Why Reconciliation Isn’t Working: Ramblings on the Church’s Unwillingness to Leave the Jim Crow Era

22 07 2015

 

Black Live Matter

Amuse my wonderings.

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We are in a dangerous place if one of the first questions in our theological process isn’t: What is this for? Variations of this question are acceptable: Who is this for? What am I doing this for? Towards what am I believing?

These questions are important to consider because oftentimes theory and praxis in the church are more distant than many of us want to admit. Our churches are behind – not necessarily the progress of the world (I’ll try to locate the article I read some time ago naming how churches were decades behind “the world.”), but the progress of communities in particular time periods.

The church is not behind the world. Today, the world is quite murderous and muting towards minorities, people of color, and women (class is interwoven here too). The church isn’t too far off from this. Thus, my concerns for the church’s anachronistic existence. The church of today seems more like a newly postcolonial entity (not in terms of progressivism, but in terms of existing directly after the “end” of colonialism). A colonial mentality is quite affirming, once we think about it:

“I’m here to show you how to do Christianity like me!” –  Read: I can bring my entire self into your religious world, and fully exist there, something I will not allow you to do if you choose to enter into my own.

“Of course you are allowed to keep your traditions! They are so culturally rich and beautiful!” – Read: Your traditions, your cultural and literal languages will be tolerated for how I perceive how beautiful and unique they are. Never mind that your first language will have to be English and mainline or evangelical churchisms. Your music, your church language, your church mannerisms will be tolerated but cannot be your primary language in my religious space, my religious space that you are laying down a lot to be a part of in order to fully be present in my space that refuses such silliness.

But what happens when a church does not reject an oppressive postcolonial existence is…nothing. Or rather, progressive nothing. Majority churches today are too afraid to name that they might still be Jim Crow-ish. Integration was never minority initiated. Many minority churches are its offspring. Many majority churches are its mother.

For a (hoping to be) postcolonial and non-racist society and its church, this is terrifying. No one wants their church to be of the Jim Crow era. But this is precisely what syphoning how much attention, if any, to attend to the scary reality of being black or a person of color today means consistently and constantly (Shout out to those who will also get physically ill when they see a police cruiser!).

I guess the question for me is, which is stronger? Being more scared of being labeled as currently living into a racist legacy or being terrified that your Christianity tiptoes the line of progressivist idolatry? Are you scared that your faith might get a bad rap or that it might not be faith at all?

For me reconciliation asks and wonders communally: What does it mean to bring your full self to church, to be your full self in church? How is that facilitated? Who should facilitate such a lofty miracle? To be scared of these questions of the persons asking these questions is to worship the terror of being wrong. Jesus wanted liberation. For all. Who gets to determine what our liberations look like?

Bradley Wright’s study on church welcomeness based on race was eye-opening for me. His work brought up questions for me around a question that I am not sure churches doing racial reconciliation are willing to ask or even aware to ask: Is our church interested in being fully integrated?

This is a difficult question to hold because it seems terribly antiquated: it is a question of the Civil Rights era, and no church today wants their purpose, mission and practice to ask fifty year old questions. But they should be, because they are tending to a problem that has lived much longer than that. The church is stuck in a pre-Civil Rights era; this is a problematic ontology, because it illumines how non-church the church is, how the church is in fact not being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

What is racial reconciliation then? And further, if Christ has done the reconciling work, what are churches actually doing? I wrote a paper last year that argued that from an evangelical standpoint racial reconciliation is more a spiritual mandate than tangible desire (Emerson and Smith’s Divided by Faith was helpful). It is practiced for spiritual well-being instead of true love-work. In this then, minorities become the platform on which the majority can perform their fantasies and secure their salvation.

I wonder what the anti-integration character of churches aiming to do reconciliation means today. In many ways our faith is for us, for our salvation, monuments to support our good beliefs, this is the complex truth. But if faith does not explore how much it should be for us, it remains about us. Can something that we enter into with our well-being in mind turn our hearts, eyes, ears, minds, words and actions towards others? Only time will tell. Until then, I challenge you (yes, you who is reading) to ask if your church has left the Jim Crow era. Is it fully integrated? If not, why? If you are in a church of the majority and this is the case, wonder aloud and often, is this the Gospel? (Please, let me know if you have a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote for this line of questioning…)

If churches trying to do reconciling work of the racial sort are afraid of their vocal minorities and the heart-wrenching questions and challenges that the Gospel they (minorities) know encourages and brings to the forefront, I’m not sure if they know the Gospel. If churches not doing it but interested in it are afraid of Latin@ prophets and American native truth-tellers, black accountability, and Asian calls to repentance – do it anyway. Do it afraid, do it terrified, do it hurt, pained, pushed, and ultimately allow yourself to be changed. Do the Gospel anyway.

