Tag Archives: John 4.24

An Advent Prayer: God is with all of us

Image result for god with us

Infant God, the Almighty cradled, the Eternal born and the Omnipresent God held in the arms of a woman, we confess that we cannot get our heads around Your mystery. We cannot put our finger on how You are God in heaven and God with us.  We don’t know how You mixed divinity and dirt to make Jesus.  But, here he is: Emmanuel.

And here we are, declaring that You are indescribable, that Your plan for us was unfathomable.  Entering the earth through the womb of a woman, smuggling divinity in an earthen vessel, we still don’t look for You in her.  Still, You called a woman.  Included in Your plan, in the conversation and this relationship with You, she is not a third wheel but our wheels are turning.

Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Mary.  Birthing God, she pushed out the hands that hold us all.  “You’ve got the whole world in Your hands” and yet, You are God held in a belly.  You know us inside out.

You have walked in our shoes. You have lived in a womb.  So then, the resurrection was easy.

What’s three days in a grave when You spent nine months in the frame of a woman?

So then, we ask Your forgiveness for the ways we have normalized and simplified Your entry into the world.  Thank You for squeezing into the womb of a woman just to get next to us, for leaving heaven to share space with her organs, for trading a choir of angels for the lullabies of a mother.  Thank You for not thinking that we were beneath You but subjecting Your royalty to the regular and mundane.  Better than bootstraps, You pulled Yourself out of a womb and this is why all the glory belongs to You.

As we worship, set us free from the limitations of this flesh so we might “worship You in spirit and in truth” (John 4.24).  As we worship, give us the vision to see You in unlikely places and with people we wouldn’t have chosen for You– because You are God with all of us.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.  Amen.

Before God Was White: The Rumblings of a Race-less Theology

Image result for Jesus White House“God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

~ John 4.24, NRSV

Halloween is over and yet, it seems nearly impossible to remove the mask of whiteness from the face of God.  Now a spooky, to be avoided, death- wielding deity, this socially colored white God has it in for all oppressed people.  But, this is a trick of race.  God is not a white man.

The social construct of race remakes God in the image of whiteness.

Instead of the Church placing race under the scrutiny of sacred Scripture, she allowed Scripture to be scrutinized by and rewritten from the perspective of race.  Bad Church.  In most if not all cases, our personal theology does not inform our understanding of race but race determines our understanding of theology.  In our minds, the eternal, immortal and invisible God can be colored in.  In our minds, the omnipotent God can be told who to love and to hate according to our prejudices.  In our minds, the omnipresent God can be segregated, partitioned off, cornered by one community of “color.”

But, when did color become all- powerful?  Greater than God?  Greater than us?  Greater than God could ever be?

When did “the future of our race” become the historical narrative and present aim of the Church?   And what of our faith in a past filled with putrid, hateful relationships with ourselves, members of our family and those we would define as “the enemy” reflects the nature of our fellowship? When did the will of race become the will of God?  Why do we color- code our theology?  Why must God be socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow or white in order for us to believe that God is with us and for us?  And in turn, that God is with them and those people too?  When did we begin to worship race and to identify God as a colored human being?

I know that this may be hard to believe but there was  time when God was not socially colored white.  God existed (and still does) outside of the segregated categories of race.  God was (and still is) omnipresent and thus, unable to be confined to a community or culture of people.  “God so loved the world…” (John 3.16).  To color- code power, that is white power, black power and so on, is to limit God’s supremacy.  It implies that the Spirit of God can be restricted and somehow harnessed by human hands.  God’s identity wasn’t, isn’t and never will be the sum total of racial attributes.  To racialize God is an attempt to stereotype Mystery.

A theology that is racialized, that describes God as a beige, brown, black, red, yellow or white man, is not talking about the God of the Christian faith but the God of the American faith.  It is faith in skin, white skin mostly and not in the salvific work of Jesus Christ achieved on a cross more than 2,000 years ago.  God is not involved in a race war but is fighting for our salvation.  God is after souls not the social coloring of skin.

