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 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.
We maintain the beauty of our skin tone, language and culture, but all sit under the blanket of Christ
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.
Being woke means refusing to live in a house with a broken foundation and pretend that all is well
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:
17. (Guest Post) Moving Towards Different: My Reconciliation Call by Tasha Burgoyne
26. The White Savior Complex (thoughts on short, medium and long-term missions)
31. Conclusion: This I Know