Day 31: Conclusion: This I Know {31 Days of #WOKE}

Day 31: Conclusion: This I Know {31 Days of #WOKE}

Would you buy a remodeled home with a cracked foundation? Would you forgo the inspection, assuming that because all appears well, then all is well?

That’s how I feel being born in 1979 on the heels of the Civil Rights movement and school desegregation, without full awareness of the racial history that preceded me. Like moving into a remodeled house without realizing its very foundation is damaged, I was oblivious to living in a world where all was not as it seemed.

It’s foolish to ignore the bearing history has on the present. We pretend slavery, segregation and Jim Crow were in the distant past, when those events continue to seep into old fissures, splitting our cracked foundation even wider. How could the fact that my mother did not attend school, drink from the same water fountain or sit in a doctor’s waiting room with a person of color not have any bearing on how I perceive black people today?

For the past 30 days I have been writing, reading, thinking, eating, drinking and breathing race. The simple fact that I don’t have to think about race on most days reveals that my world caters to people just like me. In the U.S., I am never inconvenienced, denied, discriminated against or made to feel inferior because of my race. I can go about my day without giving a single thought to the color of my skin.

Truthfully, the only times I’ve been painfully aware of my skin color was when I was a minority: as a teacher in a school in inner city Chicago; and on mission trips to Tajikistan, Costa Rica, Uganda, Nicaragua and China. In Chicago, I felt ineffective and paralyzed by my race, but in every other place I felt honored, admired and even revered—simply because I was born with white skin. Though it made me feel uncomfortable at first and I tried to shrug off the attention, I admit I began to enjoy it. Now I can confess: I liked being white because of the privileges it earned me. I knew I could use my whiteness as currency if I needed to get a visa, buy the last bus ticket or find a seat in a crowded room.

Though I’m thankful for some readers who have followed me on this journey toward being more “woke,” I wasn’t out to convince anyone of anything. Instead, I hoped you would learn along with me. Now, I can’t read a book without wondering if the author is a person of color. I notice when all the characters in my children’s books are white or if there is not a single person of color sitting in church. I drive by schools and parks in neighborhoods we could potentially move to, hoping to spot more than a few children with brown skin skipping next to the white ones. I look for opportunities to talk to my children about race.

But as a person who trusted Jesus with my life 27 years ago, I need to process these issues in light of my faith, which, if I’m honest, has wavered. Not because Jesus changed, but because I started looking at and being disappointed by the white church instead of looking at Jesus himself.

Jesus moved in the margins. Though he came from the “right” pedigree of the times, He was criticized for mingling with undesirables. He risked disgrace by talking with a promiscuous woman, being touched by a bleeding woman in a crowd and having his feet soaked with the perfume and tears of another “sinful” woman in a room full of self-righteous men.

With his brown, rough, Middle Eastern fingers, the carpenter, Jesus, touched the untouchable—lepers, demon possessed and those burning with fever. He welcomed wild, curious, innocent little children, telling everyone else to become like them. He broke the rules: throwing over tables in the temple, doing the work of eating and healing on the Sabbath holy day and even calling himself God.

As a child, Jesus narrowly avoided genocide, only escaping by becoming a refugee in Egypt with his parents. Three kings journeyed from the east to lay gifts at his feet and worship the baby king born in the Middle East. Jesus was not white, nor did he say that white people were God’s chosen people. The country called The United States would not exist for another 1700 years.

Jesus did not promise comfort, acceptance or power. In fact, he guaranteed suffering, hardship and death. He told his followers to fall to their knees and wash one another’s mud-crusted feet. He said to show hospitality to the stranger and to outdo one another with generosity. He told them that if they wanted to bear fruit, they needed to die. If they wanted to live, they had to die. If they wanted to love, die.

Jesus cracked the dividing wall of hostility that once separated the Jewish people and everyone else (Eph. 2:14). Jesus made it possible for every person who admitted they were lost and named him as Lord of their lives to be grafted in to his incredible tree of life.

Jesus defeated death, rising from the dead after three days. A low-class woman was the first to see him, touch him and tell others. And with this resurrection, eternal life rushed in like a river undammed.

But the promise wasn’t just hope after death, but Spirit Fruit in life. We could have: Unconditional love for the unsavory, the undesirable and the undeserving. Joy in suffering, but also laughter in abundance. Peace in being beloved children of God–nurtured, adored and protected. Patience in stress and anxious times. Kindness even when treated cruelly. Goodness when the world applauded evil. Faithfulness that God wins. Gentleness when attacked, persecuted or treated unfairly. And self-control to keep moving forward when all they wanted to do was run away, lie down or fight back.