The Gospel is revolutionary, radical, and averse to power. Lay down your obsession with power, your loyalty to comfort, your fear of addressing white fragility, your tears that shut down minority questioning and opposition, your “but” arguments, your “I’m tired of this” mentality and join in. The weary work of wellness is upon you. In fear, exhaustion and pain – embrace it.

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My Problem with “Valuable” Friendships

2 02 2011

 

 I have a huge problem with the word, “valuable”, especially when it comes to relationships. I hear it tossed around so much, that I believe it has lost the power and appeal it was intended to have and has adopted a completely destructive (albeit well-intentioned) meaning. “Tomi, you’re friendship is valuable to me” doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, precisely because of the word “valuable.”

When I hear valuable, I hear abandonment. And I think I’m right in hearing this, for when things are labeled “valuable”, they are abandoned, untouched, left alone for fear of some outside force or circumstance altering or affecting it. I don’t think “valuable” and “friendship” or “valuable” and “relationship” should be the same sentence anymore. Yes, I’m calling for a divorce.

If “valuable” implies importance and value, then the subsequent actions attached to the word valuable shouldn’t apply like they do. China dishes are valuable so they are rarely used. Diamonds are valuable so they’re rarely worn (well, sometimes). Expensive furniture is valuable so they remain unused in that sitting room that no one really sits in. Let’s face it, valuable has become code for “used rarely”.

And that’s where my problem lies. Friendships and relationships can’t be “used rarely.” They must be used often, especially in circumstances where they can get messy, damaged or broken because that is the point of their existence, to last and to last well. This, to me, is the definition of valuable: often used so as to experience its longevity.

I mean, when I think of something or someone having value, I can’t help but turn to Jesus. Jesus is the epitome of what valuable meant and still means. His value rested not only in who He was, but in how He still lives. He was tested and beaten severely and proved valuable. He died, but His value came in His re-living. In Jesus we have the space and the opportunity to re-examine value. Value is something that is not kept aside and protected or ignored (because that’s just what we do with it), but value is something that is used, often, even brutally, and still lives.

Herein lays my frustration with friendships. If a friendship is valuable to you, use it. Don’t use it when you need to fill you “black friend quota” or your “I hang out with a Muslim quota” but use it because you want to, you need to, and you need it to move forward another day a changed and better person. If that’s not what your friendships are for, stop lying to yourself and others.

I urge everyone who is reading this to be honest with yourself and release people and yourself from the torture of neglected friendships. They hurt and are not serving a purpose as something valuable should. If a friend means so much to you that you are actively a friend back to them, keep it. If not, make it clear that you have a good association, but stop abusing the word “friendship”. If you want to honor someone’s value, be around them, be with them: love them in this way if you truly consider their heart and their soul “valuable.”  

Let’s stop hurting people, especially in the church. White lies aren’t the Christian thing to do.





The Wisdom of Proverbs (Proverbs 3:7-8)

16 12 2010

Proverbs 3:7-8

7Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8It will be a healing for your flesh
and a refreshment for your body.

Verse 7, in my opinion, offers up a unique definition of engaging in evil: being wise, rational, smart, justifying your life and actions. To be honest, this is kind of weird for me because I think that I’m a pretty rational person for the most part. I don’t try to be evil when making most of my decisions. I don’t try to harm others but do what is best and healthiest for me; if it holds the potential to harm others, then I’ll think it through carefully before coming to any rash decisions. Given this fact of careful consideration, I don’t think that my rationality is an evil thing. I think it’s a good thing and good quality about myself.

But then I think about the depths of decision-making that I don’t really want to deal with. I think about that fast-food purchase, that decision to save the dollar I could have given to that homeless person because I wanted some M&Ms or an iced tea. I think about the clothes I don’t wear but need to hoard in case I do need them. I think about the fact that I pay for internet when I can go to the library and use it for free. I think about times when I buy just because I want.

