according to the social construct of race.  But, to suggest that God does the same and that the Church is called to embody it is a gross theological misstep.

The truth that the gospel of Jesus Christ is race-less, that God is not a Colored Person (socially colored white included), that the hope of my existence is not tied to my flesh seems obvious to me.  It also seems obviously contrary to the faith that we espouse.  Created as new creatures in Christ Jesus and the judgments of our sins removed, how then does God bless and curse us as believers based on the social construct of race?  How do the power and oppressions of the social construct of race remain in play for members of Christ’s body?  The answer is that we simply add the social identity to our confessions, doctrines, hymns, preaching, theologies.

Called to be a new community, we abide by the same rules as society and section off the body of Christ according to the pretenses, privileges and prejudices of race.  Gathered in as the family of God, race says that we are not related. The Church is called to challenge the systems of the world; instead, we incorporated it.  We justified hatred in exchange for pseudo- supremacy and excluded ourselves from other cultures with the self- generated blessing of Holy Scripture.  We don’t question the social construct of race because the answer is too hard to hear, too challenging to accept, too true to believe, too authentic to experience, too time- consuming to live in to.  We would rather be in the Church but of the world.

It is only recently that I have mustered up the courage to challenge our faith in it.  Why do Christians believe in the social construct of race?  Though science doesn’t support it, why do we believe in colored people and in turn, a god created in our image and subject to the rules and roles of race?  If we would all answer this question, the body of Christ would hear its calling.

By God’s Name

Every Sunday, I lead our congregation in a time of intercession.  I create sacred space for persons to share their joys and concerns.  And I don’t take the task lightly.

I am certain that I am facilitating a dialogue, starting a conversation for which some cannot find the words, that I am helping persons open up and listen up.  Hands folded are the busiest.  Heads bowed work the hardest.  Knees bent are traveling at a speed not known to humanity.

I have been asked often how I came to this understanding of race.  How do I write with such conviction?  Why does the social construct have no power over me?  The answer is simple.  Prayer.  My release from the captivity of the social coloring of flesh was done in conversation. I shared my concerns about the meanings of flesh that had been attached to me and my neighbor with God.  I “took it to the Lord in prayer.”

Rather than wrestle with race, I gave it to God.  And God did not hand it back to me.  Instead, the words of Galatians 3.28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek” came to me.  They introduced themselves to me personally.  No longer some letter written to the church at Galatia, those words were addressed to me.

John Wesley said, “Prayer is where the action is” and I am a firm believer.  My best work, my hardest work, my deepest and truest convictions have come from prayer.

Here’s the prayer that I shared with our congregation yesterday.  It is proof that belief if not just walked out but talked out.  I am delivered from the social construct of race by God’s name.

***

God, we call on Your name because this is where the action is. “Author and Finisher of our faith,”[1] we need only say Your name and can consider the matter settled.  There is no doubt in the ability of Your name or the agility of Your presence.  Needing no approval rating, Your name satisfies our deepest needs.  We are met in places unseen and at times not suited to regular business hours.

You are not a nine to five God.

Because when we call on You, we are not asked to take a number or to take a seat. There is no time delay in prayer.  You never say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

But, from our mouth to Your hand, each prayer is stamped urgent.  Holding galaxies in place and our hands, cupping the borders of oceans and collecting our tears, directing angels and speaking to our fears. “[You’ve] got the whole world in Your hands,” but, You still hold us individually, specifically and uniquely.

Not held too tight, we are not crushed by the calendar of Eternity. You do not have to fit us in but there is always room for us.  Never consumed by Your work, You have gathered with us to hear about our week, to mourn and rejoice with us.  You want to hear our story just as much as we want to hear Yours.

With elbows on pew, You have come to participate in our lives, to see what this worship service is about. And to answer those who call on Your name.

We are so grateful that we can mark You present, God.

