On MLK Day, an everyday post
I’ve been reviewing and checking in to restaurants via Yelp and I’ve noticed that so many people praise restaurants for their speedy service. I’m a long eater, so the meal itself, is usually an event for me. That’s the evening’s entertainment. It’s never dinner and a movie, it’s just a slow, nice dinner and then I fall asleep during the movie.
Ideally, I’m a fermenter, I like sitting with something for a long time, and seeing what happens. But often, I’m not ideal, and so I want the fasted Internet and the most convenient phone.
I wonder if we are often caught up in wanting the best thing, right away. I want the best food in the city five minutes after I order it! I want the fastest Internet right away. I want to have the best coach for the Eagles and we better win the Super Bowl next season. Sometimes I feel like that. And then I realize, well, the world really doesn’t work that way. And certainly our journey in our faith community doesn’t work that way either.
For one, our entrance into our community takes time. We’re not Facebook. It’ll take more than one click to “get in,” so to speak. And when you do enter it, it’ll take commitment and investment to “get something out of it.” And if that’s all you’re trying to do, there might be better places for you. But if you want to be the church with us, you might find that you are closer to Jesus because of it.
I talk about the need to be patient because when it comes to racial reconciliation, knowing that it is a long book or a long race is really important. Knowing that’s OK to start where you are is even better, especially if you aren’t convinced that you should read that book or run that marathon. We won’t get from here to there now, but we can try to start and hopefully when we’re talking about the New Humanity that Jesus is calling us to we’re OK with who we are and what we’re doing. We’re getting there. It’s OK to be where you are, you are loved.
My basic point is that the greatest sin that the U.S. has committed—or at least one of them—is the sin of systemic racism. Let’s get a look at Philadelphia, which according to the City Paper in 2011 is the most segregated city in the country—unbelievable. Well, not so unbelievable if you use the 2010 census data the New York Times so nicely put together.
So you can see how divided our city is. When you see similar results based on average income and vacant housing, you’ll see similar results. And so the conclusion that we can draw is that race is a major contributing factor to injustice in the United States. It’s not the only one, as the majority of poor people in the United States are White, for example, but it is a major one. My main point is that in Philadelphia race is a huge issue. In the United States, particularly, the story is similar for all sorts of cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Milwaukee, et cetera.
There are numerous other injustices that also demand our attention—but the way that the power remains in the hands of the few in the U.S. is by and large because of racism. And it is relatively modern construct, probably not being birthed until about the 17th Century—that is to say that until then, human beings were not categorized strictly by their pigmentation. So when we look to the Scriptures, we don’t see a lot on “race,” but we do see a lot about the body of Christ uniting as one and transcending, while even being sensitive to, our differences.
A message of reconciliation across our differences is littered throughout the Scripture. I’m going to give you a cursory view of it all, and there’s even more that we can look at. Here are a few excerpts from Circle of Hope’s statement on anti-racism:
When people are one in Christ, other ways we define our identities are not primary. (Galatians 3:26-9)
The reconciliation Christ achieved between all who believe and God is the basis for removing the barriers of hostility between people. (Ephesians 2:13-20)
The new self Christians put on finds a home in “Christ culture.” (Colossians 3:9-11)
All people are made in God’s image. None are superior or inferior. (Romans 3:23)
God reveals himself by making unity from diversity. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13/Ephesians 4:12-13)
I’m borrowing from the Apostle Paul’s epistles because he was caught in an cultural conflict. He was trying to help people that came from all sorts of difference backgrounds and attempting to help them follow Jesus. This is hard because he is subverting a strong cultural institution, one that exists today, the idea that faith is distinct from culture. He was a Jewish person, who was following Jesus, and he approached people of different cultural and religious backgrounds and doing that same missionary work. Paul wasn’t trying to change their culture, or make them cultural Jewish—he in fact, embraced their culture, and helped them follow Jesus in the way that their cultural enabled them too.
The truth Paul is working with is that following Jesus transcends culture and isn’t just a product of it. Otherwise, religious pluralism, along with ethnic pluralism would be our salvation. But we’re trying to follow Jesus, and he calls us to be reconciled individuals.
So the two basic points I’m making are: racism is a problem in the United States and Jesus calls us to be racial reconcilers.
But we can’t just ignore race and assume that equity is just generated, we actually have to work toward it. We’re of course not all the same and we’re all at different journeys and so even among the differentiation, I’ll offer further differentiation. We’re all different parts of the Body and we all have different roles. This is what Paul is saying explicitly in Corinthians.
