Racial Reconciliation is for the ENTIRE body of Christ so I’m Redefining What It Means

12 08 2015

I’m in a place of psychological shift. The way I think is being altered, and I’m happy for it. I hope that as I get older, I get wiser and I learn how to constructively question things I have believed in order to enter into new and truer forms of belief. I don’t want to believe blindly, but I want to build belief based on how I build and live my life.

For me, I believe in racial reconciliation in the church. It is something that entered my mind ten years ago and has never left. It is something that has entered my mission six years ago and has revealed itself as a true demonstration of church.

But I may be a rare being. I am a black woman highly aware of racial, gender, sexual and class dynamics. I spent a portion of my childhood, teens and early twenties in black churches (which I am sure holds its own degrees and rankings of how “black church” I am). But that has been my experience. Have I always fit into said black churches? I would argue that I never have. As a Nigerian, it is hard not to remain an outlier or to become the link back to Africa so many are desperate for they don’t realize they’re limiting what my connection with them could be because of it. So I have always been either outsider or a means to the inside, back to Africa. Neither way have I been particularly useful to or connected to the history of the black church in the United States.

But my story took an odd turn in my mid-twenties. I joined a white church in hopes to be part of the nearly impossible mission of the church to be reconciled to one another. And the area I am most interested in doing so is through race and ethnicity.

Ephesians 2:12-16 is a key text in reconciling work, but many miss its great power. It demonstrates the power of God to bend time – many overlook this and skip to Jew-Gentile relations (we’ll leave that conversation for another post). This movement is too quick if it overlooks what time is doing and meaning for the church.

Eph. 2 talks about the reconciling work that Christ has already done that we are living into in the present – though it has already been done. We are currently trying to live into the past and future in the present. We are thus trying to figure out how to live into the reality Christ has already set before us – we are trying to make what has been will be. Reconciliation is about transcending time, moving beyond the past while requiring it, living into the future all the while not knowing it that well. We need a more complex understanding of racial reconciliation – at the bare minimum to honor how time is working in our conceptualizing of it. But we stick with our simple strategies of what some (mainly white) people have guessed it should be. The emphasis on what time means to reconciliation should place our attention of what the “we” means as well.

We (majority and minority churches alike) often fail to understand how we’ve constrained racial reconciliation to moments of white solution-creating if we think (or buy into the notion, yes, even through rejecting it, that) racial reconciliation means minorities entering into white church spaces. It seems a bit offensive to reduce Christ’s redemptive work to the project of white churches assuaging its guilt of having no intention of not remaining white churches.

So this brings me to my question: If racial reconciliation is not neo-missions or neo-colonial in it being created by, conducted within and made for white churches, what is it? If all churches minority and majority became involved in constructing the articulation of its being (as it constitutes what being church even means), can racial reconciliation look different than what white churches have believed it to be which has forced many minority churches to avoid it? What if racial reconciliation is not based on a relationality of “white to everyone” else, but of “everyone else to everyone else” (Gentile to Gentile)?

Shouldn’t racial reconciliation then be steeped in the social, religious and political? If we follow a religious Lord whose purpose was to exist in a political world and overcome it and a social Lord whose purpose was to exist in a religious world and overcome it and a political Lord whose purpose was to exist in a social world and overcome it – how should we be?

Redefining Racial Reconciliation

Shouldn’t racial reconciliation, in its true form, in its only form declare, “Black Lives Matter”? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches make living wage and economic equality its top agenda? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches have at its forefront the issues of its women – as we are all one body? Shouldn’t racial reconciliation in churches take into account that political, social life and religious institutions can create balance or imbalance between races and ethnicities (in its denominationalism, polities, and practices) – and move to dismantle the oppressive mechanics of this? Racial reconciliation in church should influence voting, social causes, our relationship to wealth and security. Shouldn’t it challenge all of us to our cores? Shouldn’t it be a means of discipleship?

I am advocating that the notion of racial reconciliation be stripped from white churches as their project and be claimed by all churches as church mission and make up. Racial reconciliation should look more like the Civil Rights Movement (which the earliest black advocates and creators of the focus of Racial Reconciliation in churches were pushing for) rather than “Unity Day” at church. Racial reconciliation in church is precisely that force of good that lives primarily outside of liturgy and spills into the street, into the education system, into court rooms, into businesses and political offices. It engages any and everything that affects race – and friends, everything affects race. Thus, I want to submit my own definition of racial reconciliation.