These Spirit Fruits became accessible to every person– regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic class, though those in the margins seemed closer to God because they had less distance to fall. God’s arms extended and his love capacity welcomed all who would come to him. Like children all jumping in bed with their parents at dawn, kicking, scratching and laughing at frigid feet and bedhead, every person who knows Jesus shares family privileges.

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” –Gal. 3:26-28

We are all one in Christ. We maintain the beauty of our skin tone, language and culture, but all sit under the blanket of Christ thrown over our legs, warming, comforting and claiming us. The fire light strikes our faces—tan, olive, chocolate, coffee, caramel and cream colors—as we all share the same covering, laughing in the light of His unrelenting love.

The foundation of the United States is cracked. Just as we would not move into an immaculate house with a faulty foundation, so we shouldn’t exist in the world without studying where we went wrong and how we can repair the rift.

Being woke means refusing to live in a house with a broken foundation and pretend that all is well. Although we did not cause this breach, if we do nothing to repair it, then we are good as guilty. As a white woman who wants to follow Jesus as he moves in the margins, I confess my silent complicity in a broken system. I confess my ignorance, pride and complacency.

Christians should be leading the way when it comes to racial reconciliation. And as white Christians, we should be the first to fall on our faces and the last to criticize, be defensive or cover up. This is the way of Jesus. We grind our knees in the ground, making the repairs we know to make on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We educate ourselves, speak out, write, read, teach and listen. But mostly, we just listen.

And yet we know our hope is more secure than our society. We have an unseen foundation that cannot be moved. We have a God who brings the high, low and the low, high. He draws the marginalized, oppressed, invisible and ignored into the same building and gives them equal status as children of God. Paul put it like this:

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” –Ephesians 2:19-22

Our spiritual building is anchored by Christ. In him, we rise to become a place where the Spirit of God dwells. We each reflect a facet of God’s glory, a piece of his image and a strength that someone else may not have. We need each other. Without different skin tones, languages, laughs, cultures, expressions of worship and ethnicities, we have an incomplete picture of the kingdom of God in the world.

***

This concludes 31 Days of #WOKE, though I know it is not the last post I’ll write on these issues. Check out any posts you missed in the series here:

1. Introduction

2. The Year I Went All ‘Dangerous Minds’

3. My #Woke Journey {for SheLoves Magazine}

4. Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {stereotypes}

5. Lent and Prophetic Lament

6. (Guest Post) “What are you?” by Vannae Savig

7. Without a Voice (poem) 

8. Three of My Favorite Podcasts with Women of Color

9. Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1)

10. Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2)

11. Resources for Talking to Our Kids about Race

12. Just Mercy

13. Words (a poem)

14. The Culture of Whiteness

15. White in Uganda

16. White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne

18. What I Want for My Children

19. How to Engage in Racial Reconciliation When You Live in a White Bubble

20. The Problem with the Wordless Book

21. What Ever Happened to Integration? (Part 1)

22. Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2)

23. The People We See and the People We Don’t

24. (Guest Post) A Letter to My 13-year-old Self by Leah Abraham

25. Divided by Faith (book)

26. The White Savior Complex (thoughts on short, medium and long-term missions)

27. A Lesson Plan for Talking to My Preschooler about Race for the First Time

28. Two Poems//Teaching in Inner City Chicago

29. Transcript of ‘The Race Talk’ with my Kids

30. Talking Race with my Southern Mama (an Interview)

31. Conclusion: This I Know

 

Day 23: The People We See and the People We Don’t {31 Days of #WOKE}

Touching my frizzy brown hair, artificially padded hips and wire-rim black glasses, I smiled into the mirror. This disguise would be perfect.

Navy Pier on a clear sunny day was the setting for the greatest church youth group contest ever: a human scavenger hunt. I altered every part of my appearance I could, even stepping into a new socioeconomic class. I borrowed a broom and dustpan from the janitor at the school where I taught and took up my new position at Navy Pier as a sanitary worker.

I walked through kiosks and tourists, sweeping up popcorn kernels and trash for the next hour, hoping no one would suspect I was not actually an employee. A few times I saw other workers and congratulated myself on the pure luck of choosing the exact right color polo shirt to accompany my khaki pants. I managed to sneak out of sight before they realized I was a phony.

I hadn’t accounted for the amount of times people would ask me for directions to the bathroom. I shocked myself with how quick I was to lie (*ahem* “act”): “This is my first day on the job,” I’d say. Or, “I haven’t been working here very long.”