I think about things I “do for my sanity since I can’t save the world” like not pick up the phone because I’m pretty sure so and so will want something, the e-mails I delete that address the water problem in Africa, the food problem here in the United States and the prison problems here in the Triangle. I think about food I throw out every couple of weeks because I wanted it then but don’t want it now. I think about how my attitude was justified because I was mad at them. While I act friendly towards someone I think about how they did me wrong many times and how they don’t deserve my forgiveness; and they may never get it because I don’t want to give it.

And I begin to realize how I only survey my decision-making when I’m making “good decisions”. I tend to forget the hundreds of bad decisions I made during the week that were not so good, even, dare I say it, evil. My ten god decisions may affect others but my hundreds of bad decisions were about me; and ironically, they still affect others. Maybe this is what God’s wisdom is warning us against, the hundreds of little things we do wrong that we make nothing of, that we are so quick to forgive ourselves of, or that we justify we deserve to forget.

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but our wisdom, our rationale, falls short.

The solution rests outside of ourselves. They involve us, but we are not at the center. God is. But even God gives us back the space. We must understand the vastness of God, and once we do, there is no other human response but to fear God, not in human-fear, but divine-fear. We fear God because we realize how far away we are from God when we take up our own agendas. We realize how much trouble we are in once we leave the protective covering of God. That is how big God is. We fear how far away we are once we realize how big God is. We fear our location and how we managed to get there. This is the fear of the Lord.

Fearing the Lord and turning away from evil seem like a combo deal. Once we realize that if we’re not with God, we’re in trouble, it is easy to spot and avoid evil. We won’t be fooled, for God’s wisdom will be with, on and in us. Evil won’t have a chance to plant any seeds within us, we’ll be too smart for that.

All this comes if we decide not to follow our thoughts and rationale alone and if we decide to listen to and follow God first, not what we think God should be saying, but what God is saying. Even our interpretations fall short. Humans have specialized in messing up God’s instruction. We must remember that anything of God’s is better than anything of ours. Relying on God’s instruction is a balm. It heals. It re-joins. It rehabilitates. Reliance on God patches up the holes in our hearts, the emptiness in our relationships, and the hate in ourselves. Placing our trust in God rejuvenates us because we don’t have to do the work of fixing people. Depending on God’s ways takes the burdens we can’t bear off of us, and gives us a lighter burden. We must remember that we ultimately make the choice to apply God’s wisdom or not. We have the choice to take the better burden and build up our strength all the while recovering, recuperating from burdens we weren’t meant to carry. If you are carrying burdens you weren’t meant to carry, drop it immediately. Pick up the burden of grace, mercy, peace, and love and continue journeying onwards. You will heal. It will take time, but it will happen. But take Jesus’ burden and never put it down.

Prayer: Lord, impress grace, mercy, love, understanding, kind-heartedness, peace, and justness into our hearts and onto our backs. We will be strong with them on it, and impossible to destroy with them in us. Lord, govern that transition in Jesus’ name, Amen.





Ambitious Young Adults and All Things Pimped

8 11 2010

My generation knows foolishness. But back when we were adolescents and teenagers, we called it cool. Or we called you a fool for not thinking it was cool.

Well actually some of us still do. Or is it many of us?

I remember MTV very well in the 1990s and early 2000s when they actually showed music videos broadcast on awesome shows such as Total Request Live counting down the top ten videos of the week. It was a staple to sit at the feet of the televised idol and have our faith renewed in the coolest music, artists, clothes, houses and cars out there.

Yes, to pre-pubescent and post-pubescent beings, material things were the future. Being grown up entailed having things magically appear, remain in good condition, and look good in our lives without those pesky things called bills, mortgages or car notes.

Yes, the kids of the 1990s and early 2000s saw and coveted the best of the best simply because those our eyes saw on TV living the life, walked in them, flashed them, lived in them, and rode in them.

The first sign of our being on our way to stardom, fame, fortune and an easy life was in our cars, our rides. If we had an old, beat-up, run-down car, we would be the butt of many jokes, but if our parents or our savings worked with us, we’d have a start-up accessory to our glamorous, ambitious lifestyle.

I was one of those kids with a run-down car. The second child to receive the Ford Escort, it was losing the battle with teenage driving. The inside was breaking apart, the paint was starting to chip a little, as I saw my classmates getting cars made in the 2000s, I became more embarrassed of “Ford,” that’s right; I was so embarrassed of my car that I did not name it like practically all of my classmates did for their cars.  