Racial reconciliation is a movement of justice, love and community generated within but not limited to the Christian church seeking to really live into the redemptive work of Christ on social, political, economic, gendered, sexual and ethnic and racial levels (as racial includes notions of marginality). It aims to live into the new creation on earth that the work of Christ has already established, by attending to these areas that need catching up, in tangible ways towards equal and loving relationship with each other. Some could designate it as movement towards the reality of living into the Kingdom of God. In its most basic form, it is the work of beholding others in awe and majesty as the Lord does us.

Thus, to be clear: all churches should be engaging in racial reconciliation or reconciliation in general as it is discipleship. This means that some already are; but they are not the church bodies who claim it in their words. They claim it in their living. May white churches let go of their desire to have the power to name and may the entire body of Christ open its eyes to the parts of its body who have spent their lives learning how to master the art of life abundantly.

If we all don’t have a hand in what racial reconciliation means in the church, we are not the church.

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My Classism: (Christian) Othering through Food

11 11 2013

I’m in a confessing mood (or perhaps season), so here goes!

What’s the connection between my comprehensive look of surprise and disgust when my grandmother eats a two week old stew from the fridge and that moment when I make a (not quite) joke about my church’s potluck being all brown (casseroles, starches, and desserts) and lacking “any” green? What is happening when in the communal and sacred space of meal sharing at church, someone labels their food “socially conscious quinoa”?

Othering.

Othering holds them in common because othering is happening.

In moments of not-so-great decision-making, I and others in those moments of consumptive superiority have othered those that we care about – through food.

But I’ll speak from my perspective alone since I can only confess what I’ve done.

In my food othering, I have taken that which often theologically signifies inclusiveness despite class distinction and have made it the latest exercise in classism. I have turned the great feast into a space of reservations only fueling the reservations of fellow Christians to desire to be church with me. I have turned a meal together into something it was never intended to be – about me.

And I do this not realizing that I am tearing others down, but I do it in a fleeting attempt to self-name. I do it for no one other than myself. I want to name my perspective important and enriching.

But I and everyone else knows that this food-othering has nothing to do with the food.

I desire to be recognized not because of my food choices, but because something about my food choices reflect my quality of life. What I do and do not eat speaks something about my intelligence, my morality, my ability to be human properly. If I can make the right choices over and against so and so, then I win. I am ultimately (subconsciously) judged as the smarter one, the better one, the more intelligent one in this (non-existent) competition. Something about my perceived quality of life renders me in competition against my family and church.

I neglect the fact that this so called quality of life is only a melancholic myth and really an exposé on my own insufficiencies.

My disapproval of people not following in my nutritional footsteps (or to be honest, my attempt to follow the latest eating trend) disturbs any chance of life with everyone. I let food fantasy disrupt the chances of community.

And, again, the sad part is that it is all in my head. This mentality that I subtly try to push on others through my disapproving looks, or biting words, or conscious decision to not eat certain things because “It’s not good for your health,” “It’s not organic,” etc./“insert classist comment here” only speaks to my shortcomings that I try to push off onto others.

It is not that “they” have managed to do eating wrong, it is that I have managed to misunderstand food and the table as a place where I meet God in meeting with others. I have managed to allow the vanguard movements around food culture to dismantle the Christ movement demonstrated in the moments surrounding food, and not the food itself.

I have missed the purity of communal eating not being in the food itself, but in being with the people with which I am blessed to have food.

I have missed the fact that my grandmother eats what I would not because she has been taught to not waste food if one has the opportunity to have it. And I missed the opportunity to sit with her as she ate and ask her stories about her life. Instead of a communal moment, I saw her food choice as a place of generational (and if I may be honest, cultural) difference. I uplifted my fabrication of difference in the face of communal opportunity.

When I make wise-cracks about the fact that there is fried chicken instead of roasted chicken at the potluck, on a basic level, I’m just being a jerk. But on a deeper level, my comments are not about the food or the people who brought the food. My comments are about me and the fact that I find it most important to create class separation rather than see the special moment I have to eat a meal with and be in relationship with someone who I call my brother or sister in Christ.

I don’t have it all figured out, but I imagine the best thing to do is to call out what needs to change so that others can join in in keeping me accountable.

