Tag Archives: post- racial theology

Think again and again

po5cl7uuos8j9u“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.  To make a deep physical path, we walk again an again.  To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

Persons often question my convictions concerning race and my commitment to the race-less life.  While they ask many different questions, they all boil down to the same question: “How do you believe?”  They really want to know how I do it.  The simple is with my mind.

Transformation starts in the mind.  There is more power in the mind than in arguments, armies and government administrations.  It is in the mind, where intellect and feeling reside, where the conscious and unconscious meet, that decisions are made.  This is the place of reason, the battleground, the real ruling authority.  And there is nothing more powerful than a made up mind.

Transformation done here cannot be undone or reversed.  It is a change that you won’t see in a mirror.  The results won’t be captured on a scale.  It is not a matter of rosy cheeks or wrinkles, inches or pounds.  No, the outward proof is a life better lived, carefully thought out.

The condition of our minds determines the condition of our lives. But, it takes practice, mental conditioning.  Change does not occur with the arrival of a single thought but the repetition of that truth.  While a single truth can defeat any number of lies, they are not overcome easily and must be stomped out, walked out, lived out.

Our transformation will require us to “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3.2), to meditate on the truths of Christ.  If we desire to become new, we must think again… and again.

Leaving a Controlling Identity

“There’s a certain learned passivity about the spiritual life that is hard to program and hard to make popular. People who give leadership in spiritual direction, the good ones, that’s basically what they’re doing: they’re trying to train us and teach us how not to be in control of our lives; to enter into what God is doing already.”

~ Eugene Peterson

What is God “doing already” in us?  Do we even know?  Sure, when we enter the world, our name has been chosen for us.  Our parents have made plans for who they think or would like us to be.  But, what of race?

What position does it hold in our lives and what role does it play?  Race is not our parent; still, we allow it to name us.  We are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige.  We are and will always be colored people, race men and women.  We are told, we believe and accept that we can be nothing else.

Race controls us; it will never leave us and we cannot exist a part from race.  For what are we without race?  Race makes us who we are,  right?  God forbid.

Race is not a part of what God has done for us or is doing right now.  Race is what we have done to us, against us and others.  We tell our children that they are colored, that this is the way that the world will see them.  We speak and live in what race is doing already, as if there is no time, no meaning, no relationships a part from race.  We behave as if we must always live in the presence of race, that race must control our every move, telling us who to talk to, where to go and who we are.

We are passive when it comes to race.  Our lives and their purposes just lie down and take it.  We don’t talk back.  We don’t speak up; we live our lives barely above a whisper for fear that we upset race (or the relationship that others have with it).  We tell ourselves that it’s not that bad, that things will get better, that we should be proud of race.  But, the truth is we allow race to control us and our identity.

However, when we become Christians not only are we made new creatures in Christ Jesus but God gives us a new name: “You shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give” (Isaiah 62.2).   If we cannot answer this question, then perhaps we have not learned the necessary spiritual passivity that is necessary to enter into what God is doing already.

Don’t Let Race Change Your Name

“When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town stirred because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?”  She said to them, ‘Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.  I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?'”

Ruth 1.19-21, NRSV

This is the middle of the story of Naomi; she has changed her name because of a painful experience for which she had no control and no hand in.  She could not have stopped death and so in the span of about ten years, it has taken her husband and her only children: two sons.  Perhaps, she knows this when she says to the women, “The Lord has done this.  This is God’s fault.”

Due to the famine, Naomi left Bethlehem and moved to Moab.  She had not expected to return to Bethlehem after yet another famine, this time a relational one.  It seems that she is being driven here and there by loss.  There is a loss of food and now a loss of family. With these losses, she must also bury expectations, hopes and dreams that come with any relationship.  And she must do it times three.

She had attended their weddings and was hoping to become a grandmother soon.  Naomi was looking forward to a future with her family.  She was planning to retire and spend more time with her husband, maybe even take up a new hobby.  But, then the deaths began: first, her husband and then, her two sons.

All that she has to remember them by are their two wives.  No grandchildren.  She has nothing for which to remember their faces, save her own.  This is not how things were supposed to go.  This was not supposed to happen to her.

Without a means of financial support, she, along with Ruth, went back to Bethlehem.  Her other daughter- in- law, Orphah, decided to return to her own family.  She had left full– full of life, full of energy, full of plans, full of joy.  She now returned empty, bereft of all that meant something to her.  She had lost her husbands and sons but she changed her name.  And the name that she gave herself was in response to her experience with death, grief and loss: “Don’t call me Naomi anymore; call me Mara because I am bitter.”

This story makes me think of our own experiences of trauma and loss as it relates to race.  What of the many names that race calls us have we taken on as our own, replacing our true identity?  What situation made us bitter and caused us to now live based on a past experience and not our present reality or future hope?  What was your name before you were introduced to race?  What was your name before you experienced racism and/or prejudice?

Like Naomi, we must remember that there are some things that we are not in control of, namely, the way that people think and feel about us.  But, we do have a say in how we are treated by these persons and how we treat ourselves as a result of ill treatment.  We don’t have to mistreat ourselves or call ourselves names because others have done it.

No matter how the American society has conspired against “us” or “them,” utilizing the lie of race for its capitalistic benefit, we must not allow the socially constructed and agreed upon racial identity and our experiences with racism and prejudice, to change our names.  My name is Starlette because I am a brilliant performer.  What’s yours?

“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…”

What flesh and blood cannot reveal

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’  And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist but others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’  He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’  Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.'”

~ Matthew 16.13-17, NRSV

This story reminds me that there is often a stark contrast between what people believe about us and who God says that we are.  It also reminds me of why Jesus is the Master Teacher.  He is omniscient and “the truth”; yet, he asks the disciples a question and waits for an answer (John 14.6).  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Jesus asked his disciples to tell him what others were saying about him and they had plenty of answers.  They offered the reports from the rumor mill which suggested that Jesus could be one of several people– John the Baptist, Elijah or perhaps, Jeremiah.  And if not either of these three men, then “one of the prophets.”  They were familiar with and well- versed in what others were saying about Jesus.

But, there is an troubling silence, a doubtful silence, an empty silence that falls upon them when he asked them who they believe that he is.  They did not raise their hands quickly.  In fact, they don’t speak but only Peter replies, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Peter declares that Jesus is not one who comes to proclaim the coming of the Messiah but that he is the one of which the prophets spoke.  That’s a huge difference.  But, how does he know?

“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven,” Jesus says to Peter.  Jesus reminds us that there are some things that people do not know about us.  And it does not matter the amount of time they have spent with us or the relational proximity.  It does not matter how many people are saying it or if no one is saying it at all.

Our identity in Christ and with God is revealed.  It is not something that is passed down.  It is not traditional or cultural or racial.  It is not even biological so it does not matter what our father did or who our mother was.  We have a Father in heaven who reveals.  It is not known ahead of time.  What is inside of us has to be revealed and its done only by God.  No human being can tell us who we are and we will not discover it because of the social circles we travel in or the social coloring of our skin.  Who we are is not found in either.

Unlike us, Jesus asked the question while knowing fully and without any doubt who he is.  He was not afraid to ask the question because he knew the answer.  He knew their limitations.  He knew what flesh and blood cannot reveal.