I was embarrassed of my car and soon became obsessed with a show that I knew would solve all of my teenage problems: Pimp My Ride.

Launched in 2004, “Pimp My Ride” was a car-revitalization show hosted by well-known rapper, Xzibit. He would surprise unsuspecting young adults who were working hard but not realizing their dream of unmitigated wealth yet. Many lived at home with their parents, or rented – in other words they didn’t own a home, but were working their way up. They had ordinary jobs and looked ordinary except for their horrendous vehicles. They would demonstrate just how bad their cars were as they would enter through the passenger side or window since their driver side door wouldn’t open, their ignitions needed forks and other contraptions to work, the interior fabric of their cars were worn so thin that the metal framework at the bottom or side of the car would be dangerously visible, wires would be exposed, mirrors were missing, windshields were taped; you name it, these poor young ambitions Californians suffered from it.

Their car needed severe work, but they could not afford it. Their salaries wouldn’t allow them to. So they sent into a video tape (yeah, not a DVD, we weren’t there yet) of their car’s condition and Xzibit would show up to their houses with the surprise of their life: their car would be improved lavishly. It would be pimped!

I didn’t realize what was going on until recently, flashbacks of the show randomly rushed through my mind. Wait a minute, I thought, was this show really called Pimp My Ride? We all know what “pimp” implies. Are we really using it towards cars now instead of women? There was something wrong the show’s title as disrespecting of the terrible notion, practice and industry of pimping. It is simply linguistically irresponsible.

Since I’m no English major, I went to my trusty friends at dictionary.com to look up the definition of “pimp”.

  Pimp

–noun

1. a person, esp. a man, who solicits customers for a prostitute or a brothel, usually in return for a share of the earnings; pander; procurer.

2. a despicable person.

To pimp:

–verb (used with object)

5. to act as a pimp for.

6. to exploit

Pimping although in the show’s context, used as synonymous with “drastically improved” ultimately has a root in a type of exploitation. It’s despicable action. This seemingly good thing being done for these young adults is actually birthing a confusing message of material wealth. It is drastically approving the appearance of something, although the “owner” isn’t improved at all. It’s all about appearances. I don’t know much about sex-trafficking, which I believe pimping and prostitution is, but the property of the pimp, the lady, would dress up an extravagant sexually suggestive ways and thus draw attention to herself. Her appearance and “work” would ultimately profit the pimp financially but his social, sexual and machismo issues remain untouched. He uses his “property” to appear wealthy and well off.  In pimping, appearance is industry.

In “Pimp My Ride” hard-working young souls with cars on their last leg are given the cars of their dreams, but what if their dreams are dreams of appearances? What if the car improvements are saying something false? The car-pimping gives the owner what they thought they would enjoy or like but don’t need. They are transformed from ordinary people with dying cars to ordinary people with excessive cars and subsequently pseudo-embellished lifestyles. Now they have to keep up appearances with their car. They are sucked into and trapped into a system of aesthetic embellishment.

Car-pimping highlights a false dichotomy. This exploiting prostitutes the image of the hard-working young adult to their fantasy image. This is my problem with “pimping”: it is not only damaging to the one being pimped, but it advocates for a certain lifestyle that is unhealthy and often unattainable. It is a demonic fantasmal agent. It perpetuates fanaticism and anthro-centric purpose with no satiability. The owner can never be satisfied.

Furthermore, it furthers the “power of pimping” to encapsulate and thus convert the car’s owner. The car owner is now prostitute; they appear a certain way and attract attention for their own end and ultimately another’s end. The young-adult turned prostitute is now being pimped too. They are now exploited to look like something they are not in order for the body shop, MTV or whoever to receive the overall good ratings and benefits. The pimping doesn’t stop with the car but latches onto the hard-working ambitious young adult herself and exploits her being, her life, her ambitions with a over-zealous car-concealment. Like make-up (you can disagree with me here if you want to), the car is concealed in something to look better but the real issue at hand, safe transportion, isn’t simply treated; it is made to look like something else and thus its purpose has been highjacked by the appearance of appearance.

All this material and aesthetic prostitution is the pseudo reality of a televised-created-world and often ecclesially-created world.

Pimping has become commonplace in society. People who engage in excessive plastic surgery pimp their appearance. People who unnecessarily spend money and time on weaves, make-up etc are pimping their God-given appearance. People who spend money they don’t have to wear clothes that speak false divinations over their lives are pimping their state of existence. And all this pimping is towards a goal of a certain appearance, not a reality.

