Tag Archives: Friedrich Nietzsche

Battling Race

“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” ~Friedrich Neitzsche

Race is a monster. It’s not like the ones that hide under our beds or in our closets. Its features are not ghastly though it has been known to make its victims appear such. Race is not fire breathing though for me at least, it seems to destroy everything that it comes into contact with. Like most monsters, it has never been seen as it is but a figment of our imagination or at least those who have witnessed the appearance of race have never lived to tell it. What do I mean? Well, Emmett Till for example. He saw this monster. The image of the hand of hatred etched on his fourteen year old swollen and beaten body.

His was the first that I learned when reading the scary stories about race. There were others but this one stood out because he was a child. It was enough to keep me awake at night, afraid that I too would be awakened from my sleep, taken from my home and never seen alive again. I spent much of my early years chasing these ghosts. Some wore sheets while others did not. But, there were days when I wanted to pull the bedsheets over my head. I was becoming a monster, my life lurking in the shadows afraid of what these racialized boogie men and women might do to me. I was always on the defensive now, having only heard the stories.

I have read the words of race and looked at its images for years now. While in college, my defense from this monster was Black Nationalism; however, while in seminary, I began to wrestle with its principles. I couldn’t carry Christ’s message coupled with a belief in racial separation from those who were certainly my kindred as God’s children. I am aware that many others have carried both though I would argue unsuccessfully for how can one be a witness of God’s unconditional love and acceptance while harboring the belief in racial supremacy? Black Nationalism had made socially colored white people monsters, devils even.

It had placed evil in an entire population, making our encounters spooky, our lives lived fearfully, reverentially toward race. Race and its black and white supremacies made life’s meaning abysmal. Race was creating a chasm within me, a distance between self- love and neighborly love that was growing wider each day.  I had been looking at race but now it was looking at me, mulling me over, sizing me up, preying on me. Its presence had become monstrous and this view had I kept it, would have swallowed me up.

Knowing Is A Long Apprenticeship

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is… that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has as always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

I recently completed the reading of Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society and I must confess that ironically, I was irritated by the fact that it was not written in a manner that would have allowed for quick consumption. Reflective and offering many occasions for meditation, Peterson takes the reader through the Psalms of Ascension or the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). For all of my devotion, time spent in worship and study, Eugene Peterson describes me perfectly, “There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” A long apprenticeship. Those words began to gnaw at me. To be sure, I wanted holiness, to be holy but was there an app for it? In addition, my daily tasks seemed to increase during the time that I was reading it, further preventing me from completing the book in what I would consider a timely manner. Honestly, I was more interested in checking it off my list, being able to say that I had read it than mulling over its message.

I had sat in a lecture of Peterson’s during his visit to the St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland a few months before. There is even a picture of my meeting him in one of their publications and he remembers my name when I stand to ask a question of him. I have the video tape to prove it! Nevertheless, together, my husband and I must have bought six or eight books of his that day.  Perhaps a bit star struck after meeting the translator of The Message, we wanted to know the work of Eugene Peterson.

I wanted his books for their quotable verses and catchy sayings, a point to strengthen a sermon that I was to deliver or proof of my commitment to lifelong learning. I needed something new to say. And I was only interested in change if it occurred quickly but what I wanted was his change. I wanted the wisdom without the experience. I picked up his books as if cheat sheets for a course on discipleship. I thought that the book would be a critique of the culture when in fact it began from the start as an accusation against me. This comes from a woman who enjoys silence and quiet retreats, who listens to sermons for pleasure on days other than Sunday.

It seems that at some point, the busyness of this world had infiltrated mine. But, I am not really busy. Truly, none of us are; an emergency of any sort will bring this truth to bear. The reality is that I only feel busy with the constant buzzing and beeping of machines. They all need my attention and interaction. This paparazzi like technology makes me feel important, popular even. And yet, it because of my interaction with them that I feel the need to be constantly updated while believing myself to be always behind. It is a ridiculous and unfulfilling cycle. We have access to seemingly everything and now don’t have the time to experience and thereby know it.

“Tell me what you want me to know quickly. Hurry up and change me,” I say to the book. I wanted to skim over the process and get right to the point… right?  Completion. Finishing is the point, right?  Well, after completing the book, I don’t feel done at all. I feel as I have with every book that I have ever read: that I know less than when I began. For it is in my exposure to knowledge that the depth of my ignorance is revealed.

And I feel this to be true when it comes to people and cultures. The more that I learn about race and its progeny, the more I am convinced of my own ignorance. If this is the means by which we come to know ourselves and others then we don’t know anything at all. I don’t know anyone and I most certainly don’t know who I am. Instead, I know who I would like to be and likewise, how I have been told to perceive others. Getting to know anyone including ourselves is a long process. Our lives are not to be skimmed over, the social color of our skin seen and immediately, we are known.

Race allows us to assume that we know without having known but simply because we have seen. We have access and therefore, we have proof if we need it. We have “one black/white/red/yellow/brown/beige friend.” We had one bad or good experience and suddenly, we become experts on the lives of persons we have the least interaction with. We simply don’t have the time, we don’t want to endure the “long apprenticeship” of getting to know anyone not even ourselves. This is why we turn to race in search for quotes and proof of our learnedness. But, in truth, our knowledge of race serves only to reveal our ignorance.

Do Not Trust In Race

“Hallelujah! My soul, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. Do not trust in nobles, in man, who cannot save. When his breath leaves him, he returns to the ground; on that day his plans die.” ~Psalm 146.1-4

“I’m not upset that you lied to me; I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

I trusted race. I believed in race and I thought that race believed in me.  I thought that race knew what was best for me, that it was wise beyond my years and was only saying things for my own good, that if race had something better to say about me, if I changed and no longer fit its stereotypes and prejudices it would. I believed that I could change race. I suppose this simple desire is proof that I was not satisfied with our relationship, that everything was not well in our racialized world.

Still, race knew better and race knew me better.  My parents approved of race and my extended family was well- acquainted with it.  Race could do no wrong and was always right.  That is, until the day that my life began to make race a liar and not just about one thing but about everything.  Yes, I mean everything.

The realization of one untruth about me unraveled a series of well- strung, tightly knit lies.  Suddenly, the identity that held me together began to fall away and I saw that there was someone else underneath and that she didn’t need to be covered by race. I was upset that race had lied to me, that my family had not questioned race more vigorously, that society supported such arrangements but I was more upset at the loss of a relationship and my dependence upon race for understanding about me. I could never trust race again.  I could never believe in race again. 

Race had told me who I was and would become.  Race had ordered my steps and now I was walking away from race.  And for what? So, it’s a lie.  Everybody lies, right?  But, I don’t want my life to be a lie; I don’t want to become the deception.  I want to live the real me. 

My soul praises the Lord because I know the Truth and I realize that the plans that race had for my life would have died with me. Its prejudices do not extend beyond the grave.  There is no racialized life after death. There is a greater plan for me and for the whole world and I don’t have to trust race in order for it to come to fruition.