I started this blog last November, so it seems reasonable to end this November with some self-examination and self-evaluation. So, just why did I start this blog and why am I still writing segments for it? Good question, don’t you think?
I am not writing it because I think I am an expert on the subject. I am a learner and am thankful to have learned a lot about racial issues over the past year, but I’ve still much to learn. I am not writing it because no one else is writing about the issues. It seems likely to me that more has been written and spoken on this subject in the past year than in all of the years preceding it. Articles, podcasts, interviews, books, documentaries, movies and all kinds of other formats have provided a very large amount of resource material, much of it very helpful. I am not writing it because others haven’t written anything worthwhile about these issues from a biblical perspective. For one example, the book “Crossing the Line: Culture, Race and Kingdom” by Michael Burns is the finest thing in print that I have read, certainly eclipsing anything I’ve written or will write. (Order it from ipibooks.com) Once again then, why am I writing this blog?
Writing Helps the Soul
I admitted early on that my writing certainly included my need for something of a personal catharsis. I had too many images etched in my memory banks that were too painful not to share openly. As I said in one early blog post, I discovered some years back that my memories were more painful to me than that same historical era was to younger black friends who had only heard about what I saw but had not experienced it. Sure, events in their own experiences of racial prejudice were painful, but learned history wasn’t near as impactful to them. Keep in mind that my pain was produced only by observing how others were treated, which means that the pain of those I observed must have been enormous.
Prior to starting the blog, I often pictured myself speaking to younger audiences, particularly to African American audiences, about these racial issues that I had experienced and they had not. I know that those of the younger generation have heard the stories and seen these tragic times portrayed in movies, but I always thought it might help to hear them from an older white man from the South who could corroborate what they had heard about and was deeply hurt by what he saw. Not enough white folks in America have owned the history of their race and their country in a way that has freed them up and helped free others up.
One of the many videos I watched in the past year featured a white female professor, I think from Houston, who understood the need for such ownership. Although her language was a bit too colorful at times, she had great insights into the subject of systemic racism and white ignorance of same. I lost that link, by the way, so if you have it, please pass it on to me (again)! One of her points was that until and unless we take ownership of our past (individually and corporately), we cannot have real freedom in our future. That is a truth that applies to our overall health, for hiding from our pasts is deadly – emotionally, spiritually and physically. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3).
Perhaps all of this helps you understand better why I am so intent (and intense) about promoting opportunities for my black friends to be able to share their pain with my white friends. Sharing our hearts with others, regardless of the medium used, does help the soul. I know that I have emotional challenges. I often wake up feeling down and not knowing why. Without my (almost) daily long prayer walks, in which I pour out my soul to God, I would likely not stay within shouting distance of normal (whatever that is!). Plus, I do the same with close spiritual friends, and often with those who aren’t so close. God made us with a need to share our hearts, and we simply must recognize that need in others if we are to be as Jesus to them.
Writing to My White Church Friends
Although my original intent was to address white and black racial issues in an even-handed manner, I have written more to my white church friends than to my black ones. In time, that will balance out, but one obvious truth has become more and more apparent to me. Those of us white folks in churches with racially diverse memberships too often feel that we have true diversity and everything’s just fine. Michael Burns hit the nail on the head in his Crossing the Line book with this observation (page 235):
It is quite possible for a church to be multiethnic but not multicultural. That means that they are visually diverse, with people from many different nations or ethnic groups, but with a cultural life that is dominated by one group, who are almost always unaware that this is the case. In the introduction, I mentioned that a number of black brothers and sisters have commented that they love their brothers and sisters but often feel that they must act white to be comfortable in church life.
I have approached this need to educate my white brothers and sisters in about every way I could think of. I have spelled it out as a crying need for interracial conversations in which we listen and ask questions more than speak, although everyone should get their turn to speak after listening well to the other. I have addressed white church leaders specifically about their need to help promote such opportunities within their church fellowship. I have given examples of white church leaders who are doing this, along with the specifics of what they are doing. I’ve about exhausted my list of ways to try and help us deal with our ignorance, of which we may be unaware and in which our motives are not necessarily bad.
Honestly, it’s a bit of a puzzle to me. We know that we are to bear one another’s burdens in Christ (Galatians 6:2), have equal concern for one another and to suffer with those who suffer (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). We have that heart and show that heart to those experiencing pain in so many other circumstances: death, disease, abuse, poverty, etc. Why not in the area of racial concerns? This is one of the biggest issues in our American society (and in most others as well, although in different forms perhaps). How can we ignore it and even relate to those in our society, to say nothing of relating to those in the church? White Christians – your silence must end, particularly with your black brothers and sisters in Christ! Love is not silent!
If we know that to be a genuine need (or even think that it might be) and don’t act on it, what does that say about us? My biggest concern is that we may be clutching our comfort zones so tightly that they have become more important to us than being committed disciples – followers of Christ. Comfort zones are not what Christ’s life was all about, to put it extremely mildly, and it cannot become what our spiritual lives are about (for then they would no longer be spiritual).
Writing to My Black Church Friends
I know that your world is not an easy one. I believe that you want to deal with your challenges biblically, as Christ calls us to, and that you don’t want to have a victim mindset. I know you get frustrated with your white brothers and sisters who don’t seem anxious to understand your perspective of the world you live in. You know that I’m frustrated along with you, as I try my best to understand your world better and to thus empathize with you better.