This pimping is unfortunately also readily and happily adopted into church dogmatics. What is the church doing with this obsession with appearance and materialism as their young adults (and older adults) are being pimped into an industry and reality that remains out of reach and necessity? Little. What is the church doing when wealth and the appearance of wealth begins the pimp its own members, leadership, pastors?! Encouraging the message of false hope, happiness, and false faith.

Unfortunately in my experiences with black churches, they accept the pimping in their material life and gladly take on a prostitution role. Oftentimes, the black church worships the prospect of the material instead of God’s wisdom, but attribute the pimping of their bank accounts, cars, house, clothing, jewelry, pools, vacations etc. to God’s blessing hand.

But the black church may disagree with me. One might argue that God is blessing this ordinary person with extraordinary things. An incredible God deserves incredible praise. He made a way out of no way. He is giving a “Job blessing” to those who have suffered without a Benz, three-story house, TIVO, 5 TVs in their house, the latest 4G cell phone, the BEST church suits and church hats, the finest silk lapkins! (lapkins = lap napkins women whose skirts are too short in the pulpit wear in order not to overexpose herself and subsequently tempt the men of the church causing the men to fall and stumble…but it’s for HER own good, really! *sarcasm*)

I respectfully disagree.

Our God, is a good God, a King over all the earth, the Ruler of all, in complete control, but our God is not irresponsible. I personally don’t believe that God would bless someone solely aesthetically so that they would fall into being used to purport a certain unattainable message of wealth.

Now, of course there isn’t a follow-up show to see how the young adults on “Pimp My Ride” are doing with their new-found aesthetic. Perhaps the pimped out car with the play station in the back, speakers, rims, interior TV’s, refrigerators etc. impacted this young Californian’s life so much so that they got a high-paying job, bought a house, got married (and lived happily until they), had kids. But I doubt it. The only thing I could foresee with this “blessing” would be the lottery-affect: friends, families and foes appear out of nowhere wanting what you have and secretly hating you for it while the profit has already been made. The car-owner took the deal, umm, I mean, the blessing and now their souls cannot rest as trouble, jealousy, greed, coveting, pride enter their lives and remain with them as long as that car does. They are soul-tied to it.

I don’t know if God would bless someone to simply live in hardship and not experience positive change or growth in any other area of their life. The car doesn’t give someone a higher paying job. A higher paying job would allow the car-owner to afford an operative car –  it may not be a BMW, but it will serve its basic purpose.  

I think aesthetic blessings are the work of the church’s imagination and deception of what it means to be a Christian on earth – being Christian is hard, long, painful work of self-transformation, not stuff-transformation. Many churches are promoting a work where appearances replace true positive change.

And it’s terrible work. Expensive work. Excessive work. It will cause extraordinary expenses that one will not be prepared to pay for.

(And let me be clear, this is not only a problem with black churches, it’s simply where I’ve seen this done the most. I would argue the same thing is happening with white wealthy churches who hoard their wealth. They want to appear a certain way instead of live with their basic functions and distributing the rest elsewhere. It’s hard to do that because wealth and the appearance of wealth has a firm grip on so many of us in the church, black or white.)

So maybe we should be content with our Ford Escorts or Toyota Corollas as long as they serve their purpose and get us where we need to go so in our hard work we can learn responsibility, careful spending, realistic goal-setting and that wealth and the appearance of wealth may not always be God’s urging but our own. Maybe we can live into Godly responsibility and consider our neighbors higher than ourselves instead of treating ourselves to the appearance of wealth but the reality of multiplied hardships.

To be honest, shows like “Pimp My Ride” and “Trick My Truck” are also doing something else that I alluded to earlier. The term and process, “pimp” used to describe ownership of sexually engaged women are now applied to objects, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me. In pimping, in sex-trafficking, women ARE objects. They are made-up and sent out, changed forever – and not for the best. I think the church should speak out against the concepts behind these shows instead of engaging in the “cleaner or lesser” form of prostitution wrapped up in language of blessing and God giving you a “nice” car to demonstrate how God is King and as God’s children, we should be rich like the King too. What we don’t realize is that God has so that we can have. God doesn’t hoard, but God freely gives to us, God’s children. God is rich because God created everything; we can’t do that. God is rich because God is powerful enough to enter into flesh and be perfect. We can’t do that. So let’s take what God gives us and give thanks instead of demanding things we don’t need. It is ONLY by God’s grace that we have anything. Let’s retire from the pimping industry and begin to force its retirement elsewhere. Pimping is often preached from the pulpit. Prostitutes influencing people to prostitute themselves towards a materialist end-goal are proof-texted with scripture. Pimping has become a spiritual practice: it’s all over the prosperity Gospel. Let’s eliminate prospertiy as our salvation and simply cling to the Gospel.