You have heard our prayers; now give us the faith to mark You present in our homes and in hospital rooms, in war- torn countries and in divided nations, on playgrounds and at cafeteria lunch tables, in the halls of government and in our schools, in hopeless corners of the world and in hearts battered and bruised by addiction, depression, rejection and abandonment. Let us be marked present.  Encourage us to use Your name as an action word and not an excuse.

In Your name, we pray, act, help, love, protect, defend and serve all You have created. Amen.

__________________

[1] Hebrews 12.2

Race will not survive

I shared a meditation at a Maundy Thursday service last night titled “Do as I do.” It is a command that highlights the disconnect between our words and our actions.  We know and say what is right but so often, we do not do what is right. We point out the rule while side- stepping the practice of it.  We are great enforcers of the law but poor practitioners.   The same can be said of our life in Christ.  What of his life do we imitate, especially during this Holy Week?

What of ourselves follows Jesus to the cross?  Thomas will see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands but where are yours?  What of you has died so that Christ might live more truly and fully?  Where have you made room for him?

As Christians, there is only one that we can follow.  We do not follow personalities but chase after the very presence of God in Christ and therefore, in us.  One with God, this is the deepest and truest fellowship.

We do not follow our culture or the social coloring of our skin but the Christ who is bound by neither.  He is the only one whose words match his actions and who can say, “Do as I do.”  So, we are not stereotypical people.  We are not your average, run of the mill, same old, racialized beings.  No, that was nailed to his cross, clinched in his hands.

No longer Jews nor Greeks, how do we see ourselves as colored people anyway?  That old self and its identity died on the Friday we call good.  We no longer live in our flesh but in, through and by the spirit of Christ.  The social construct of race, the racialized self has been buried with Christ.  It will not survive the resurrection.

 

Not Worth Much

Image result for the priceYesterday, I shared a message with the congregation titled, “Costly Obedience.”  Unpacking the well- known hymn recorded in Philippians 2.5-11, I invited listeners to consider again the price that Christ paid for our sins.  It was a costly obedience because he was obedient to the point of death– not obedient for personal gain, not agreeable to pacify.  Christ was obedient to the end of himself, his will to live surrendered for our sake.

But, we see so much death these days.  With church bombings in Egypt and the gassing of children in Syria, we could get use to it.  Paranoia or succumbing to our circumstances seem to be the only viable options.  However, this is not simply “the world we live in now”; it is the world we have created.  Not to be confused with the kingdom of God, this is not heaven for any of us.  Persons are paying the price for our theological disagreements, our contests for power and need for recognition with their lives.  This kind of belief paid in dead children’s bodies is an unfathomable exchange.

This, of course, led me to begin thinking about the identities we hold on to, inherit and pass down to our children.  In America’s racialized society, we fight for colored bodies, for black power, white power and visibility.  Somehow, we learned that this identity connects us to some truth greater than ourselves, that being defined by the social coloring of skin is worth something.  And persons will spend their lives emptying themselves of their culture, language and mannerisms in order to be filled with “whiteness.”   For many, it is believed to be the complete and full expression of our humanity, the supreme (human) being.

Race is a kind of religion with a racialized deity, creating good and bad bodies.  We create Christ in our image to prove that our bodies are valuable.  But, what does it cost to be a racial being?  Who paid the price for us to call ourselves beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white?  Surely, it is was not Christ.  Jesus did not die on the cross so that we could become white people– but God’s people.

How much did it cost?  Did persons really die so that you and I could identify as a socially colored person or in order for you to have the rights that belong to all human beings, regardless of the constructs that we create to withhold them?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  But, what of our racialized selves do we bury?  What funeral service have we held for black power or white nationalism?  Show me where we have buried this social identity?

Disproven by all sciences, we continue to keep race alive.  And if we have learned nothing of death, it is this– our skin serves no purpose in a grave.  When I look at Christ’s cross, I am reminded that the identity offered in race is not worth much.