I also know that your world influences your feelings for sure, and often your thinking processes, perhaps in ways that you don’t fully realize. We are all influenced by those around us, in and out of the church. Hopefully we are influenced more by those in the church than those outside. Either way, we need help to keep our spiritual foundation and focus in tune with Jesus.
The frustration and anger of those in the black community is more than obvious. It has been there for centuries, but never quite so out in the open as it is now. When Barak Obama was elected president, those in both the black and white communities thought that progress in the racial realm was certain to come, and come quickly. It has come in some ways, but not without pain. A big part of the current climate of unrest is tied in to unmet expectations. There are not many types of pain that match the pain of unmet expectations.
It is an interesting fact (so I have read) that our citizens of color who have made the most progress economically and in career advancement are among the most frustrated. Why? They are more aware of what it should be like for all others of their race, and they are tired of waiting. Progress has been made, but not enough of it and what has been made has taken too long. Does that resonate with you? It’s that unmet expectation thing.
When our patience starts to wear thin, we can easily show our impatience in ways that don’t align with God’s teaching. I believe that many disciples of Christ are on the cusp of giving in to that impatience like never before. It is easy to justify logically what we feel needs to be done when our frustrations are about to erupt. We can find plenty of Bible passages about injustice and feel the urge to fight back in ways that we have previously avoided. I understand the temptation. I also understand what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. The power of Christ is going to be shown not in a focus on changing society, but on showing society how God has changed us. I will have more to say in future posts about this topic, but I want to help us all to be more connected to the example of Jesus, whether we are white or black.
Writing to the Church as Family
I love the ethnic diversity in our family of churches. We have a ways to go to fully embrace cultural diversity, but I believe we will get there. I feel pain when others feel pain. I feel uncomfortable when others feel uncomfortable. The pain part is a necessary one in following Jesus’ teachings about relationships in his family, for otherwise we cannot bear one another’s burdens. The uncomfortability part is not good and it is not necessary. We are one in Christ and designed for embracing many different types of diversity. I have to be comfortable with who God made me; you have to be comfortable with who God made you; and we all have to be comfortable with one another.
Political correctness gone to seed will increase our discomfort with each other, not decrease it. While I understand the need to eliminate true racist comments, along with sexist comments, ageist comments, body type comments and all other comments that communicate negative stereotypes, we can go too far with this – especially in our spiritual fellowship. God created us with a strong sense of humor, and I don’t want to stifle the fun part of that.
Just for the record, I don’t mind you making jokes about me being a hick from Louisiana or having an unusual southern accent (at least it’s somewhat unique!). God could have had me born to better educated parents from a different part of the country. He didn’t, obviously, and I’m good with that. The physical things that once bothered me about myself are a part of who I am. “The better to smell you with, my Dear” is a line from a child’s tale, but it speaks to the size of my nose as well! My point is that we can be too uptight about too many things. I don’t think any of us want to live in a state of feeling that we must walk on eggs around virtually everyone.
On the racial front, I use terms to describe white folks that some would think offensive, such as honky, gringo, cracker, saltine, whitebread and so on. I call myself the son of a redneck bricklayer from the wrong side of the tracks. I understand that these terms are those sometimes used in bad ways, and that whether good or bad, they will generally be perceived less negatively than they would if white folks were a minority (or especially a badly mistreated minority). On the other hand, terminology aimed at those in minority groups will usually be taken much more negatively, and we all have to realize this and take care accordingly.
That being said, I would like to think that we are not overly sensitive in our spiritual family, the church. After the diversity workshop I described in a fairly recent blog, a white brother expressed his disapproval of our workshop’s leader using a term directed at me. I knew Marcos was making a funny, and frankly, I didn’t even notice it at the time. I’ve long been comfortable with my black friends using terminology in jest that wouldn’t be suitable around others who didn’t share the same relationship with me.
In one of these recent blogs, I mentioned a fishing trip with a group comprised of me and three black brothers in the church. I asked them if I was the “token white” of the day, and asked if “white privilege” was the reason I caught the first several fish. If we didn’t know each other and didn’t share a special relationship of understanding, that wouldn’t have a wise choice of words on my part. Some of you reading this won’t like the idea of such banter under any circumstances. If so, I think you need to loosen up and you think I need to tighten up. I’m cool with us having different views on that, and I hope you are – or learn to be.
If you are uptight about such matters even among close friends and brothers, you probably wouldn’t approve of what went on in the “Big Black Brother’s Club” of the Boston church (see the article on gordonferguson.org if you haven’t already). What happened in my basement would perhaps best be kept in that basement as far as you are concerned, but it was all fun and brotherhood. The (other) black brothers felt perfectly comfortable calling me the HNIC (although they rarely pronounced the words represented by the letters). I know that the mention of this one will raise some of your blood pressures, but I am appealing to you to join in my long standing effort to build comfortability in our spiritual family to the point that we can be a bit crazy in our enjoyment of our diversity. Our craziness has to be applied in discerning and wise ways, but let’s please not lose it!
In a nutshell, those are the reasons I started this blog and I’m not done yet. I’m not sure how long I will continue writing for the blog, but I know I’ve not addressed all of the sub-topics that are on my heart. I also know that I’m not receiving the number and types of responses that I anticipated a year ago, and will have more to say about this soon. It has made me ask myself whether I am really hitting the center of the bullseye of this topic or not. Maybe I’m not, and maybe I am and yet people aren’t really interested in hearing it. Maybe it’s some of both. Anyway, for those who are reading the blog posts regularly and asking others to do the same, I thank you! I am enjoying traveling with you on this important road. Have a great holiday season!