Even though, our God owns land, vineyards and houses, God owns them only so that we can take part in them. God wants us all to live within our means so that we can all live. Material accumulation isn’t living well. It’s living aesthetically. If for nothing else, think about what your wealth or pursuit of wealth is about. If it’s not about honoring God by turning right back around and giving it to someone else, then it’s not for you. You haven’t gotten the memo yet that we are in God’s image and that images are copies. God has so that God can give. Are we doing the same? God gives so we must give. God doesn’t appear any way; God is. And as God is, so we must be.





Deconstructing the Masks of Racial Reconciliation

7 10 2010

Disclaimer: I am no expert on racial reconciliation, nor do I claim to be one; I write solely from my observations and experiences, but I write with the intention to identify the obvious and unspoken, the uncomfortable results of the racial reconciliation movement that we who have decided that church cannot be church without reconciling, repentant, loving, inclusive action and being have a duty to name and hopefully address honestly, not simply with reprimanding in mind, but repentant and faithful living. (and yes, that was a run-on sentence!)

Racial reconciliation should transcend the boundaries of actions that are close to but don’t purport the notion of community through sacrifice: sacrificing all that is familiar for the unfamiliar, sacrificing personal preference in order to embrace the preference of another, and especially sacrificing pre-meditated understandings of peoples and places and believing the people of those places who tell you differently. Racial reconciliation is not racial welcoming, racial tolerance, nor racial observation. It is more personal than we think. It affects more people than we think. It affects the body of Christ entirely, not just a congregation here or there. It runs deep into Jesus’ body, not as a fad, but as the life-giving connection between His blood and our worship, His veins and our stylistic preferences, His arteries and our cultures.

What it is not is un-sacrificial. It is not a runner-up to what Jesus meant when He sat, ate with and was joined by sinners. It is not achieved in the welcoming level, tolerance level, or observatory level.  

Racial welcoming comes close to what people think to be racial reconciliation, but lacks the effort and commitment to adopt a theology of discomfort from both parties covenanting to be with one another. It welcomes as long as it is not transformed into something unrecognizable, for unrecognizability resists the “predominantly” label so many churches are accustomed to having and being.

Racial tolerance is even further from the target than racial welcoming as it signals one group at the center of the Christian universe, whether they’re African, African-American, Asian, Latino, White etc and allows other to be, to a certain extent, only in light of their being. One group sets the standards and others are “appreciated” in light of how much they are not like the standard, for diversity must be celebrated, right? Celebrated but not integrated, racial tolerance gives permission for Christians outside of their majority to exist within the confines of what the majority deems Christian existence.

Racial observation rests even further on the outskirts of racial tolerance for it is simply a ministry of on-looking. It witnesses difference from afar, and witnesses from afar alone. Nothing is done to see if racial difference and cultural distinction can mean more, it is simply observed and in that observation a false sense of education is exercised, pejorative reading of the Christian church is made precisely in that inactive “education,” and the division between groups remains glaring and distinct.  

These three models of racial reconciliation I believe are more often than not, falsely practiced in place of true and Holy Spirit led racial reconciliation. They provide the foils against which true racial reconciliation can be recognized, but are utilized often because they are disguised as “we’re getting there” and “this is a messy vocation that takes time” language. These three types of models mirror the three categories of personality types present within many churches who find themselves a part of the racial reconciliation conversation. They enter into a conversation without calculating what it would cost them and thus mete out what they are willing to sacrifice, giving rigidly, contemplating giving, or convincing themselves that their interest is gift enough.