But I also hope to spark another movement. I know that food culture is important in Durham, but I really do pray that we don’t let this food trend get in the way of what food could mean and has always meant in the church: it signifies togetherness and making sure everyone has enough, not a middle-class cultural trend of showing off our retro-something awesomeness (aka trying to “find myself” through following the latest trends – so a word of advice would be to learn myself in hearing what God has said about me and what my family, friends and church loves and cherishes about me. When I leave discovering my own identity to my own devices, I trend, I shop around, and I falsely think that I am the sole author of myself).

So maybe we can let Jesus and the church be, not awesome, but certainly bigger than us and our classist practices – just this once. Okay, or forever.





Weight, Don’t Tell Me! Jesus Died for Fat People Too?!

7 04 2012

*** I’ve been putting off a post like this for years, but I guess it’s time for the conversations to start flowing! ***

Sometimes what the Bible says seems crystal clear at first until that thing called contradiction forces its way in forcing you to question not God’s clarity, but your understanding.

Today was one of those days for me. Walking across campus to get my lunch, I passed by a swing-like seating area directly parallel to the dining hall. Filled with people enjoying the good weather and each other’s company I ran into a slight biblical dilemma.

Scripture says that Jesus considered the child among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He even says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18, NRSV) And this is my dilemma.

I know the text is speaking to purity of heart and ability to see Jesus as one who can be trusted, who you can give all of your love to, the one who cannot fail you. You come to Jesus exactly as you are and completely release yourself to Him. I get that. Total trust. Check.

What I do not get are the finer details of these pre-pubescent spiritual teachers. They are mean, or rather, they are honest which in turn becomes identified as mean (by sensitive adults like myself! Haha!).

Walking to and coming back from getting lunch, I heard a young girl whisper to the five or so kids around her, “Wow, look at how fat she is!” and “There is that girl again, so fat!”

I get it. I am fat. And no matter how nice people want to be, they can’t say, “No, you’re not fat!” because it is untrue. And I am an advocate of truth. I will say that I am working on getting to a healthier weight, but until then, I guess I will have to continue to hear kids whisper (or quietly exclaim) the truth.

And I will be honest, this truth hurt! I wanted to call her ugly or tell her how rude she was but this would not work out for three reasons: 1) She could not have been more than 6 years old and many times what comes off of a six-year-old tongue is not filtered too carefully; 2) My response would have been inappropriate and juvenile itself (plus there were adults around watching the kids, i.e. saying anything to a stranger-child would have caused suspicion and trouble); and 3) She was right!

I am fat. But what she failed to consider was why I am fat. Sure there is the technical aspect of eating too much in general, consuming too many sweets (my biggest weakness), not exercising enough (apparently walking to class will not cut it), etc. But then there are other aspects that she would not be able to process and consider.

In that moment, the child sees that I am fat but she does not consider why I am fat. She saw the “that-I-am” instead of the “why-I-am”.

The funny thing is that this girl was not entirely wrong. Her “that-I-am” observation skills were true. She saw the facts and she stated them.

But there was no way she could see everything.

She acted as a child would: she did not know it all, only some of it. But she was humble, completely honest, truthful, and engrossed in the aesthetic reality of my appearance.

It is interesting that this is what Jesus wants from humanity. He wants us to see Him and state the facts. He is kind. He is gentle. And there is something about Him that is extremely trustworthy, so we go to Him and believe what He says and follow His commands and know that somehow they are for our good. We become engrossed in pure faith.

There is nothing wrong with this, but it does show our shortcoming, our humanness. The best we can do is engage in blind faith, because we cannot see everything. We see only what our human vision tells us. The best we can do is humbly say, Lord, this is what I think I see and what I think I see is literally all I have to go by. This invites vulnerability, but also room for much error.

This is the downside of childlikeness, immaturity. The young girl saw the “that-I-am” and never thought to engage the “why-I-am.” Like this young girl the Pharisees see the “that-I-am” of many persons including the lame man (Mark 2), the bleeding woman (Matthew 9), and the man born blind (John 9) but fail to see the “why-I-am.” But the Pharisees prove even one step worse; they proceed to ignore the people around them. At least this girl allowed my condition to shock her!

The Pharisees know of these peoples’ conditions but can do nothing for them; therefore, over time, they do not see them. The “that-I-am’s” of these people do not phase them anymore. It has been filed away in the realm of forgetfulness along with these persons societal value, worth and importance. Like the young girl, the Pharisees let the “that-I-am’s” of people become their only definition and thus worth. But unlike, the young girl, in that moment the Pharisees have no reason to care about them anymore.