Paul’s description of the Body of Christ can be easily related to a vision for a diverse body. And in the body we all mutually care and love one another, despite who society has given “greater honor,” but we might play different parts. When it comes to U.S society, those with a lot of power are typically white, middle-class, college-educated men. And those of us with less of it, are generally of color, lower/working-class, not as educated, and woman. There are extremes of both, so you might find yourself in it one way or another.
In the U.S., I think that race dominates the power conversation, but I think gender and class, particularly, have major roles as well. Knowing where we are powerful, by virtue of the country we live in, is a critical aspect of reconciliation. Notice how you are treated because of your gender, race, or class, and see what happens to you. Become conscious of the privileges you hold as individual who grew up middle-class, a man, or a white person and acknowledge them. Don’t ignore them. Ignoring your power doesn’t really help us; in fact, use your influence to subvert the source where it came from!
It’s hard to know where you are powerful, not just because we benefit from our power, but also because if you are a down-trodden individual in other aspects. A white person, who grew up in rural Alabama and received a substandard education and went to bed hungry in the evenings probably doesn’t think much about her white privilege, especially when she is comparing herself to her rich and educated immigrant friends. But privileges are there, and so are many other things. We are neither one thing or another—that means we’re neither very powerful or not.
Likewise, a well-off, black man who grew up in Chestnut Hill and studied at Penn may not be conscious of his own pain (as I, growing up, often wasn't). In fact, he may not consider that his race put him against odds more often than not, that he is more likely to get arrested, to be accused of stealing, to get substandard housing, et cetera. In situations where you are the less powerful one, strive to know your pain.
That’s hard because if we haven’t experienced a lot of pain that we are conscious of, we might be afraid to bring it up. Why would I? I’ve apparently ignored it for most of my life, I don’t need to regurgitate my childhood and remember when I was made fun of because I didn’t understand the cultural references, spoke with an accent, had a mom who didn’t know English so well, or I packed a pita-PB&J for lunch, and so on. Why would I need to do that again? Don’t make me go back and rehash it all. But that process is important.
Notice when you are mistreated because of some arbitrary category somebody placed on you and talk about that emotion. It’s a hard and painful process, but it is instrumental to reconciliation.
Knowing our pain is important because it leads to a greater path, and so does knowing your power. When we know our power and we acknowledge it, we can move beyond the guilt that comes with it—because the only thing less productive than a bunch of self-obsessed prejudice people are individuals who are still self-obsessed but just guilty about it. Be freed from your guilt. Forgive yourself. Forgive our society. And work toward changing it.
Change your preconceived notions and fight to change our society that has caused so many of them to become systemic.
And for those of us with less power, after we’ve experienced our pain, we can become righteously indignant and resent the whole universe for its prejudice and its hatred. We can make the powerful our enemies and call them diseased and of the devil. And keep the racism, the sexism, the classism alive. But there is a greater path: love your enemies and forgive them. Forgive the haters.
Find your wholeness in Jesus and move on to what’s next. Our internal work is really important, but it needs to have external consequences too.
No matter where we are in the book and no matter how far we’ve run, let’s try and be a productive body. The truth is we’ll never be completely self-aware and we’ll never be the best forgivers. Resist the easy way out. Resist doing it so fast and so perfectly and then giving up. Let it be a process. You can’t Instagram racial reconciliation. You can’t Tweet and have it end. It takes time.
But we can be proactive about it.
Tell people about the Savior that you know that loves everyone and offers them a New Humanity.
Commit to being in relationships with people that are different than you. Ask God to help you be so intentional. And be at peace when those connections don’t merely result in
Be sincere. Talk about your fears and your worries, your progress and your lack thereof.
Be sensitive. Listen to the struggles of people that on are on both sides of the power dynamic. Everyone deserves to be listened to and heard. Offer them your best sensitivity and leave your judgment at the door.
Realize that you can’t do this on your own. You need a community, and a faith community in my opinion, to get it done.
The truth is when we start fighting the domination system and we fight racism, we won’t be popular. So note that the path to following Jesus toward reconciliation isn’t easy, and it’s not always immediately advantageous. Be prepared for some sacrifice.
And finally, get ready to talk about it and pray about it. Pray about it every day and ask God to lead you continually. He’s on our side, even when it seems like the whole world isn’t. And don’t forget, this work is a joy in and of itself, don’t just wait until it’s done to celebrate, there is plenty to celebrate in the process itself.