Tag Archives: race-less gospel of Jesus Christ

One in Christ Jesus

gal328.2Pastor Bruce and I preached together.  It is only the second time that we have shared the message this way; the first was during a special service for graduates this past summer.  It was all his idea but I certainly saw the bigger picture yesterday.  We became one voice, one preacher.  Guided by Galatians 3.26-28, we shared one message that began this way:

When I was a child, some persons in our neighborhood called my dad “dirty white boy.” It was not said to be mean but was stated as a matter of fact. In my father’s ignorance, he accepted it as a nickname. He did not know his father and perhaps in search of a community in which to belong, this seemed like a small price to pay for admission.

No one shared with him the words of Howard Thurman who said, “Inherent in life is meaning.” Yes, we come with meaning and we are our definition that we are looking for. But, if we do not define life, life will define us. Perhaps, this is why Eugene Peterson warned, “We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them and they end up using us.”

Nevertheless, being a member of both cultures allowed him to represent the privilege of whiteness while accepting the camaraderie through oppression offered in blackness. He was “the Man” and yet, one of us, blessed but cursed a little, not black but maybe off white. His mother, Mary, was African American and socially color black, which rendered him socially impure, unclean, mixed.

He was a dirty white, a dingy white, a stained white and thus, not quite right. People in our community did not know how to handle him so they addressed one side of him but never both at the same time. They did not know what to make of what he represented. The product of two opposing sides, my dad was both in and out. So, they both fought against and stood with him—all at the same time.

He never talked about his father and consequently, never talked about his whiteness. He started drinking at fifteen years old and never stopped. Perhaps, the words that were attempting to find a voice were too much for him and the alcohol was too much for them. They could not swim and with blurry vision, they wouldn’t have made it far had they survived the daily attempted drowning.

Recently, when I asked him about his dad and my grandfather, he still had no desire to know him— not even his name. Maybe he would have felt a pull if he acknowledged this side of him. Perhaps, he feared it would tear him apart since he was not completely one or the other. To date, he has never met his father and in my observation, has never seen himself as anyone other than the dirty white boy.

***

Like my dad’s nickname, responses to race are a mixture. Some are made public, chanted in the streets, a chorus of discontent while others are shared in polite company and through inappropriate jokes. Race is talked about at the kitchen table, while sitting on the couch, in the car, in a barber or salon chair. It is also hushed, the reality hidden and ignored all together.

We don’t want to talk about race because race has never been the right word for us. Instead, race is a misinterpretation of our humanity. It is also never the right time or place because race is too personal, too painful, too much to talk about at one time.

This is all true; race is the elephant that struts into the room and sits on our chests. It has a reservation with us. It’s always on the menu, an American special and most days, we have no appetite for it.

Race has been with America since its inception. They grew up and played together. In fact, race is more American—though less appetizing— than apple pie. We bring it out on holidays like this one but it is the painful familiar. It hurts but it’s all we know.

So, we talk about King’s dream rather than begin the daring task of counting raised hands and assigning work to would- be ministers of reconciliation. We do community service projects but never leave our community. But, Thomas Merton said, “A faith that is afraid of other people is no faith at all.” Still, whether due to fear, ignorance or pain, we believe that it is easier to live according to society’s color- codes. We would rather be beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow/ white. Unsure of what it really means to belong, this seems like a small price to pay for admission.

***

While the Galatians were guilty of observing days and times,[i] we are guilty of observing people. We look for certain kinds of people. They have to be our people, one of us and not them, in order to be the right people.

And this scrutiny is not limited to the social invention of race but I hear it in conversations involving age, experience and gender: “You’re too young or too old. We were here first. Or, we’ve been here longer. We need the right man for the job.” All of it lines us up, orders us around and positions us as first and last. So, the separation is inevitable and even makes us comfortable— young versus old, present versus future, man versus woman.

We have yet to learn the lesson that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to teach us, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” He concluded about our shared destiny, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Though Paul is writing to the Galatians who had fallen into mixing faith and works, he finds an audience with us as we mix faith and the works of our skin, our culture and country. We believe in social sanctification, in racial regeneration. We believe that our race will determine our righteousness. It is an assumption that we can and must add to Christ’s cross, that something is lacking in his sacrifice— and that the color of our skin satisfies it. It is a mixed religion as it were.