They are their condition, and this affects their spiritual and social participation.

This is terrible and sad and speaks to something very sinful in our human nature. People are forgotten or not cared for because they do not exist within a narrow norm. They are either forgotten or secretly despised.

I do not want this to be my fate. I do not want my appearance to be (secretly) disgusting to you. (I would have to devote an entire blog post alone to the secret and many times not so secret aesthetic musings we hold about each other within the body of Christ!)

I think it is unspoken in some churches and over-spoken in others (wrapped up in the language of “healthy spirit, healthy body” etc.) that the place of the overweight believer is a problem (and unfortunately I think it has less to do with their health and longevity as it does appearance and how a church “looks” not only spiritually, but also aesthetically).

Fat does not fit. It does not fit into the style of clothes that “this church wears.” It does not fit into the beauty and youth and energy a church is trying to convey. It does not fit into proper church clothes (i.e., it doesn’t look good in certain patterns of dress deemed appropriate). One’s “that-I-am” reality does not fit into a crucial aspect of the church, appearance. It does not fit into the constructed image of a pure, true Christian.

I press this issue of weight in the church because Jesus does not. For at least two decades I have wondered whether Jesus would be happy to or appalled to die for fat bodies: bodies that show “no concern for their health,” “don’t care how they look,” etc. Would Jesus want to die for bodies that apparently speak of that person’s negative life traits and attributes, their failures? I often wondered, would Jesus be okay with resurrecting a body that many assume shows a disconnect with “proper” spiritual and physical values?

Honestly, I am still trying to get myself to stop wondering, but unfortunately I have not stopped yet. From the stories in Mark 2, Matthew 9 and John 9, I want to see and believe in the other side of what the Pharisees failed to see. The Pharisees try to trap Jesus in wrongdoing and wrong-saying, but what I want to see in these narratives is Jesus in right-doing. Jesus does not heal for Himself alone, (He certainly gets the glory which is crucial!) but He also heals so that the once-handicapped (or dead) person might believe in Him AND that others witnessing these events might believe in Him too.

Jesus never says anything about what these bodies look like. He never says, “Stand up, and go eat a salad!” or “Take heart, you need to take care of your body better!” or “Go! Join a gym!”

Mark 2 is especially touching. Jesus first says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (vs. 5) Jesus first saw the “why-I-am” in this situation. He never got hung up on the fact that this man did not look normal or healthy or whatever. He saw that this man’s heart and soul had something that plagued him far worse than his physical condition.

Jesus saw the “why-I-am” in this man and decided that he was not only worthy of being forgiven, but that he was also worth dying for. I would even say that Jesus saw the bigger “why-I-am.” He saw and experienced within His own life how sin was an evil, powerful force that could alter people’s beings and lives. Jesus knew this and thus decided that judging people based only on their “that-I-am” condition was futile. He attacked the root of the problem, and conquered it through His life-death work.

Jesus saw us as important enough to give up His life. I think this is what I want to know the church for. Growing up in church there were times that I wish I belonged “better” but I wish I had known that I was worthy enough. I wish I was not indoctrinated and poisoned by what the proper way of being a Christian was (spiritually, aesthetically, and ontologically).

I wish I knew that we are all worth dying for. We are all worth the same thing, Jesus’ death. I am definitely glad that I know now, and even if it will take me the rest of my life to truly know what this means, I am glad that I have latched onto the journey of finding out what this means.

Our looks, our appearance, our aesthetics have nothing to do with God’s grace. Jesus does not formulate truth by looking at humanity’s outward appearance, nor does Jesus assume that it is an individual act of recklessness that got us to the sinful state that we are in. Jesus looks at the totality of our lives and how sin has entered into everyone’s lives and says, “This is worth dying for.”

I am still working out my thoughts on the aesthetics of theology and ecclesial life, but there is something there, something troubling, that I hope to continue to discuss and expose until it can only cower under the light of Jesus’ truth.

The notion that if my body does not look like yours, there is something inherently wrong with it and me is a false one. This mentality and type of Christian practice is isolating and perpetuates sin, for no one looks the way they do (entirely) because of their own doing. There is always more to the story. There is always something in or on the soul that people literally cannot see. This mentality signals a childlikeness that we must move past.

