Weak is the “New” Strong {Guest Post}

By Nicole Woo

My best friend’s daughter hates her middle name. As a parent, how do you not take that one personally? After all, most of us spend about nine months contemplating, debating, and often agonizing over the matter. We sift through the millions of options, scrutinizing name meanings with a fine-toothed comb. We do the nickname test with first, middle, and last names to ensure survival through middle school, and then veto all options that remind us of mean people from childhood.

Some of us are so weighted down by this heavy responsibility that we are still deliberating on our drive to the hospital. (This happened to my grandparents, who succumbed to the stress by drawing names out of a hat. Thankfully, my uncle was named “George” instead of “Machine Washable.”) Somehow, we all arrive at the “perfect” name. Nailed it!

At least my friend thought so.

10 years later …

Daughter: “Ewe!!!! You named me after a ewe, as in ‘a female sheep’?” she recently lamented in tween dialect. So now she uses just her middle initial on official forms. Although it feels a bit to her parents like a slap in the face, I’m starting to see her point.

After all, the tide has turned in American culture. Who wants to be named after a female sheep when “strong” and “woman” may now proudly exist, side-by-side? This dynamic message is in plain view, everywhere: “Strong is the New Pretty” has replaced “Daddy’s Little Princess” on t-shirts, while Wonder Woman is smashing box office records. (Yeah, you get it.)

This “Strong Girl” movement is fascinating to observe. I sprouted up in the 80’s when playing football at recess and collecting GI Joe’s often earned me “weird girl” status. But now being strong, aggressive and independent is celebrated, embraced and even expected. Pop culture is riding this wave, so shouldn’t we too? It’s easy for me to get swept up in the excitement of it all, and what it might mean for this generation of girls. Lately, though, a few questions are nudging me to proceed with caution:

Is this celebrated version of “strong” the one that’s best for us to hear?

Is weakness really such a bad thing?

Are they mutually exclusive?

Last night I made a mental list of the strongest women I know personally. Honestly, I was pretty surprised at the names claiming the top spots.

My Strong “Girl” List:

• A mentor, in the throes of cancer, thanking God for the captive audience of clinicians who regularly drained fluid from her lungs: she boasted of His faithfulness and goodness at each appointment.

• A loved one, who rises each day resolved to forgive the man who blind-sided her, abruptly ending their long marriage.

• A friend, who recently endured the most complicated and high-risk pregnancy I’ve ever seen. Despite her pain, she selflessly and sleeplessly drags herself out of bed when her needy newborn cries.

Not the top three I imagined.

I thought it would include women like Jessie Graff, acclaimed Ninja Warrior and celebrated stunt double for Super Girl. (Disclaimer: I don’t really know her, but I did get my picture taken with her, so I’m counting it.) I recently saw Jessie complete a Ninja course on one leg, due to a knee injury. That was after she climbed a 40 foot rope, using mostly arm strength. No sweat.

But physical strength was not the defining trait I linked to “strong.” Nor were a slew of other qualities we often associate with the “Strong Girl” movement, like “confident,” “independent,” “leader,” “bold,” and “outspoken.” I am not editorializing these traits; in fact the women on my list have many of them. Rather, it was their entanglement with weakness – their faceoff with uninvited adversity – that spelled STRONG to me. It was their weakness that gave birth to strength.

I’m imagining it now: A rack of sparkling t-shirts at Target proudly proclaiming, “Weak is the NEW Strong.” I know. It’s not like we would just veer our carts over and grab one for those special girls in our lives, right?
(It’s funny how the truth is so often counterintuitive.)

These portraits of weakness, strength, and adversity reminded me of someone else’s. Maybe this “New Strong” is not so new.

The Apostle Paul’s first century resume included blindness, shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonments, and a slew of other undesirable hardships. I’m not an expert in ancient rhetorical criticism, but I think Plato would agree with me that you’d want to hide these red flags for credibility’s sake. But this man, in his relentless pursuit of Christ, did just the opposite. In one letter, we find him celebrating debilitation:

“… I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” –2 Corinthians 12:10

Forget personal image and self-promotion. Strength yielded from weakness was Paul’s M.O. throughout his tumultuous life. (We see this repeatedly in his other letters.) The result: A flame, igniting a radical message – a new way of living – that still burns today.

