Tag Archives: post- racial liberation theology

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.

 

Not Your Average Identity

During this season of Lent, a kind of forty- day challenge for some believers, I have been reflecting on surrender and what we mean when we say, “I give up.”  In the practice of our faith, according to the terms and conditions of our discipleship, giving up is a good thing.  Dare I say, it is the goal.  “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16.24).

In our surrender to the Spirit of God and the denial of self- gratification, we practice a little of Christ’s death.  In denying our carnal selves, we accept more of the spiritual life of Jesus.  Because he denied himself on a daily basis in service to humanity and as a servant of God’s will: “not my will but yours” (Luke 22.42).

He could have been full of himself.  He could have touted his successes.  He could have pointed to the number of angels that follow him.  He could have boasted of all his creations– but he didn’t.

But, the social construct of race does just the opposite.  It puts the confidence and the change in our flesh.  Whether privilege or powerless, it is a work outside of the Spirit of God.  Race says because of the social coloring of skin, beige, black, brown, red, yellow, white, we are valuable and worthy.

But, if we are following the social construct of race, we are walking in the opposite direction of Jesus Christ.  Race puts our flesh up front and says that if we are this “color,” then we are good, acceptable, blessed, righteous, pure, upright.  This is heresy.

It is not your average, run of the mill identity but competes with our identity in Christ Jesus.

Race say that there is no change, no room for improvement.  We are who the social coloring of our skin says that we are.  There is no wiggle room but these are our marching orders.  We can only fall in line as there is no place for those who would not surrender to the color- code.  But, we cannot be a disciple of Christ and race?  Either you are going to be a color or a Christian but you cannot be both– because Christ’s is not your average identity.

“Hello. My name is…”

My family and I recently visited a state that shall remain nameless and after being introduced to a European American woman in her early to mid- forties who would be serving us during our weekend stay, she felt compelled to share with me that there was only one “colored person” in her school “all the way up through the twelfth grade.”  What an introduction.  “Hello.  My name is Lisa and I don’t have much experience with colored people.”

Initially, I couldn’t believe that she had used the descriptor.  I thought to myself, “She’s kidding, right?”  I waited for a few minutes for Don Quinones from the ABC show “What Would You Do? to enter the room but this was not a mock scenario.  It was real.  I had moved from African American to colored in the span of a three hour drive.  What a transformation!

But, I wasn’t offended partly because I’m not colored so her colored persons sighting chart would remain at one.  It is for this reason and a few others that I did not feel compelled to introduce myself in this way:  “Hello.  My name is Starlette, minister of reconciliation and destroyer of all things racial.”  Another reason is that I was quickly reminded of the story of Jesus who was unable to minister in his hometown due to the people’s familiarity with his family and the resultant unbelief (Mark 6.1-6).  Due to Lisa’s familiarity with racism and its depictions of African Americans, she didn’t have the faith to believe that I could be anyone other than colored and thus, restricted the possibilities of our interactions.  As a result, the healing of the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ was not given.  However, I was still curious so I decided to listen and to listen deeply.

Why did she need to inform me of these things from the start along with the fact that she was irritated by the media making a fuss about the recent Cheerios commercial that depicted an American family wherein the parents were of different cultural backgrounds? The world is changing she informed me.  What was Lisa really saying? What was I suppose to hear in that moment?

Despite the fact that it is the year two thousand and thirteen, that the leader of the United States of America and chief representative of the American people is African American, that we have become a “global village” connected through the internet and the language of colored people is not employed on television or any major media outlet, Lisa said it.  Perhaps, it is because there is not only time on the outside of us but one that is internal and hers had not changed much.  Or, it was a power play.  Lisa wanted me to know that despite the fact that she was serving me that I would remain a servant/ less than in her eyes, reduced to a colored person.

Today, I wonder what is at stake when we decide not to change despite the reality that stares us in the face.  Lisa knows that there are billions of other people in the world.  Still, her words, while confining in my view, serve as a protective barrier that keep her in a time and place that she is most comfortable.  And the saddest thing is that she doesn’t want to leave.

But, what does this say about us when we choose not to be around others unless they think and “look” and behave exactly as we do?  And what are we to do with words that do not describe but deny the true reality of another person’s existence?  I believe that we don’t have enough experience with each other.  Instead, we have intimate relationships with the idea, the fantasy and even the fear of who this person might be.  We need to be reintroduced to each other.  “Hello.  My name is…”

Dying Daily to Race

“I die daily.”

~ First Corinthians 15.31

tombstoneFunerals.  No one likes them, right?  Well, except for morticians perhaps!  And death, like politics and religion, is a subject to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.  Whether it is because of the resultant grief, the mystery that shrouds it or fear of our own demise, death is not something that we like to talk about.

Or, maybe, it is because America loves life and Americans love living it to the fullest.  We pride ourselves on this freedom and will march, vote, fight and die for it.  But, death does not allow for that sort of freedom.  When it arrives, there is no place that we can go, no need to protest, no amount of ballots or signatures that will effect change and no way to combat it.  Death is final and we have no say in it.  This is why we don’t like it come around.  Death is stubborn and only God can change its mind.

This is also probably why I have never heard a sermon on Paul’s words to the church at Corinth.  Death is inevitable and unavoidable but we don’t want to think about it now, especially if we are in good health.  There is no need to prepare for death and certainly not to die daily as Paul does, right?

I think that we have it wrong, that our lives should always smell of death as there is much about us that should be allowed to live within us as believers.  Anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred, malice and jealousy are just a few examples of things within us that are deserving of death.  I would add to this list racism, prejudice and stereotyping.

Sweet Lord, let the funerals begin with me.  I want to die to the belief that the social coloring of my skin makes me better than others.  Take away my pride.  I want to die to the belief that I am to live my life in comparison to others.  Take away my jealousy. I want to die to the belief that I don’t have to forgive as if the victims of racism, prejudice or stereotypes are above your commandments.  Take away my unforgiveness, hatred and bitterness.  I want to die to the belief that their is a social hierarchy, a “pigmentocracy,” that ranks our importance based on our social coloring and physical features.  Take away the gods that I have created.  I want to die daily to race.  Amen.

Before

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

~ Jeremiah 1.5, NRSV

How does God know us?  This opening statement of God’s calling of the Old Testament weeping prophet Jeremiah says that God knows us a part from our bodies and likewise, a part from the social coloring of skin.  We are known before the stereotypes associated with our physicality and its appearance.  He tells Jeremiah and in doing so, shares with us that we are known before we are formed.  Thus, God’s thoughts about us are not influenced by race.

Before hair texture and eye color were determined, before size of lips and shape of nose were described, God knew us.  God’s knowledge of humanity precedes pregnancy tests and sonograms.  Before we were shaped inside of our mother’s womb and thus, before conception, God knew us.  And if these things, then certainly God knew us before and a part from race as it knowledge is based on our form and its social coloring.  But, God does not need our body in order to know us because God does not know us as we know ourselves or as we come to know others.

We also learn from Jeremiah’s call narrative that before our parents found out our gender or decided on a name, God gave us a purpose.  We were designed for a particular work.  Before we were born, before we were seen, we were given a destiny.  Thus, the judgments or prejudices of race do not work in concert with or support the plan of God for our lives.

God’s knowledge of us is pre- race and while I cannot explain this knowing, I can say that it is not superficial or political or temporal.  No, it is something much deeper and truer.  Thus, it is my prayer that I would come to know myself as I am known by God.  I want to know who I was before race.  Amen.