 

Reflect on the statements below and consider where you may have painted God white.  May they cause a rumbling in your theology as well.

God is not a white Person.

God’s goodness is not whiteness.

God’s power is not white supremacy.

God’s blessing is not expressed in white privilege.

God’s love is not based on the social coloring of skin or any other real or imagined physical attribute.

God is Spirit and consequently, cannot be segregated, redlined and thereby, captured by one socially colored group, particular community or culture.

God is not a member of a race.  It is a social construct and God is self- existent.

If you are looking for the image of God

“But (God) said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

~ Exodus 33.20, NRSV

“No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

~ John 1.18, NRSV

The Creator cannot be molded or fashioned out of clay.  Our hands cannot make God as God made our hands.  God is not a sculpture, made of metal or dirt.  God is the Creator of metal, dirt, the sculptor and potter.

The Creator cannot be painted, filled or colored in.  God cannot be captured in a painting, not even a glimpse is there.  God gave the colors their name; how can they then be used to describe God?  God is the Creator and source of the rainbow and the painter.

The Creator, the Holy One of Israel, is not atop a steeple or seen through a stained glass window, in a robe or within our liturgy.  God cannot be set in stone neither is the true identity of God found and fixed in our minds.

God is Spirit, blowing where He desires not where we tell Him to (John 4.24).

The Creator cannot be found in nature.  God is not a tree or water or fire but God is the Source of these things, giving the tree is breath, water its coolness and fire its heat.  They are used by God and thus, cannot be used to re- create God into an image we can see.

The Creator cannot be captured by what He has created.  The face of God remains unseen but His image is everywhere.

So vast is His image that it cannot be captured by a statue or a canvass, in nature, in a building or in one group of people.  No, the image of God is upon all people.  If you are looking for the image of God, look into the billions of faces around the world. No one exists without it.

 

 

Passing Down a Race-less Faith

I am a new mother of an eight month old charming boy named John and as protective as they come.  No one is exempt from my scrutiny.  I even subjected my husband to a job interview of sorts before leaving them home alone for the first time.  “How many diapers have you changed?  How many babies have you watched and where are these children now?  Are they still alive?”

Before giving birth to our son, I did not realize that babies are new.  Sure, I understood that they didn’t come with instructions but I had not fully considered the fact that they do not come socially pre- programmed either.  They are not born celebrities, motioning for body guards to remove the overly affectionate grandparents from their nursery.  They are not born capitalists, seeking the highest bidder for their first baby pictures.  They are not born racists, drawing color lines in their sandbox.

In fact, they are just the opposite.  They are humble, tender and affectionate.  They seek attention and love indiscriminately.  And these characteristics will remain if along with potty training, we teach them that it’s not only safe and acceptable but necessary to live this way.

Babies don’t come with identities scratched by physical insecurity or abuse, bruised egos or the baggage of American history.  No, we neatly pack these bags for them and place this burden on their shoulders, destined to carry it because we did.  But, why wouldn’t we consider raising a generation whose body is not bent from the weight of our anger, unforgiveness, pride and hatred?  Why do we continue to pass down a faith that is racialized and invite them to worship a God who is divided by our prejudices and stereotypes?

Our little John is original and beautiful.  I would be cheating if I took the life and experiences of another, even my own and copied them onto him.  Instead, I will study him, waiting patiently for the answer that is his true self to be revealed.  I will not tell him who others will say that he is or who I hope that he will become.  I want John to show me who he is.  And while I am his student, busy taking notes in his journal, I am also his first teacher.

He still doesn’t recognize his own name.  We will call him John until he identifies himself by it and answers.  This is the name that we have given him.  Lesson #1: Don’t call him black and he won’t answer to it.