We must trust in Jesus completely, yes, but we must also trust that what Jesus did, die for the entire world, means something greater that outward appearance. It means that no matter what we look like, Jesus saw it as valuable enough to die for. Jesus loved us that much. What I hope to ask until this evil is destroyed is, “Why don’t we try harder to get past our childish vision and live into God’s vision of love and acceptance?”

 

 





On Love and Hate: A Continuation of “Still Black, Still in the South, and Still a Woman”, A Review of “The Help” film

1 09 2011

The night I watched “The Help”, I wrote these intial thoughts, but definitely have more thoughts to flesh out.

In the movie portrayal of Katheryn Stockett’s “The Help”, one thing puzzled me that I did not have the tongue to articulate until now. The love/hate relationship with Africa.

The main antagonist, Hilly, a white upper-middle class staunch advocate for segregation, articulates in her being this troubling dynamic.

She advocates for missionary funds to be donated to “Africa”, but refuses to let her African-American maid, a descendant of Africa, use her toilet or loan money to her next African-American employee because she did not want to set a precedent of merely giving people what they could and should earn themselves (ironically contrary to her charity towards Africa).

This made me question, why create the opposing dynamics of demonstrating charity towards Africa and hostility towards African-Americans? This dual-mindset does not mesh. At least on the surface it does not. So I thought deeper.

Two factors that I have been mulling over in my mind can help me begin to think through and address this dilemma: 1) Mission-work/The church and 2) American values. Both missionary work/the church and American values play a factor with how the African and African-American are seen or not seen (in the case of Africa).

I’ll explore “Mission-work/The church” in this blog post.

Mission-work/The Church

The church seems to be the connecting factor between Africa and White Middle-Class
America. The church seems to be the connection between African-Americans and White Middle-Class America.

Hilly’s character is so important because she subtly and overtly gives commentary on the poor state of the White church in 1960s America. Hilly’s character gives us a glimpse inside the ecclesial reality (alongside the familial reality, which I argue is an ecclesial reality as well) that has shaped her view and understanding of darker bodies.

In other words, Hilly is not “just a racist”, but Hilly is primarily a Christian.

This is an important point that her character advertises throughout the entire film. Hilly is not inherently evil because her belief in Jim Crow, but she appears evil precisely (to borrow the emphatic word of Dr. Willie Jennings and Dr. J. Kameron Carter) because she is trying to be pure, to be a good Christian.

Her church, her ecclesial history, background and reality have shaped her social outlook as well, not only her spiritual life. Her faith has broken from the boundaries of being a personal journey that includes others, into a public demonstration that includes (i.e., excludes) others.

Hilly’s faith is being proclaimed in her toilet initiative. Hilly’s faith is being proclaimed in her mistreatment of her two housemaids. Her strange demeanor fluctuating with mean, sweet and sweetly-mean (or “condescendingly-helpful”) reflect the attitude of the white church towards the un-white.

This is most evident in her treatment with her maids and Aibileen, the maid who “is not hers” (oh, the language of possession). It is not seen but it is seen in her relationship with Africa.

Few people may have noticed, but Africa is absent totally from the film except when Hilly “speaks it into existence”. Africa created on the tongue of Hilly (perhaps alluding to a new understanding of “speaking in tongues” … perhaps 🙂 )

Outside of African-Americans, the only portrayal the viewer receives of Africans comes from the mind and mouth of a middle-class white woman hell-bent on saving it. But from what?

The viewer does not know what Africa is being saved from. Except itself. And maybe, albeit with great subtlety, that is what Hilly wants society to understand since this is how she has been taught Africa. Maybe that is how Hilly “knows” Africa and wants everyone else to know Africa. Since no one truly knows Africa, Hilly and co. have to create an Africa worth knowing, an Africa that is poor, destitute, dirty, in need of money and white help. Hilly creates in her tongue and actions, an Africa that needs saving. And she has no problem with herself and her society being the savior. She has no problem saving from a distance.

Hilly’s faith has everything to do with maintenance, maintaining her social and moral status among her peers. She maintains the status quo all-the-while helping the poor. She maintains the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping save a life. From a distance.

Oddly enough, Hilly serves a god of distance and discrimination, not disturbance and
disruption (of the social norms).

Hilly loves the idea of Africa her faith has helped create. Hilly loves the idea of helping African-Americans by employing them as long as they remain in her place (i.e., as long as they do not threaten her place as a Southern Christian socialite).