Consequently, we hold that spiritual maturity is a matter of appearance, that the markers of our perfection are found in the texture of our hair, the shape of our eyes and the size of our lips. We have faith in our flesh— not Christ. Whether we look at our hands or his determines if we are seeking God’s approval or human approval.[ii]

If we are seeking human approval, then it is the good news of our bodies— not Christ’s. It is righteousness through our appearance in the earth not God’s appearance in Christ. But, like Paul, we must say, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”[iii] Consequently, our belief in the sanctification of skin is “another gospel.”[iv] To put faith in our epidermis or any one else’s is idolatry.

No, these meanings, our prejudices and stereotypes should have been drowned in the waters of baptism. We are no longer clothed in skin but with Christ. We wear him. We exhibit. We show him to the world.

This is how we are one. We are not one human race but one blessed, broken and shared Body, which is Christ’s— no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female or dirty white boy. But, we are one in Christ Jesus and have always belonged with God, an admission promised and for which we could never pay for.

 

Endnotes

[i] Because there is only the Lord’s Day and all of time belongs to the Eternal God.

[ii] Galatians 1.10

[iii] Galatians 2.20, NRSV

[iv] Galatians 1.7

Christ Saved My Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChrist saved my life from stereotypes. “In Him, “I am a new creature and all things become new” (Second Corinthians 5.17).  I am not more of the same old colored people, another addition to the racial group.  I am not another number, added into the racial majority or minority.

Christ saved my life from prejudice. In Him, I am clothed. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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 3.27-28).  In Him, I am one.  Christ makes me whole.

Christ saved my life from segregation. “In Him, I live, move and have my being” (Acts 17.28). There is no basis for fences or boundaries, assigned seating or separate entrances, warning or caution signs in Christ.  All can come to me because I come from All.

Christ saved my life from hatred. In Him, there is perfect love and God is love perfected.  “There is no fear in love. But, perfect love drives out all fear” (First John 4.18).  God casts out, calls out, circles the fear in me.  It must leave me first before I can second guess the motivations of others.

I don’t have to be the person that race says that I will be because of the social coloring of skin, the external markers of race. Christ gave me another life and way of being that is outside of this world and its oppressions, outside of me but inside of Him.  And all of me that is worthy of keeping, He has saved.

A Declaration of Exceptionalism

I am an exception to the rules of race.  I don’t follow them; I live to break them.  I live my life above the laws of race.

Race cannot put me in a box and check me off.  I don’t fit and I won’t bend or contort to do so.  There is more room in this world than what race has to offer, available if I don’t buy into the lie of inferiority.

I am made of new stuff not old stereotypes and cultural prejudices.  I am a new word spoken into existence by the God who does new things (Isaiah 43.19).  I am a new creature, a new beginning (Second Corinthians 5.17).  I start here.  My life begins now.

I will not repeat the segregationist relationships of the past; I choose my own friends.  My family is God’s family– without exception.  And I will love and be loved exceptionally.

 

 

The Habit of Hating: How do we break it?

“I’ve decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

~ Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

~ First John 4.20

Our hatred of a socially constructed race is inherited.  It’s not natural but passed down to us as a part of family tradition or perhaps, it is a rite of passage into our American society.

So constant and consistent is the message of hatred that it is normal and understandable to hate our neighbor, the stranger and foreigner… even though we don’t understand why.  We don’t even know how long we are to hate, when or if we should forgive.  It is the hatred that keeps on hating.

Though this response is not rooted in the Christian faith or Christ- like, our belief in race makes us unforgiving and some persons or cultural groups unforgivable. We hate people we have never met and whose names we do not know.  We hate people we’ve never seen and are yet unborn.  We hate people that walk passed us and that we drive by.  We hate people that we see on television and hear on the radio.

Hatred comes easily.  Anyone can hate.  But, love is for the strong and only love will survive.  So, how do we kick the habit of hating?  I’m glad you asked.

To love:

1.  It takes faith.  It won’t happen without God.  We need to believe in the Creator who is greater than us, whose thoughts are higher than our own and who thinks higher of us (Isaiah 55.9).  We must exchange our hatreds for God’s love, trusting that God’s way is best.