But there was something else I hadn’t accounted for: The way I was suddenly, magically invisible. People only noticed me when they needed me. No one paid attention to the janitor with the frizzy hair.

My disguise was so convincing that I passed the youth group students numerous times without them recognizing me. When the set amount of time had elapsed, I swept my way over to the McDonalds we had picked as the rendezvous point. A group of ten youth sat at a round table facing the ships docked at the pier.

“Excuse me,” I said, indicating I needed to sweep under their feet.

“Oh, sorry,” they said, moving out of the way.

I swept around the entire table without a single student looking me straight in the face. Even when I was practically touching them, they didn’t see me.

Because I held a broom, I was invisible.

***

I’m learning that part of being “woke” means noticing the unseen systems and people around me. I’m taking shovel to rigid ground and excavating the soil of my whiteness to see what I find there.

Jesus loved and sought out the invisible people living in the margins of society.

Passing a homeless man with a cardboard sign recently, I suddenly thought. “God loves that man as much as he loves me. He knows his name, has plans for him and longs to be known by him.” And the thought surprised me.

The thought revealed my assumption that I am more deserving of love than those lower on the totem pole of society.

But God loves the the homeless man panhandling money as much as he loves me. He is enthralled with the janitor, factory worker and Taco Bell worker. He knows the teenager in the failing school in the inner city and the gang-banger selling drugs for a living. He adores the undocumented immigrant working 60 hour weeks to support his family. God loves the terrorist, murderer and rapist–as much as he loves me.

God’s love is boundless. There is no one who escapes His notice.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Wake Up, White Church

Wounded, the Body of Christ walks with a limp. In the United States, our black and brown brothers and sisters are suffering, so the evangelical church–the whole church–should ache with pain. Five generations of so-called freedom have not erased fifteen generations of slavery.

It’s time for the white evangelical church to notice.

I was stunned by these tweets from people of color in the wake of the election in November:

Yolanda Pierce @YNPierce Nov 8: White evangelicals: you’ve decisively proven that you love your whiteness more than you love your black & brown brothers & sisters in Christ.

Soong-Chan Rah@profrah Nov 9 White evangelicals, you could have stood up and said that following Christ and the body of Christ is greater, but you chose to pursue power.

M.DivA@sista_theology Nov 8#ElectionNight taught me that white evangelicals will NOT be denied their privilege. They will trample the cross to hold onto it.

Leslie D. Callahan@fifthpastor   Nov 8 By the way, white evangelicals I see you. I see your racism and sexism. I see your repudiation of the very values you said matter.

Nicole Chung@nicole_soojung Nov 8 This is white people. White people voting directly *against* their neighbors, their friends, some of their family. It’s a vote for violence.

Jamil Smith@JamilSmith Nov 8 Manhattan, NY I knew my country hated me. But this much?

Jemar Tisby, president of the Reformed African American Network told The Atlantic: “The vast majority of white evangelicals with whom I interact are on board and want to see a more racially diversified and unified church. However, when that same constituency overwhelmingly supports Donald Trump, I feel like they haven’t understood any of my concerns as a racial minority and an African American.”

Over the past year, God has taken a tiny fissure in my awareness and cracked it open into a growing knowledge of the pain experienced by people of color today. I’ve immersed myself in stories via podcasts, books and articles. I’ve intentionally followed as many people of color on social media as I can and sought out friends who are people of color.

Because of this newfound sight, I dreaded attending church the Sunday after the election. Instead, I downloaded sermons. Of the four sermons from white pastors, each spent two minutes talking about the election, only to carry on with their regularly scheduled programming.

But the sermons by black pastors I downloaded? Most scrapped their plans and devoted the entire service to preaching on the sovereignty of God in these uneasy times.

The fact that white pastors did not have to talk about race following the election is an indicator of the privilege inherent in white evangelical churches.

Ignoring the Ache

The western church loves to compartmentalize. We talk about “our ministry” and excuse ourselves from the table of other ministries we may not feel passionate about. But listening to a wounded brother or a sister in Christ and trying to love them better is not a ministry, it is a call for every Christ follower.

The Bible says if one member suffers, all suffer together and if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV). We are all connected, but as the white church continues to ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters, we become numb to their pain until we no longer feel the ache.

Advocating for the security, equality and respect of our brothers and sisters in Christ is not an option; it is a mandate from Jesus Himself.

True Jesus-followers

In Mark 12:28-31 “one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 

 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

If we do not love our black and brown brothers and sisters–treating them with the same respect, attention and admiration as we expect to be treated–we cannot call ourselves lovers of Jesus.