The Racially Welcoming Christian (RWC) exhibits 1 Corinthians 11 behavior (vv. 17-33). They are most than happy to sit at the table with everyone, but do not change their eating habits. They feast the same, not cognizant that even their being at the table (implying communion) has to be received differently. They commune not only for themselves with Christ, but with and for others in Christ. They love that difference exists in their midst. They embrace their brother or sister as important, imperative to their understanding God’s kingdom, valuable to and in the body of Christ. What they fail to do is change as a result of another person’s permanent place in their life. Their church body may change, but their personal theology doesn’t change much at all. They listen to the theological background of another, but do not add it to theirs since addition of another’s means subtraction of their own theological beliefs. They operate the same, but appreciate and recognize the difference in everyone. They are touched, but only changed on the surface. Nothing changes in their life, except information about other people. The information does not penetrate deeper than their intellectual capacity; it may touch their heart, but it rarely reconfigures it.  

The Racially Tolerating Christian (RTC) models the Galatians 3 confusion assuming that people are entering their world and thus need to adhere to their way of existing. The Gentile is welcomed in, but the confusion surrounds what the Gentile is entering into. It is a Jewish existence for sure, but what they misunderstand is this notion of being the “original church body” in the first place. Both groups are Gentilic, entering into a completely new existence. Chosenness rests in Jesus’ body that both, the majority and minority church body, are equally invited into. Both are bringing aspects of themselves into community together that looks messy, feels incomplete, and hurts a lot of the time, but leaves without a shadow of a doubt absolutely no room for selfish ambition to parade around as if it is God’s will. It takes both groups out of their traditions of comfort and asks them to be together uniquely and collectively. It leaves no room for human effort, but encourages desire and participation; the Holy Spirit does the rest. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, faith that His words, and body and practices did something to old ways of doing and thinking and constructed something completely new, un-like what we would deem comfortable or perfect and yet is perfect.

The Racially Observant Christian (ROC) parallels the rich, young ruler in Luke 18 (vv. 18-23). They have resources, they have culture, and they have influence and power and do not find it necessary to lose them in order to be with other people. They face Jesus and honestly think that they have done their Christian duty but cannot handle a re-drawing of the boundaries of their commitment and love. They fear that the loss of their resources will affect how others view their culture and influence although that is precisely the story of others’ lives. Their understanding of faith is contingent upon comfort. They believe themselves to be educated on the crux of a life that follows after Christ and models His ways, but are unaware of the depth of this pledge. So they choose to remain afar and give up absolutely nothing. But no doubt, continue “keeping” the commandments.

These responses and ways of being in the racial reconciliation conversation are produced from a desire to do something righteous and right, but after the cost is counted, kill and hinder true racial reconciliation’s attempt to spring forth. The messages sent forth in their failure to break out of the selfish grips of church tradition, racial and cultural purity and generational war deter us from truly seeing the form of racial reconciliation. It is an ugly one at that, a hunched over, injured, and imperfect figure that Christ calls us to. It may not have the stage for P&W (Praise & Worship), the hymnal, the fiery preacher, the contemplative chants, the whatever. Or it may have all of those together mashed together as the same thing; those interested in being reconciled must understand that racial reconciliation happens when people of those different cultures are reconciled, brought together, asked to and taught to live together.

What the racial reconciliation conversation should continue to emphasize is the “person” aspect of Christian life. The church preferences belong to the people, they come from the people. The people who swear up and down that God loves to hear Christian Contemporary Music, and guitar solos, and see young adults in small groups and mission trips are people!

Once the people recognize that it’s more than sitting beside, allowing people to sit beside and thinking about but in the end choosing not to sit beside another, but rather that it’s sitting with that person entailing changing perspectives, open dialogue, holy disagreements, and holier shifts in what one’s “particular” culture is, then racial reconciliation can truly be the strange, weird, ugly, and holy love movement Christ’s body has affectionately called “community.”





The I’m Sorry Tattoo

14 08 2010

A friend of mine wrote a blog a few months ago about her experience with the Marin Foundation, a Christian organization focused on reconciliation with the LGBT community. In her blog she describes an earth-shattering event: She a few others from the foundation went to the Gay Pride parade this past June and wore t-shirts that candidly said, “I’m sorry.”

These t-shirts prompted people from the crowd, TV reporters and even people who literally dismounted from their floats to ask “What are you sorry for?” They would respond that they were sorry for the way the church has treated the LGBT community.

And this response was the first brick of a bridge – a bridge building reconciled life between the homosexual community and heterosexual Christian community.

And all it took was an apology; a deep sincere apology that spoke of the hope and close proximity of the Gospel wrapped in humble repentance.