This ancient antithesis didn’t just start with Paul. It’s a marvelous and mysterious undercurrent throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. We find it running through the stories of people like Ruth, David, Joseph, Rahab, Ester, and Daniel.

This theme flows through the New Testament, too, with no one embodying it more than Christ Himself. Here we find the power Source, and it’s not from ourselves. Paul unabashedly names it in the midst of his own oppressing frailties:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” –2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Christ’s power. This is the catalyst that sweeps us beyond “the triumph of the human spirit” as we lock horns with adversity. I’ll freely admit: this is a mystery I’ve experienced, but still can’t understand. This is the same power I see carrying the strongest women in my life. It’s the power I want my friend’s daughter to see and embrace as she witness Christ’s strength in others, and discovers it in the inevitable hardships she will face herself. Because someday her own strength will not be enough, and she’ll be stuck on a 40 foot rope that she cannot possibly climb.

Do I want to see a generation of strong daughters?

Absolutely.

But the Source of strength we can point them to eclipses anything a t-shirt or even a movement can offer: When it begins with weakness, it can end extraordinarily with Christ’s power. It’s then that we, and our beloved daughters, are truly strong.

Maybe even strong enough to embrace a middle name.

As Christ followers,

How can we underscore this message of “strength in weakness” to the girls and women in our lives?

Can we inject this truth into conversations within the “Strong Girl/Strong Woman” movement? What would that look like?

About Nicole:

Despite a deep desire to belong, Nicole Woo often finds life nudging her to the margins. She’s been the only girl on the team, the only public speaking teacher afraid of public speaking, the only Caucasian in the extended family photo, and the only mom who lets her kids drink Fanta. She calls the Rockies home, often pretending to be a Colorado native in spite of her flatland origins.

GIVEAWAY:

A Book Review of A VOICE BECOMING {plus, A GIVEAWAY!} If you share my last post and tag me in it on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, I’ll enter you to win either a copy of A Voice Becoming (see my review here) or the first edition of a fantastic new magazine for girls called Bravery. The giveaway will end on January 31, 2018. Sorry, I can only mail to U.S. residents!

 

 

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My Children are Not Just “Little Sinners”

I have a confession that may or may not shock you. As much as I once longed to be a mom, I spend the majority of my days looking over the shoulders of my constant companions—my three tiny children—wishing I were anywhere but here. Highly educated, I feel largely unqualified and wholly unprepared to be a mother to tots and preschoolers. I often fall into the “just wait it out and survive” camp instead of the “thrive and delight in your circumstances” camp.

But the Holy Spirit snagged me in a few traps recently as I randomly opened the Bible. Not once or twice, but three times in ten minutes, I turned to passages where Jesus talked about children. In each one, he gently stood a child in front of his listeners as an object lesson and bade them look and listen.

“Welcome this child, and you welcome me,” he said in Luke 9:48.

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven,” Jesus said in Matthew 18:10.

And the kicker: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” he said in Matthew 18:3.

Sitting in the last quiet moments of the dark morning before my three year old would crack open my door, climb into my lap and ask to watch a show, I cocked my head, thinking about my children. Surely God wasn’t talking about my children?  Didn’t he know how selfish, loud, ornery, hyperactive, rude, irrational, impulsive and sinful they are?

I studied culture in college. Other cultures often followed strange social rules, communicated differently, and could even hold an alternate moral code. We were taught to enter new cultures as learners, asking questions instead of bringing solutions. One class assignment led us to laundry mats, train compartments, and third grade classrooms to simply sit, watch, and take copious notes in order to learn how to do ethnographies and prepare us for our six-month long internships in developing countries.  We were taught to approach new people and places with a holy curiosity. Our professors urged us: before judging, observe; before speaking, ask; before asserting, listen.

As I read Jesus’ words that morning, something shifted and stirred in me, challenging me with these questions,

What if I became a student of my children, studying them as I would study a foreign culture? What if I stopped seeing them as little sinners, and started seeing them as little Christs?

As mothers, we are journalists and anthropologists embedded in the country of children. And if we take the posture of a student, what will we learn there? Assuming Jesus didn’t mean for us to take on the negative characteristics of children, what did he mean?