I’ll be honest. I’m still grappling with my own latent and blatant racism. When I see several black men loitering around a gas station, without even thinking, I say, “This is a bad neighborhood.” I feel uncomfortable watching the TV show The Man in the High Castle where the Japanese have taken over the U.S. and white people are subservient to them. I expect I will be treated fairly if pulled over by police. I can live in a white bubble if I choose to. But the more I listen and learn, the more I realize we are far from living in a post-racial society.

I believe Jesus wants racial justice and radical change to begin with the church. The church is for healing, reconciliation, listening, learning, lament, growth and transformation. Yes, it is a place for studying the Bible, but many churches worship the letter of the law instead of worshipping Jesus. We dole out the minimum amount of love in order to achieve the maximum amount of comfort.

The Heidelberg Catechism asks: “Is it enough that we do not murder our neighbor in such a way?”

The answer is profound:

“No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves,1 to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly toward them,2 to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.3

Are we protecting our brothers and sisters of color from harm as much as we can?

The church should be the place where people of color feel the absolute safest. It should be a place where we can delight over our differences because we each reflect a facet of the Imago Dei. It should be a stunning picture of heaven on earth.

But it is not. Right now, people of color do not feel safe with their white sisters and brothers in Christ—and that’s a problem for the entire church, not just the few who feel “called to racial justice.”

Many young people are walking away from the church, longing to shed the baggage the term “evangelical” now carries. The white American church is in danger of becoming so irrelevant, self-absorbed and legalistic it will continue to lose members of the congregation who recognize society as doing more to help people than the church is. It’s time for the church to wake up.

So what do we do?

Mostly, we shut up and listen. At first, at least. Michelle Higgins says, “Without humility, there is no solidarity.” We first take the posture of a learner.

We can seek further education individually or as groups. We form book clubs, start prayer groups or attend conferences. We find friends who look different from us. We partner with black churches to meet for meals, holidays or special services. Church leaders can prioritize having people of color on staff and on stage, regularly listening to their heart and voice.

I believe a movement is stirring.

African American sister Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge to Racial Unity, a group that focuses on bridging racial divides. It grew from 900 members in July of 2016 to 10,000 members in February of 2017. After the election, Latasha tweeted:

Tasha@LatashaMorrison Nov 16 many POC have been disheartened at the looking away of many White evangelicals. I’m encouraged by those choosing to stand. #bethebridge

White people are beginning to “get woke.”

Nothing New for POC

Our country is spinning wildly and church itself is a dizzying experience. It’s tempting to walk away. But ironically, the greatest solace I’ve found is from my sisters and brothers who are people of color. Why? Because this is not the first time many of them have felt out of control, afraid or had their voices suppressed. These tweets testify to this:

Broderick Greer@BroderickGreer Nov 16 For some of us, the terror began long before Trump’s rise.

Broderick Greer@BroderickGreer  Nov 16 And so, this feeling of insecurity isn’t new, it’s just more pronounced.

The Sunday after election day, African American Pastor Eric Mason of Epiphany Fellowship shared a sermon entitled “In God We Trust.” In it, he acknowledged that “there wasn’t a divide made, there was a divide that existed prior to this election. It just exposed this divide.” He said, “Sometimes you need for something to happen on earth so that you can look up to heaven.” And “There is nothing that sneaks past the fingers of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.”

He described November 9th like this: “The clouds were still there. I still had mobility in my limbs. I was able to breathe. I blinked my eyes and I looked … and I said, ‘Hold on, you mean to tell me that this election didn’t stop the universe from being held in its place?’”

He continued, “This election did not move anything.”

Yes, God is in control, but the white evangelical church still has work to do. We need to open our eyes and acknowledge that all is not as it should be. In an age where truth is seen as “alternative fact,” we must advance toward, not away from each other. We are not whole until we suffer together.

White church, it’s time to wake up.