2.  It takes will.  We have to make a decision to love.  We have to choose to love everyday.  And we have to surround our selves with persons who have made the same decision.  Our inner conviction and conversation must match the convictions and conversations that we surround our selves with.  And love must be the only motivation.

3.  It takes desire.  We have to want to do love every one.  It has to become natural and necessary to exist in love and trust that we can thrive in love.  We have to be attracted to it, drawn to it and passionate about it.  We have learn that we are most fulfilled by love.

4.  It takes a village.  We cannot do it alone.  We need support and encouragement.  We need help to overcome our personal and cultural hatreds.  Consequently, we must seek out partners in love.  We must walk with those who agree to love people and hate race (Amos 3.3).

5.  It takes time.  Perhaps, it will take all of our time as this work will not produce an overnight success story.  It is not completed in twelve steps.  But, unconditional loving is to be our life’s work, to be committed to loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12.30-31).  We will break the habit of hating one day at a time and one person at a time.

Race is a ‘different gospel’

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel– not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaim to you, let that one be accursed!  As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!”

~ Galatians 1.6-9, NRSV

Paul writes to the churches of Galatia and to us to remind us of the freedom that we have in Jesus the Christ.  The churches in Galatia had been converted to this new faith and were walking in its liberating life and love.  Paul had removed the shackles of regulations only to return and find them restored.  And it happened rather quickly!

Why?  Because it was familiar and it was what they knew.  They knew the law but were not yet familiar with God’s grace, that is God’s unmerited favor not based on works or in our case, the social coloring of skin.

This response is similar to that of today’s Christians.  We have experienced an emancipatory conversion through our relationship with Jesus and now live in the Spirit, liberated from the laws of the flesh.  But, it does not take long before we, too, turn our ears to those familiar voices and experiences.  Afraid of the newness of life that Christ provided, we will arrest ourselves and detain ourselves.  We will sentence ourselves and walk back into the cages of the socially constructed identities of race and the legality of the social coloring of skin.  This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is a different gospel.

What is the gospel, the good new of Jesus the Christ for the 21st century?  It the same message that was given in the first century: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (First Timothy 1.15).  Those are the only persons that he came for and it is the only category that all of humanity fits into.  We post- modern Christians want to do as Christians have before us.  We want to make the gospel new and even popular.  Well, referring to humanity as sinners is not new and it certainly isn’t popular.

What do race and sin have to do with each other?  What sin does the belief in race produce?  Race is pride in appearance, the external salvation of the self and the belief in the supremacy of humanity– even above God.  Race says that our salvation is found in the social coloring of skin not the salvific work of Christ on the cross.

It is an old sin draped in new words.  But, the worst of its kind, the creature attempting to be like the Creator in ability and knowledge.  Race offers the same deal that the serpent in the Genesis narrative offered to Eve (Genesis 3.1-7).  And the Church’s response imitates that of Adam: silent acceptance and subordination to race.

Frankly, the American Church is but a tool, a part of the machinery of capitalism as it was for slavery and Naziism.  Today, the Church is commercialized, a brand that wants to sell a new product.  We want to have the “latest and the greatest,” the shiny new toy.  But, the message of Jesus Christ is more than two thousand years old and it has not changed.  We have changed but Jesus has not.  He is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13.8).

We have allowed race to translate the gospel instead of the gospel translating race to us.  Race tells us who Jesus is and not vice versa.  Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon write in Resident Aliens, “By the very act of our modern theological attempts at translation, we have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be… (We have) transformed the gospel rather than ourselves” (22-23).

We can change the methodology but what it means to be Christian today is the same as it was when Jesus walked the earth: “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).  The cost of discipleship remains unchanged: follow Jesus, deny yourself and die.

Race is a perversion of the gospel.  It says, “Follow socially colored white people.  Deny yourself in order to become like them (i.e. “act white”) and die to the true, authentic and new self that God has called and created you to be.  It is the good news of the flesh, the celebration of the social coloring of skin and that skin is ‘white’ (but not really).  This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ but different gospel and I join in Paul’s repetition, “As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!”  Race is another gospel.