Tag Archives: race

Say it again

I have ordered nearly forty new books for the new year.  Half are on race and the other half focus on the spiritual life and Christian community.  Along with you, they are my conversation partners.  I feel that no one wants to talk about race as much as I do, at least not in the way that I do.  I want to talk us out of it.  I want to talk about race until it is discredited, waved off as a distraction from our true human being, until race is stereotyped as a lazy interpretation of people groups, a liar, not to be trusted with our fellowship.

And I want to say it again and again, year after year and in every ear.

William Willimon has mine tonight.  He is saying everything that I need to hear in his book Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism.  Head nodding, I am in agreement with him and in his Amen corner.  I turn another page because I need him to say more, to say something different and to repeat the truth again:

“Race is a socially constructed, psychologically rooted attempt to name humanity through human designations.  Christians defiantly believe that our identity and our human significance are bestowed upon us not by our culture, family, or skin color but rather given us in baptism.”

We know this to be true but it bears repeating so I will say it again tonight and for the rest of my life.  Baptized with Jesus Christ, his gospel is raceless.

Race and reconciliation do not go together

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“16 From now on, therefore, 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. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

| Second Corinthians 5.16-20, NRSV

Recently, I led a series of workshops on racial reconciliation.  I did not choose the title but welcomed the challenge of a conversation with the two words.  The attendees saw no conflict between them, at least not at first.  I thought it necessary that they be clear of the meanings that they brought to the words.  As expected, the definitions were most often the total opposite of each other.

When I asked what words they associated with race, there was nervous silence.  After I reminded them that they were in a safe space for which they would not be penalized for learning, they offered words like hatred, division, anger and apathy.  It took quite some time before anyone mentioned color or prejudice.  And when I asked them what came to mind when I said reconciliation, there was almost a sigh of relief with each answer: apology, love, redemption and unity.  It was obvious that they knew and favored reconciliation over race.

The gathering focused on being an ambassador but it was clear that they wanted to get as far away from race as possible.  Though participants understood intellectually that race was and is a social construct, socially and emotionally it remained very real.  And this is understandable as there are real life consequences and implications for those on the last rung of its social ladder.  As we saw recently at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, two African American men socially identified as black were falsely arrested and imprisoned for asking to use the restroom and while waiting for a friend.  Not ordering immediately is apparently a crime for some people.  These men posed no threat but the perceptions associated with the social coloring of their skin prompted the manager to call the police.

As a result, I have given up my grande, seven pump, extra hot chai with whole milk, no water, no foam.  It had been my favorite morning drink for almost ten years.  But, when I saw the video and the faces of the men being arrested, I lost my appetite immediately.  I need authentic community more than I need caffeine.  Race and community simply do not go together.

To be fair, the social construct of race never aimed to unify human beings.  It never claimed that it would create community, that after it was finished with American slavery, lynchings, the Black Codes, Jim Crow segregation, redlining and the like that it would bring us back together again.  Its purpose was to justify a caste system, which enabled persons socially colored white to oppress and enslave those socially colored black.  There is nothing of this relationship that can be reconciled.  The two don’t go together.  Instead, we should spend our time reconciling the fact that we hate persons who are our siblings.

Reconciling ourselves to race is not apart of this ministry; reconciling ourselves to each other and to God is.

Good Skin

Bad skin.  Good skin.  A larger problem than pimples, blackheads and an oily T- zone, the social coloring of skin and the meanings we associate with it are important.  We talk about our flesh as if we expect it to behave or perform in a certain way, as if it represents our character and can somehow let us down.  Ah, but in America, it can and it does.

The social construct of race says that my skin defines me, tells you what my presence means not just in this present moment but for the rest of my life.  Much like how we look at fruit and inspect it for ripeness, I am expected to believe that solely by looking at my appearance one can determine if I am good or bad.  Worse still, persons can toss me aside based on their observations without ever having a personal experience with me.

Wanting the preferred “color,” many of us train our epidermis with bleaching creams and lighteners, change the skin around our eyes, nose and lips to look right and consequently, to be right.  We are then the right kind of person.  We are socially acceptable.  We can show our faces here.  Our bodies are safe and safe here.

And we have made the process of identification very simple.  We have color- coded good and bad people.  And all we have to do is look at persons to tell the difference.  Goodness also comes in degrees.  Consequently, the lighter the skin color, the better the person.

Still, the social construct of race is a troublesome invention.  It is a meddlesome creation that gets in the way of our humanity.  It restricts the way that we see God, ourselves and our neighbor.  This is why our declarations of the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ is so important.  This is why we must repeat again and again that we are not children of color but children of God.  Again, we are children of God not children of color.  Because there is a difference as race is not our creator; it is not the beginning of us.  Because there is life after the flesh, it’s salvation is limited.