***

1 Matt. 7:12; 22:39; Rom. 12:10
2 Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:36; Rom. 12:10, 18; Gal. 6:1-2; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; 1 Pet. 3:8
3 Ex. 23:4-5; Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 12:20-21 (Prov. 25:21-22)

 

Be sure to sign up for email updates, because you don’t want to miss this:

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

Beginning March 1st, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

 

 

 

 

"If we do not love our black and brown brothers and sisters--treating them with the same respect, attention and admiration as we expect to be treated--we cannot call ourselves lovers of Jesus." --Leslie Verner

 

I Want the Fire {#oneword365}

 

 

I wouldn’t classify myself as a charismatic. I remember hordes of high school students being slain in the spirit at a youth group in a mobile home I used to visit. I chose to hug my knees to myself, hoping to disappear in the corner. As a good Southern Baptist, I was taught to treat the Holy Spirit with suspicion. After college, I settled into an Evangelical Free church in Chicago for about fifteen years. The denomination was so subtle that my husband thought it was nondenominational for the first several years he attended. It had women elders, practiced listening prayer, taught the Bible, integrated the arts in worship services and looked for ways to serve the community. So yeah, the Holy Spirit was welcome, if not the main event.

Last year I picked one word to focus on for the year (because apparently that’s what good bloggers do), thinking I’d write about it frequently and keep it out in the forefront of my mind. During one of the hardest years in my life, the word “enjoy” seemed like a piece of spinach stuck in the teeth of life—very much out of place and unwanted. And so I was ready to try again this year and decided that my word should be “thankfulness,” (just another variation of “enjoy,” really). Because maybe this year I’d be able to get it right.

So I was surprised when I read the beginning of Luke and God seemed to nudge me towards another, much scarier word.

In a story my four year old won’t allow me to read because he can’t stand to hear about John eating locusts, John the Baptist tells the crowds he is a sideshow compared to the one who is coming soon. “I’m just baptizing with water,” he says, “but there is one who is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

I understand ritualistic baptism rooted in reality, logic and rules.  I do the do’s and don’t do the don’t’s. I was baptized—twice—and know that it is a symbol of dying to our old lives and living on in the newness of life. But sometimes I feel more like I was baptized by the waters of John the Baptist, instead of by the fire of Jesus.

Secretly, I long for the drama of fire and Spirit. Like John the Baptist, I want more.

I want the fire.

And so this year, I’m praying to be baptized with fire and Spirit. It’s a terrifying prayer, really, because the fire of God is not always about cozy scenes of snuggling under patterned fleece blankets, drinking tea by the fire with a kitten curled up at our feet.

Fire kills. It incinerates, scars and destroys.

But it is also a beacon in the darkness; provides heat for the shivering and purifies precious metals so the most exquisite elements remain.

In Luke 2 and 3, the Holy Spirit directs, empowers and fills—even as it leads Jesus to be tempted for 40 days in the desert. The Holy Spirit is much less concerned with our safety than we are.

In Acts 2, tongues of fire fall on the room of Jesus followers, allowing them to speak in other languages and preparing them to go out into the world and bring the message of Jesus. Fire is energy. It enlivens and electrifies.

For the first time in a while, as I open the Bible in the darkness of the winter morning, usually nursing a tiny baby with one hand while holding my thin leather Bible with the other, my heart burns as I read.  It’s been nearly 28 years since I kneeled in my bedroom and gave my life to Jesus.  The majority of that time I’ve been moving forward, sometimes running, other times leaping or crumpled down on the ground before I can take another step in the journey with Jesus.

Most times, I have followed Jesus in the way you keep loving your spouse on the ordinary, exhausting days of sweeping up dried pieces of rice and peas, high-fiving one another as you pass the baton of one responsibility to move on to the next. You love even when you don’t have the fire or passion. You love because you promised you would and love looks so different from how you expected. It looks more like the pauper shining shoes than it does the princess in the ballroom.  It looks like falling into bed together with a baby between you, patting each other’s shoulder, saying a prayer and then one of you getting out of bed again just after you’ve drifted off because the toddler wants her water and the doll that she left in the toy bin downstairs.

Loving Jesus, walking with Him–knowing and giving your heart to him–looks a lot like THAT. It is mundane, familiar and comfortable.

But sometimes—just sometimes—passionate, inside-searing, chest-pounding love stirs in your heart and makes it glow, expand, contract and beat faster. The tongues of fire come down–or else they take the form of an ordinary dove that you JUST KNOW is not an ordinary dove–and you feel Jesus is with you—IN you—fueling you and moving you on in your journey.

Fire is not the norm, but you don’t always know you have it until it’s gone.  Like the men on the Emmaus road who walked with Jesus, chatting away and didn’t recognize him until they sat down to eat together.  “Wait, weren’t our hearts burning within us as he walked with us on the road?” they asked.

Oh wait, that was JESUS.

Jesus still makes cameos in our beautiful, normal lives.

I want to be purified, empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit in a way I never have before. I want to remember why I fell in love with Jesus in the first place and carry his flame within me in such a way that I may lead others back to dry land.

This year, I’m praying for the fire.