John has not shown me that he is socially colored black but that he is teething.  Ouch!  And it is not a name that we or God have chosen for him.  God didn’t call him black but “very good.”[i]  Thus, he will not be identified by the social coloring of his skin but first by his Creator and then his cultural heritage, which is not synonymous with racial identity.

As a mother- minister, I want John to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to love the God who loves him not based on his physical appearance but his heart.[ii]  I pray that John would come to know the God that is not socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige but the God who is Spirit.[iii]  I pray that I would show him that God is not a polygamous, married to both a Black and White Church and whose tongue is tied and mind has gone blank when it comes to matters of race and racism.  No, I want to pass down to him the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that declares, “From now on then, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”[iv]  Lesson #2: Christian believers, like babies, are new.

Now, I’m not sure if there is a Vacation Bible School theme that covers this topic.  But, it’s important that John be surrounded not only with good people who are trained to care for him but good words that mold and not mar him, that seek to bless and not curse him.  His faith will be formed but without race and it is my prayer that this is the future of Christian faith formation for the next generation of believers.


[i] Genesis 1.31

[ii] Second Samuel 16.7

[iii] John 4.24

[iv] Second Corinthians 5.17, NRSV

If God were black

“Wishing He I served were black, 
Thinking then it would not lack
Precedent of pain to guide it, 
Let who would or might deride it, 
Surely then this flesh would know
Yours had borne a kindred woe.
Lord I fashion dark gods too, 
Daring even to give you
Dark despairing features where, 
Crowned with dark rebellious hair, 
Patience wavers just so much as
Mortal grief compels, while touches
Quick and hot, of anger, rise
To smitten cheek and weary eyes.
Lord, forgive me if my need 
Sometimes shapes a human creed.”
 
~ An excerpt from Countee Cullen’s poem Color

Regrettably, Cullen’s poem remains true, our racist theology captured in his words. We have not come very far in our faith because of it, still fighting for the flesh that gets pimples, blisters, can be cut, is susceptible to disease, that wrinkles and will certainly decay in death.  Still, I am grateful for his words for they allow us to examine our unconscious thoughts, our silent prayers, our unspoken desires, our attempts at fashioning the Potter for our social need and racial advantage.

It is one the greatest sins of racism: the thought that we can make God in our own image, the belief that if God is this race or that one, then we can determine His thoughts, ways and will.  It is also the hope that God is on our side not because it is His will or His way, not because we have kept His commandments, not because we have confessed Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior but because He “looks” like us.  God’s commitment to us is determined by the shape of His nose, the size of His lips, the texture of His hair.  God is empowered by race and we are encouraged because of it.

And God is our kindred not because our brother Jesus was “in all ways tempted” and suffered on the cross but God is our kindred because of His so- called skin color and thereby understands our sufferings.  If God is not black, then God does not.  But how is this possible, that God is unable to understand us because God is not a member of our race?  God is the Creator of all things, yes?  Yet, God loses His ability to know us and thus, to know all things simply because He is not a member of our race.  Certainly, this god of race is not the God of Israel and besides that, the Bible teaches us that God is Spirit (John 4.24).  God has no flesh and the Bible records that Jesus, that is the Word, was made flesh (John 1.14).  This then is another god, the dark god that Cullen writes about.

But, that’s not all, according to Cullen, God’s character and subsequent ability depend upon His race and we are able to know either or both if we know the social coloring of His skin. This would make God knowable, predictable, able to be figured out from beginning to end like us. But, God’s thoughts and ways are not the same as ours; they are not even close (Isaiah 55.8).

Like Cullen, we believe  that if God were socially colored black, then the lives of those who are defined as black in America would be better.  And if our lives are not better, it is because God is not.  Race then informs our view of God, shapes our responses and determines our relational proximity to God. But, this logic is flawed as God’s ability and God’s will are not determined by the social coloring of His skin neither is God subject to or limited by the social coloring of skin.  Race would then be the god of God, determining who receives divine assistance and who does not.

If God were black, then God would not be God at all because the god of our choosing is no god at all.