Tag Archives: Race and Christianity

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?

By God’s Name

Every Sunday, I lead our congregation in a time of intercession.  I create sacred space for persons to share their joys and concerns.  And I don’t take the task lightly.

I am certain that I am facilitating a dialogue, starting a conversation for which some cannot find the words, that I am helping persons open up and listen up.  Hands folded are the busiest.  Heads bowed work the hardest.  Knees bent are traveling at a speed not known to humanity.

I have been asked often how I came to this understanding of race.  How do I write with such conviction?  Why does the social construct have no power over me?  The answer is simple.  Prayer.  My release from the captivity of the social coloring of flesh was done in conversation. I shared my concerns about the meanings of flesh that had been attached to me and my neighbor with God.  I “took it to the Lord in prayer.”

Rather than wrestle with race, I gave it to God.  And God did not hand it back to me.  Instead, the words of Galatians 3.28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek” came to me.  They introduced themselves to me personally.  No longer some letter written to the church at Galatia, those words were addressed to me.

John Wesley said, “Prayer is where the action is” and I am a firm believer.  My best work, my hardest work, my deepest and truest convictions have come from prayer.

Here’s the prayer that I shared with our congregation yesterday.  It is proof that belief if not just walked out but talked out.  I am delivered from the social construct of race by God’s name.

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God, we call on Your name because this is where the action is. “Author and Finisher of our faith,”[1] we need only say Your name and can consider the matter settled.  There is no doubt in the ability of Your name or the agility of Your presence.  Needing no approval rating, Your name satisfies our deepest needs.  We are met in places unseen and at times not suited to regular business hours.

You are not a nine to five God.

Because when we call on You, we are not asked to take a number or to take a seat. There is no time delay in prayer.  You never say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

But, from our mouth to Your hand, each prayer is stamped urgent.  Holding galaxies in place and our hands, cupping the borders of oceans and collecting our tears, directing angels and speaking to our fears. “[You’ve] got the whole world in Your hands,” but, You still hold us individually, specifically and uniquely.

Not held too tight, we are not crushed by the calendar of Eternity. You do not have to fit us in but there is always room for us.  Never consumed by Your work, You have gathered with us to hear about our week, to mourn and rejoice with us.  You want to hear our story just as much as we want to hear Yours.

With elbows on pew, You have come to participate in our lives, to see what this worship service is about. And to answer those who call on Your name.

We are so grateful that we can mark You present, God.

You have heard our prayers; now give us the faith to mark You present in our homes and in hospital rooms, in war- torn countries and in divided nations, on playgrounds and at cafeteria lunch tables, in the halls of government and in our schools, in hopeless corners of the world and in hearts battered and bruised by addiction, depression, rejection and abandonment. Let us be marked present.  Encourage us to use Your name as an action word and not an excuse.

In Your name, we pray, act, help, love, protect, defend and serve all You have created. Amen.

__________________

[1] Hebrews 12.2

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.

 

Not My Problem

Image result for not my problem image

I am at a meeting of clergy for three days of specialized training in interim ministry.  Day one focuses on theories.  On the second day, the facilitator offered a few tools and way too many personal stories.  But, when we began a discussion about power and he wanted to move to his next slide, the group of mostly European Americans wanted to say more.  He sat down in his chair uncomfortably.  He had not prepared for this.

Without prompting, they begin to critique their own privileges and then someone said, “And we need to listen to those who don’t share the same experience.”  Another clergywoman saw this as an opportunity and began, “I am a black woman.  I am a minority.  I am powerless.”  She is perhaps 20 years my senior and of a different time.  She bears the scars to prove it and most of our colleagues can remember when she got them.  I had only read about them and watched documentaries.

But, I realized that it was not only age or time that created distance between us.  I could not agree with her statement.  And while the social construct of race would suggest that we think the same and share the same beliefs, it left me no other choice but to challenge its omniscience.  My heart was pounding by now; the words were throbbing in my head.  “Let us out,” they seemed to say.  I am not one to hold back truth so I let them go.

“I do not identify with the social construct of race.  I don’t believe that human beings are colored people, that there are beige, black, brown, red, yellow or white people.  I would not describe myself as a minority as we are all counted as human beings.  And I am not powerless.  I enter the world with power; consequently, no one can give or take my power away.”

So, apparently, I am an anomaly.  My comments were met with silence– though we have a Word- God who affirms our being down to the hairs of our head (Matthew 10.30).  Afterwards, another clergywoman thanked me for sharing my perspective.  She wished she could see as I did.  For me, she, too, was expressing powerlessness.   “These are not my eyes.  I am not in control of what I see.  I can’t see anything else.”

She went on to talk about the fights that she had engaged in for the rights of others.  I expressed that I had also chosen not to start there.  I do not have to live on a battlefield.  I have rejected the fights of the past, decided not to enlist or allow anyone to force me to sign up.  No human being can tell me who I am or am not– and I don’t have to fight for my identity.

She started to credit her generation for my position but this too was rejected.  God had given me this vision: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.18, NRSV).  This was not my problem because I accepted God’s promise.  I pray that you would accept it as well.

Receive this holy vision.  This is my prayer.  In Jesus’ name, I pray.  Amen.

The Race Pass: A Compromised Faith


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, I introduced the concept of the race pass and through social media continued to unpack the idea.  I often pray for divine insight into the social construct of race with the hope of further revealing its weaknesses and prayerfully, loosening its grip on our faith.  I think this idea of an excused absence from our convictions in order to profess our prejudices is a way to do that.  So, my aim is to unpack the ways in which the race pass works.

Unlike the hall, bathroom, nurse and office passes we received in school and from our teachers, this permission is given to us by our parents and peers.  As adults, we write these passes for our selves.  Every time that we make an excuse for a racialized belief or behavior that contradicts our confession of faith in Jesus Christ, we have given ourselves a race pass.  It is permission to put our faith down in order to practice our racial prejudices.

A few practical examples of how this happens or what this looks like are best offered in questions for your consideration and reflection.

How do we proclaim “salvation to all” while believing that our ‘race’ is God’s choice?

How do we believe in an all- powerful God while claiming our human supremacy, making exceptions to God’s rule?

How do we behave unmercifully to persons who look and live differently than we do while believing in a merciful God?

How do we hate our neighbor and love ourselves?

How do we harbor unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness while claiming God as our refuge?

How do we deny and delay the calling to the ministry of reconciliation?

How do we benefits from the privileges of race while knowing they come at the expense of oppressing other people?

How do we explain, justify and make room for historical disinterest, anger and resentment?

How do we repeat after Jesus and see in stereotypes?

How do we follow Jesus and historical prejudices?

Why do we think that our hatreds our justified– even as we profess our belief in the God of love, compassion and justice?

The answer: the race pass.

We cannot believe in the social construct of race, hold its prejudices and stereotypes and profess faith in Jesus Christ, holding his hand and our cross.  We cannot keep the race pass and carry the cross of Christ too.  We have to put one down.