Category Archives: Race and Christian Identity

Race is not the way

See the source image

“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.

Race who?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.”

| Ludwig Wittgenstein

Most persons feel compelled to answer to race and to question those who don’t.  “Who does race say that you are?”  Skin deep, the epitome of superficial meaning, we speak as if its value is apparent, a parent and second creator.  It is a rebirth, a remaking, a new creation made in the image of whiteness.

A social righteousness, we pray, “Make my skin light, lighter, lightest of all.  Amen.”  We baptize our skin in bleach, hoping that chemicals will straighten out the tangled mess our hair has made, that our noses won’t get in the way, that our big mouths won’t get us into trouble.  We wrestle with flesh and blood in hopes of being pinned with this prized social perfection.

Blue ribbon skin.  Trophy flesh.  First place in the race contest.  It is faith in skin filled in, in skin that fills in for our faith.

We believe that race makes us or breaks us, that it all comes down to our physical appearance.  We talk of race as if it is the only way in which we fully identify, that we cease to exist without these colored words, that our flesh fails us unless it is colored in.   In race, “we live, move and have our being.”

We behave like we all fit into these boxes, that everyone has to go into one of them: beige, brown, black, red, yellow or white.   Get in.  Squeeze in.  We’ve all got to fit in.  And we say this while espousing the belief that we are buried with Christ.

Still, race gets up and in our faces.  We cannot look away.  Picking at our flesh, we feel that this is real.  We open our mouths to answer to it.

But, why?  Instead, question it.  Race does not tell you who you are and if it does, you should wonder why.  I mean have you ever met Race?  The relationship is superficial; it only knows your skin.  You don’t have to let it in.

Instead, leave it on the outside of you.  Peek through and ask, “Race, who?”

Can we live without race?

See the source imageRace is about beginnings.  Do we enter the world as colored people or do we become colored people?  Chicken or the egg, social colors or creatures, which came first?  It is a necessary question if we are to rid ourselves of race.  If we are to see that we can live without it, we must become aware that we are not alive because of it.

Race does not make us come alive.  We do not cease to exist if we no longer call ourselves by its names.

Race remakes us.  It is another Genesis narrative, a second baptism of flesh into colored waters.  We don’t wade in these waters but are drowned.  Who we are and could be dies and who race says we must be in order to tell this story correctly is brought to life.

Let there be colored people.

We come up beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  People of color cannot be people of God too.  Because we cannot have two creators.  Choose this day who you will be, Who or what flesh speaks for you.  One or the other, my enemy or my brother?

Choose a side and then stay on your side.  Walls, fences, gated existence, sheltered lives, we live somewhere off in the distance from ourselves.  Race forbids us to come any closer.  Stay where you are.  Race speaks for us; only it can say who we are.

But race has no intentions of introducing us to our true selves.

We are not born colored but reborn colored, called by racial names.  We are told that we are colored people.  By whom you say?  It is not an ominous they but us… just little old you and me.  We tell ourselves that we are colored.  We are answering to ourselves.

This is race.

If we are to be race-less, then we need only realize that we don’t really know ourselves when talking of our humanity according to the terms and conditions of race, that race is a corporate illusion, a daily, social magic trick, that we no longer want to keep this lie going, that race is up our sleeves and not under our skin.

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.

What are we talking about when we talk about race?

We’ve got to come back to ourselves.  We’ve got to take more than a few steps back and  we will have to step on more than a few toes in the process.  But, let’s begin to walk it back.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  Return to the first Word that is certain to be the last Word, Alpha and Omega.

Race is not God’s story with us or for us.  Race is not even a narrator.  It has no speaking role.  Instead, it is a rumor run rampant, a hand me down lie that has never fit our humanity.  An 18th century invention, it has no theological support.  Still, we cheer it on, take it on as apart of who we are.

But this race talk has got to stop.  I call on your tongues to push back.  I ask that your souls not budge, that you not give it an inch or an ear.   Instead, we must listen more deeply as race is simply skin talk, superficial gibber, surface level banter.  When we talk about our skin and its social coloring, we literally have not scratched the surface of our human being and its understanding.

Still, we carry on with our prejudicial assumptions and segregated living arrangements.  But, we must not make room for race.  Because we’ve gotten no where with it.  Carried down through these hundreds of years, carried on the backs of one generation after another, we’ve got nothing but bent back and broken hearts to show for it.  We’ve got to leave it on the side of the road now, admitting that we do not need it to survive but have used it to serve our pride, greed and lust for power.

We’ve got to confess that this has gone too far, gotten out of hand and that we are tied up by our own tongues.  Our freedom is literally on the tip of our tongues.  We need only speak the Word to return to God’s story.  Race has created this distance between us and the Divine.  A hierarchical humanity, this is a step down and far, far away from what God had in mind when God called us by name– not by social colors.

When we talk about ourselves as racial beings and not human beings, we are talking ourselves out of our shared humanity.  Our common denominator is not color but our Creator.  To be sure, race is not a likely substitute, a shoe in and certainly not a stand in, which is why we have to really think about what we are saying about ourselves and each other.  Because we are more than out on a limb or hanging ourselves out to dry when we suggest that the totality of our existence depends on our skin when Jesus came to save souls.