But Hilly also hates. She faithfully hates disturbing what church tradition has taught her social consciousness. She hates it when African-Americans step out of their place. She hates her authority and expertise in naming the other being questioned, or even worse, proved wrong. Hilly loves and at the same time, hates, Africa.

More thoughts to come on American values!





Still Black, Still in the South, and Still a Woman

18 08 2011

* Warning: These are my initial  thoughts. Things can change after some sleep and time to process, but alas, I  am avoiding both to get down my thoughts now*

 

Being a Student

In  a class I took a few semesters ago, a student was recalling a point he made in his weekly writing assignment about the role of white women and the power they possess in the difficult journey of Harriet Jacobs.

Unfortunately, a few pompous students pounced on his point arguing that the dynamics he saw
did not exist in the narrative. But they did. Because I wrote about it too but never had the courage to speak up in that moment and stand beside him.

Watching “The Help” painfully reminded me of what was there in the narrative of the seemingly helpless white woman that no one truly saw that day.

 

Being a Woman

I don’t think I’ve EVER felt this emotionally or physically queasy after watching a movie, than I did after watching “The Help”. Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help” is a story about one young white woman’s quest to tell the stories of the black female maids in 1960s Mississippi, or as they are commonly referred to, the help.

Skipping the plot summary and all, I just want to put this out there. The movie’s point is pretty clear: black female voices need to be heard about the injustice and blatant racism they encounter. The subconscious point is also clear: no matter how many victories and feel good moments the movie invites us into, the larger narrative points to the reality that black women are still the help. They still reside in the social constructs and constrictions of being black in arguably the most racist state of the South.

I get this.

What I don’t get is what to do with these feelings.

Ironically enough, white women are painted as the faces of evil in this film. So, from the first moments of the film I found myself asking, “Should I hate white women?” What is even more ironic is that white women are also the heroes and protagonists of the film. So, I had to ask myself, “Should I hate some white women and love the others?” Or perhaps, I should love the white women who don’t belong and end up being the crucified of the bunch. The awkward, educated but socially conscious prophetess. The economic outsider, but innocent innovator.

What do I do with all these white women and the complex psyches they fight through? And what do I do with the warm fuzzy feelings that these white women help paint in a socially horrific movie?

Directly after the movie I found myself telling the brave souls who went to see it with me, “I found myself ready to let go and cry at the touching moments, but then my conscious slapped me awake to the larger reality that no matter how many sappy moments this movie possesses and professes, black people’s lives still suck.” Please forgive my bitter language.

But it’s true. Their life still sucks. Their life still sucks even after they get a portion of the book’s earnings, even when they get a signed copy of the book, and even when something is finally done for them for once. Their life still sucks. They’re still caught in the web of racism, and hate, even after they’ve worked their entire lives to dispel the false rumors that garnered hate in the first place.

Yes, the larger narrative still looms: these women are discerning the best way to live life in hell. And in my opinion, hell is still hell.

Being African

What I do greatly appreciate about this movie is how my perspective has been broadened and challenged. As one who grew up in the cross-hairs of the African perspective and African American church, I’m starting to see why the black church is so important to many of my peers. I thought I knew, but I’m starting to see how much more there is to learn.

As a black person I felt extremely uncomfortable throughout the entire movie. But I have a pass. I don’t come from slave descendants. My grand and great grandparents did not deal with what the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of my peers did.

The black church has concrete significance. It was a way to survive hell on earth. It was where God dwelled when Satan loomed in the law, and the people and the churches of the Jim Crow South.

The things I challenge within the black church today like tradition of dress and even some points of theology were not in question. They were clung to. They were life.

I see that now, and hope to continue to see it as I figure out what role the black church plays today.

Being Christian

I love how this movie did a great job portraying the evils of segregation within the principles of Christian people. How outrageous the whole thing is displays the genius of this movie. Yes, Christians believed that their prejudice and hate was genuinely the right thing to do for their well-being and the well-being of their families.

Being a Christian in “The Help”, in a sense, portrayed the nuclear family as the church that needed to be protected, kept holy, kept clean from the influences and “diseases” of “others.” The community became constricted, the Bible a handbook of supremacy and domination, and the church monolithic. And white-washed.

How the white church saw the black church was never really engaged, which I would have loved to see portrayed. I imagine that it would fit comfortably within the narrative: expressing a complicated love and even more subtle disgust and hate.





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.





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.”








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