Seeing is not a new concept, but seeing—truly seeing, appreciating, and even revering—my children is a new concept to me. Barbara Brown Taylor makes the distinction between the “language of belief” and the “language of beholding.” We have our beliefs, but are we ready to see God trying to tap into all of life as we “behold” our children?

This year, my goal is to take advantage of the privilege of spending day and night in the company of the little people Jesus commanded us to emulate. I want to enter the country of children with the posture of a person who does not have all the answers, but suspends belief in order to behold.

What can our children teach us about kingdom living?

Children dwell in imagination land and conjure up mystical, magical worlds. They believe in a jolly, bearded man who flies around to houses delivering presents made by elves just as easily as they believe there are monsters in their closets. The lines between sacred and secular are marvelously blurred in the eyes of a child. They notice everything and model holy astonishment with hundreds of questions a day. They give extravagantly of their emotions—both good and bad. They love to be loved. They are silly and squirrely and come programed with giggle buttons.

Their little hands thrive on creating—cutting, gluing, weaving, drawing, sculpting and painting. They are novice artists, uninhibited by criticism or fear of failure. No one expects them to be “good” at anything yet, so they create with the wild abandon of the unshackled and unafraid. And they are utterly and unashamedly dependent.

It’s no mistake Jesus came to earth as a baby. In the Bible, small rarely equals insignificant. Instead, small represents latent power, potential and promise. Manna, mustard seeds, yeast, fish, and bread were divine symbols in ordinary form. The majesty, splendor and radiance of God hide in an infant nursing at the breast of a low class woman.

Incarnation chooses small, ordinary objects in which to veil the divine.

So when Jesus grabs a child and says, “see him,” “see her”—“welcome this little one and you welcome me,” he is pointing to the majesty of God hiding out in our tiny children.

Studying my children will take intentionality on my part. I am usually more intent on molding them into my image than seeing how they already reflect the image of God. I rarely consider them as the tiny priests and priestesses they are, with a direct line to God, unencumbered by adult burdens. Their air is still clean and unpolluted by sin and all the shame it delivers. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Does this mean I will stop teaching, guiding and modeling what it means to be a rational, god-fearing adult to my children? Of course not. But instead of seeing my children as a nuisance or as soiled and in need of cleansing, I will welcome, respect and revere them as little Christs. I’ll take the posture of one who enters other cultures to learn: before judging, observe; before speaking, ask; before asserting, listen. I may just see more of Jesus than I have ever seen before.

***

I plan on delving more into this topic in the new year, so sign up for my newsletter to be sure you don’t miss the discussion!

Why I’m Not Apologizing for My Kids and Doing Hospitality Anyway

Lately I’ve been asking myself if I still enjoy hosting people in my home. Gathering around the table, feasting, having deep talks over plates piled high with food in the glow of candlelight is the goal, right? The adults belly laugh, dabbing tears from the corner of their eyes, then grab another steaming roll to dip in their homemade soup while the children run off to laugh together in the backyard. This is my expectation. No, this is my illusion.

Instead, hospitality looks more like this:

I wait until the absolute last minute to tell my three children we are having guests, because they turn into crazed creatures pulsating with energy the second they know more attention-giving bodies will be in our home. Instead, as soon as my pre-arrival stress is about to erupt, I plug them into a movie to do the last minute meal prep, sweep the floor, pick up the toys and issue marching orders to my husband-turned-servant. Seconds before our first guest arrives, we scan the house, noting that it is worth having guests over just to have a decluttered home even if for just a second. But then the reality check arrives.

The doorbell rings and one of my children hides, while the other rushes to the door, suddenly all disheveled hair and stained clothing and immediately drags any newly arrived kids to their messy bedroom. The guests make their way to the kitchen and plant themselves at the kitchen island. My husband delivers drinks while I try not to screw up the whole meal in minutes because I am now not only stressed and hungry, but distracted. The kids race through the house, dumping the toys from every basket, crashing trucks over our feet and racing them on the hardwood floors. They reach grimy hands over the counter to blindly grab at olives, cheese or chips at the edge of the counter.