The apology was the first step, the necessary step towards new interaction, a neo-love movement.

But apologies take that word, “humility”, and sometimes humility is hard to come by.

I love this story and this bold t-shirt movement; my eyes have been opened to what this organization is doing with profound curiosity, but I’m dissatisfied with one thing: I think that the t-shirt shouldn’t have only been worn to the Gay Pride Parade.

I would argue that the shirts need to be worn everywhere, including in the church, especially in the church.   

Some pastors and associate pastors need to wear them. Some youth group leaders need to wear them. Some worship leaders need to wear them. Some church mothers, deaconesses, kitchen ladies, church secretaries, church hat ladies, “here’s-a-napkin-so-you-can-cover-your-knees-to-be-in-decency-and-in-order” ministers – YES black church friends and family I said it – need to wear them.

These shirts confess. They confess fault and after the confession of fault, they leave ample space for the Spirit to move and true reconciliation, true forgiveness to happen. But forgiveness requires admitting that we did something wrong. And admitting we did something wrong first requires examining ourselves and what we’re doing incorrectly.

We don’t want people to flee God’s Gospel because our underwear’s in a bunch. We don’t want to be the modern-day Pharisee – exploiting people and God’s words for our benefit and comfort. But a lot of us are. And we need to repent, get off our high horse and just walk with people.

No, all traditions are not made equal. Just because something was created in the crucible of discrimination doesn’t mean that it should create the crucible moment for others who are left out of your happy little circle.

I know this because I have been a part of plenty of circles, have seen people on the outside beg to get in with their eyes alone, and looked away. Because my clique is comfortable. It was easy to follow my rules. It would be too hard to let people who I was taught to hate be a part of my life.

I’m sorry.

I don’t have an “I’m sorry” t-shirt and I don’t think I’ll get one (I have nothing against it! I think that it’s a great idea and conversation starter as well as a theologically bold and brave move!). I hope I wear my sorry’s in the actions I take. I hope the sorry doesn’t have to be on my shirt to be sorry and actively repent by actively showing love. I don’t want to need a t-shirt to attract attention to my repentance. I pray, I sincerely pray that I act different, speak differently and just plain treat people better.

We’re all complex beings and can’t jump off of our horse immediately, but hopefully we can look around and notice the company that we’re keeping. If the company we keep is not true to the Gospel, let’s do some addition and subtraction. Add who we normally wouldn’t be with and subtract those who don’t push us towards being the best person we can be.

Let’s wear our sorry’s in our actions so close to our hearts that they’re etched into our skin like a permanent tattoo, a constant reminder that our repentance gives way to life. It won’t be a sad reminder or a judgmental one, but a sign of grace woven into the tapestry of our being, in our brown skin, in our healing souls, in our sensitive tongues, in our active minds, in our loving touch.





Sometimes good things come out of mistakes.

14 08 2010

Sometimes good things come out of mistakes. Just look at humanity; God came into flesh to correct what our flesh botched up.

And our churches aren’t exempt from this “rule”.

I believe that the racially reconciled church is the phoenix that arises from the ashes of Church-Gone-Wrong and Church-Done-Wrong. Only after one makes the mistake of being in a homogenous church does the racially reconciled church make any sense, not the multicultural church under white leadership, but the racially reconciled church. A church that is still learning what it means to live into its title and defining what it means to be a church let alone reconciled, let alone racially reconciled is the definition of a successful and reconciled church.

It seems that we have to mess up and being around so many “us-es” (you know, they look like us, talk like us, like what us likes – okay, I’ll stop) that we get tired of us and realize that a bunch of us-es gets boring, and isn’t right all the time and has no accountability because there is no deviation of hearts or variation of discernment, but us.

When we get tired of us, we get desperate for we. And where we is, God can be because we isn’t a branch of “us” but a different race altogether: it seeks difference, and disagreement and experiences that look nothing like us-es and joins together, shares power, shares influence, shares say-so, shares sermons, shares perspectives together all the while avoiding “them” language lest they be counted in the “them” number.

Sometimes we have to really get it wrong to open up ourselves enough to get it right. And we give more to we than we selfishly gathered for “us”. That’s how Jesus works. We should give freely because God gives to us freely. We will know if we’re overly attached to some false deity if we can’t let it go because free anything isn’t easy for us.

But struggles create stronger bonds and strengthened resolve to face the next trial as we not us.








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