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.





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.





The Glorious Gospels (The Advent Addition)

13 12 2010

Luke 1:26-45

I’m a member of a small predominantly white Presbyterian church in North Durham where people of African-descent make up approximately one-third of the congregation. I’ll be forthcoming with you, I am in this church, a church unlike any church I have ever been in, because I am interested in seeing something major happen: I want to see racial reconciliation wrestled with and I want it to overpower us leaving us limping but re-named, disabled to do what we used to do, but able to move gingerly and with more care. With younger graduate and college students becoming more and more regular the percentage of African-Americans may very well decrease sharply which can be disheartening, but this potential is not as disheartening as another statistic within my church.

As an American African young woman, I’ve already been limping throughout this difficult ecclesial shifting process. I’ve lost a number of things, all for the sake of walking with the Lord more faithfully. And it hurts severely every single step of the way; and some sort of ecclesial hip-replacement is not an option. I journey on though, because I do not believe I am called to join a young, vibrant African-American church where worship music and preaching style are what I am most accustomed to, or go to a Nigerian church where I could appreciate a few cultural nuances, but I feel called to a church opposite myself. And I believe with my whole heart that right now I am supposed to be a part of it. But many times I literally feel that I can’t be this church, not because if my race, my ethnicity or my gender, but because of my age.

Cultural differences aside as they are an entirely separate conversation, age-difference is unfortunately and currently too big to overcome. The age of Ageism is alive and well in my church and in the church in general today. I see it all over the place– young all black and all white non-denominational churches are springing up as old white and black mainline churches are dying or barely surviving. Young adults go elsewhere to worship; they create the space for worship that consults their age and time because there is no room for their being amongst the heavy older traditions in many mainline churches. Even young mainline churches are a falsity—they seem to be more like a non-denominational body dressed up in mainline clothing, exercising the appearance of tradition but operating differently.

There is an apparent divide that both young and old church see, but neither know how to nor want to suture back together, because frankly, both groups, young and old, don’t need each other. They have their space for and way of worship and the other group has theirs. Everyone is happy, fine, thriving in their own way; there is no need to continue naming a “problem” that many see as the other’s fault anyway. If the other would just do it their way then all would be well. There is no need for correction or inclusion; division rules the day!

And I do not understand why. I see a problem, a huge problem– the body of Christ, the church, has missed something vastly commented on throughout scripture; we have completely missed how scripture guides and addresses age-discrepancy. We have mastered ignoring the potential for solution. It is problematic not only that both groups do not care for the other enough to sit down and realize church together, but also that they must create pseudo-churches to live church guilt-free “having it their way” projecting their desires onto how the church is supposed to function.

Something is amiss, and a joyous moment of connect between two Jewish women carrying children shows us this in a gentle way.  

Elizabeth and Mary, relatives old and young are both pregnant, Elizabeth two-thirds of the way further along than Mary is too old to have a child. Mary, a young teenager engaged to be married is too unmarried to have a child. Both women are excited because they have the honor of visits from Gabriel to relay a message that the children they carry will do great things: one will point to the other who is making a way for the world to be saved.

But they are both different ages and both bearers for future and important ministries. And they don’t ignore the other to brag that their child will be better than the other’s. No, they both rejoice that the other has a minister within them and they gloat not only over their own pregnancies but the life inside the other woman. They are giggly and excited because the other is also bringing something into this world that the world needs to be saved.

Mary doesn’t gloat that as the young mother-to-be she bears the “best baby” and that the older Elizabeth’s contribution isn’t important; Elizabeth doesn’t gloat that since she will be a mother first that her experience cancels out the voice of the younger Mary. Both babies are prophetic witnesses to the loving and saving power of God. One isn’t God but baptizes God. Both live sacrificial lives that ultimately lead to their grotesque demises. But both mothers, old and young rejoice with each other.

Luke 1:39-45 says it all.

The ministry of the eldest leaps with joy when the younger comes bearing a ministry too. What is most awesome is that the older gets the Holy Spirit in the presence of the younger mother. Her baby gives the greeting, paves the way for the ministry of the younger and she catches the Holy Spirit. She is overcome by a Spirit of joy and wisdom and power. The eldest does not receive the Spirit because of the younger per se, but because she is happy to be with the younger, to see the younger, to welcome the younger into her home and into her spirit, she feels within in her joy for the younger’s ministry. Their ministries connect in that moment bound by the wondrous power of the Holy Spirit; and it overtook Elizabeth (Mary has her own moment later, see Luke 1:46-55). The Holy Spirit repeats Gabrielle’s words through Elizabeth. The older blesses the younger, she doesn’t discourage. The younger is blessed because she accepted God’s will for the ministry that would be birthed through her.  The older encouraged the younger. The older was humbled by the presence of the younger because she had something special in her.
 
And Mary sings directly after this overwhelmed by her joy and the joy of her older relative Elizabeth. This moment doesn’t become a moment of comparing ministerial efficacy but a moment to praise God. John praises. Elizabeth praises. Mary praises. The Son of God, God in the flesh, is coming.

 

The ministry of the old doesn’t scold or judge the young, the ministry of the young doesn’t ignore or gloat in the face of the older claiming to carry something better. But both praise God. Both honor one another. Mary first greets Elizabeth, then Elizabeth overwhelmed with joy and God’s Spirit, blesses Mary. Ironically in giving this blessing, Elizabeth wears the prophetic cloak that her son will soon enough wear. Her role is just as important as her son’s role.
 
The women, the ministries complement one another. They don’t compete. They don’t call each other irrelevant or to blame the other for the state of the church, but they come together, love the other’s presence, and worship God together, still in their own voices, but together. At the end of the day, all the glory went to God, not the bodies who carried the ministries, but to the Creator of the bodies, the Creator of the church, to Jesus the Savior of the world. The Holy Spirit dwelled within them and they allowed Her to move them towards words of praise and song. Old and young disintegrated into praise and worship. And reconciliation reached its peak.
 
Prayer: Holy Spirit bring blessings to our lips for the other and a song to our heart for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, 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.








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