I calmly and slowly remind my children of “what we talked about before our guests arrived”—they should play outside or in designated rooms. Go there right now. Please. They ignore me. I stand there, hands covered in garlic, knife in hand and keep smiling at my newly-arrived guests.

Welcome to our happy home.

We had a family over last weekend with three children the ages of our children and one man who came solo. We spent the entire afternoon preparing. The food was overcooked and too salty, and I learned the downsides of the popular “open floor plan”—namely that the child chaos ricochets around the room and is impossible to escape. The four older children (all five and under) sat alone at the kitchen island, dueling with the plastic knives they had snuck out of the drawer and turned their food into ships and guns. The other mom and I tried to feed our babies finger food and unsuccessfully police our other children all while trying to talk about plans for a new small group. The older kids finished and the three-year-old girl caught her finger in the sliding glass door and wailed the remainder of the time. We all stood up, leaving our one male friend eating his apple pie alone at the table.

When the baby, too, began to cry, the parents abruptly announced their decision to abort mission. What was meant to last 2 ½ hours lasted 1 ½ hours. They were all out the door in minutes, leaving my husband and I standing in the kitchen, counters piled high with dirty dishes and over-stimulated kids running through the toy and food-littered floor. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said.

And so in the quiet after the chaos, I did what any halfway sensible adult would do and reflected on the wisdom of continuing the stress, anxiety and humiliation of having people to my home during this season with little ones. Maybe this isn’t the time of life. Perhaps I just said I liked hospitality because it seemed like the Good Christian Thing to do. “God, is this really…” And before I could even formulate the thought into a prayer, God interrupted.

“You do it anyway.”

Wait, what?

Do hospitality anyway. You do it in the stress and the mess and the raisins smashed into the carpet. You do it even though you are hollering over three preschoolers telling knock knock jokes with no punchline and talking about poop and pee at the table. You do it when your children throw tantrums and blatantly disobey you in front of your friends and family. You do it because doing life together means not hiding behind closed doors, but inviting people into your actual life. And real life is not pretty. It is not organized, perfect or pristine. Hospitality is not comfortable, clean or controlled.

Three of the four books in the Bible about Jesus’ life and ministry tell a story about his friends trying to keep the kids away from Jesus. I’m sure the children then were not so different from kids today. They had dirt under their fingernails, food on their faces, didn’t know how to use inside voices or walk—not run–inside. They didn’t know they shouldn’t ask people why they are fat or handicapped or black. They probably announced that food was “yucky” and peed on the floor when they forgot to go to the bathroom. They probably fought to hold on to their favorite toys and didn’t like going to sleep in the dark. Those Jewish children probably acted just like my kids.

And yet instead of being embarrassed, Jesus invited those messy, noisy, belligerent children to come to him. He didn’t tell them to clean up or straighten up first. Instead, he reprimanded his well-meaning friends who were eager for a constant atmosphere of contemplation and miracles. “Don’t stop them,” he scolded them. “For the Kingdom of God belongs to people like these.” The Kingdom does not belong to the perfect adults (ha), but the imperfect, loud, obnoxious kids.

Somehow, the Kingdom of God belongs to those with the greatest impropriety. The ones we are embarrassed of are the very ones to whom the kingdom belongs. Instead of working for our children to be seen and not heard, perhaps we should be doing more inviting, listening and learning from them.

I’m not advocating for a child-centered existence, but I am wondering if there is something to Jesus’ command that I’m missing when I expect my children to be anything more or less than what they are–children. Perhaps I need to hang a sign by my table as a reminder: “She is three years old. He is four years old.” Because I forget and expect them to act like adults.

My children are peeling away my masks, forcing me into true, messy relationship without the pretense of perfection. And Jesus says that if I don’t learn to receive the Kingdom of God like one of these kids we apologize for and try to hide, then we will never receive it.

So I’m doing hospitality anyway. In the noise, fuss, mess and chaos. Don’t wipe your feet at the door. Just come on in.

 

How are you doing hospitality anyway?

Somehow, the Kingdom of God belongs to those with the greatest impropriety. The ones we are embarrassed of are the very ones to whom the kingdom belongs. Instead of working for our children to be seen and not heard, perhaps we should be doing more inviting, listening and learning from them.

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

 

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)

 

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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