The social construct of race offers salvation through the social coloring of skin.  However, this is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As Christians, it is his nail- scarred hands that save us– not the color of our own.  Because if whiteness is our salvation, then what does it atone for?  If all we have to do is be born in the right skin, what is socially colored “white” skin, then what salvation are we secure in?  If the social coloring of skin saves us from suffering and/or affords unearned privileges, then why believe in the work of Christ’s cross?

The fact is, our belief in race does not supplement our faith in Jesus Christ; instead, it supplants it.  The message of race does not affirm the good news of Jesus Christ.  Because who needs a good God if you have good skin?

Books can take you places

Image result for ruth haley barton life together in christAs many of us gear up for summer vacations with flip flops, sunglasses and sunscreen, I want to remind us of the journey offered in books.  Words can take us places.  Within their pages are invitations to journey not just to distant and magical lands but to places closer to home, to undiscovered holy sites within us.  Dependent upon our imagination, openness and receptivity to the Spirit, books offer more than an escape but a way in to the deeper places.

Recently, a book offered just that for me.  I was looking for a spiritual locale but not sure how to get there or if there was a guide.  The words of Ruth Haley Barton provided the transportation.  She writes in Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, “Community is the most ‘overpromised and underdelivered’ aspect of the church today. … There is another overpromised, underdelivered aspect of the church today that is equally disillusioning, and that is the promise of spiritual transformation. … I made the disheartening discovery that it is possible to hang around other Christians a lot, meet regularly for worship, study our Bibles, join a church and even call ourselves a community but not change at all in ways that count.”

She was not putting words in my mouth.  She was speaking for me, repeating what I had been saying to myself.  The disappointment and disillusionment were palpable and I was not alone in this feeling.  What a relief!  Because the work of Christ must not be confused with Christ’s witness in us.  Church attendance should not be confused with Christ’s being present and tending to us.

The disconnect between Christ and transformation that causes me to groan most is that of the social construct of race.  That we, as Christians, continue to color in his body, that we allow the social construct of race to segregate his members brings deep grief and disappointment.  The power of Christ’s resurrection and our baptism into his new life is mocked here.

Still it must be said and said again, there is no community as ‘races.’  No one holy race.  No one human race.  For race cancels out community and gets in the way of our seeing all as humans.  The social construct of race says that there is no transformation.  We are only and always socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white people.  The stereotypes speak for us.

And to make believing harder, we have no faith that God can change us when it comes to the social construct of race.  The reach of Christ’s cross falls short here.  But, it is simply impossible to be God’s people and colored people.

***

I have a deep longing for transformation in community.  I want very much to experience life in Christ in ways previously unexplored and unexpressed.  I want to be a new creature, changed by my travels with Christ.  Returning home not with trinkets from my daily walk but testimonies of the difference that Christ has made in my life.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I want my heart to burn when Christ speaks (c.f. Luke 24.32).

I carry a collection of what I refer to as journey words.  These are words that I have met along the way, that I have run into or have been introduced to, that speak to where I am supposed to be.  Not only are they a source of encouragement but they keep me on track.  These journey words remind me of my identity and place in the world.

Barton’s book has affirmed the aim of my life.  More than the trip of a lifetime, I believe that I will have arrived where I belong when I am in a community that is transformed, with me as its first member.

Now carrying journey books in addition to journey words, my bag will be much heavier but the load will be lighter.  Knowing that there are persons walking ahead of me, who have not only been there but remain has taken my spiritual life to new heights.  I will not return the same.

 

 

Race will not survive

I shared a meditation at a Maundy Thursday service last night titled “Do as I do.” It is a command that highlights the disconnect between our words and our actions.  We know and say what is right but so often, we do not do what is right. We point out the rule while side- stepping the practice of it.  We are great enforcers of the law but poor practitioners.   The same can be said of our life in Christ.  What of his life do we imitate, especially during this Holy Week?

What of ourselves follows Jesus to the cross?  Thomas will see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands but where are yours?  What of you has died so that Christ might live more truly and fully?  Where have you made room for him?

As Christians, there is only one that we can follow.  We do not follow personalities but chase after the very presence of God in Christ and therefore, in us.  One with God, this is the deepest and truest fellowship.

We do not follow our culture or the social coloring of our skin but the Christ who is bound by neither.  He is the only one whose words match his actions and who can say, “Do as I do.”  So, we are not stereotypical people.  We are not your average, run of the mill, same old, racialized beings.  No, that was nailed to his cross, clinched in his hands.

No longer Jews nor Greeks, how do we see ourselves as colored people anyway?  That old self and its identity died on the Friday we call good.  We no longer live in our flesh but in, through and by the spirit of Christ.  The social construct of race, the racialized self has been buried with Christ.  It will not survive the resurrection.