Overwhelmed by the news? Depressed by the irate rants on Twitter? Irked by the sensationalist posts on Facebook?
I am tired. And it’s still early on Inauguration Day.
Today, while some are celebrating a victory for “God-ordained” President Trump, others remain terrified about retaining basic human rights.
Information comes at the speed of water rushing through a fire hose, and then, there are all the emotional extremes. How do I speak? How do I act? How do I know what the appropriate reaction even is?
I like to climb up on soapboxes and tell people what to do. That feels simple. Self-righteousness feels powerful, like I’ve got my act together.
The other tempting alternative is silence, where fear of accidentally offending or getting trolled tempts me to bite my tongue.
But, I don’t think either option helps drive a conversation between you and I. We retreat into echo chambers where we don’t listen to each other unless we already agree. Instead we invalidate and shame, thinking we’re going to control other people into thinking more like us (or our version of Jesus).
Maybe I’m a Pollyanna-like optimist, but I do not know very many people who are intentionally racist or hateful. I don’t have scads of hateful extremists in my life. As I’m writing, I can’t even pull up one name. (Thank you, Jesus.)
What I do have are a bunch of folks who are busy with work and raising children and serving their communities. They’re people who are doing their best to love others and make it through the day while overwhelmed by the fire hose of data and need coming their way.
Some think individual hatred toward a person of color is the extent of racism. Since they don’t hate anyone, racism isn’t a problem for them.
That was me a few years ago.
I was colorblind. But it wasn’t a helpful thing. I literally didn’t see what was in front of me. I had friends of color, and I heard their stories. However, there’s a difference between hearing someone’s story and witnessing it in live action.
The man who changed my life
A few years ago, I didn’t get it. This is not a story about being Democrat versus being Republican, like if only you see my point of view, we’re going to come together and see the world the same way.
The story is about me waking up and learning to see how I was unconsciously racist. My intentions weren’t bad. But my blindness prevented me from loving the way Jesus calls his followers to love.
I hope your eye-opening moment comes/came more gracefully and gently than mine.
I was ignorant. This is embarrassing to write, but I write it anyway. Not because I’ve got it all figured out now, but because for us white folk to love other people — we have to open our eyes somehow. That’s messy, vulnerable work.
I thought I understood racism (and the other -isms), and because I didn’t hate anybody, I was all fine-and-dandy on this front. I was happily ensconced in my naive fairy wonderland. And yup, I was that person, who thought they didn’t see color.
I was all about political correctness, or as I like to call it — basic human respect and decency. Essentially, I thought, sans a few wackadoo outliers, racism was a thing of history — not a living evil here in in the Twin Cities.
Then, while sipping my peppermint tea and writing, my worldview turned upside down when I met him — an ordinary guy looking for work in a coffee shop.
He was desperate for another job, so he could financially support his young grandchildren.
And he was black.
After being ignored by everyone (employees and patrons), he struck up a conversation with me and asked, “When you look around this place, what you do notice?”
His question (and his rightly blunt response to my inability to form a coherent answer to a simple question) taught me something: I was blind. I could not see the obvious. Everyone was white, except him. I didn’t see whiteness because it was normative for me. I didn’t have to see my own color because it was homogeneous with the bulk of my environments. Privilege is only having a handful of occasions where I have been the minority group in a situation, and those situations were by my choice, not necessity.
He made me realize I have a lot to learn if I want to take Jesus’ call to love people seriously. Learning meant figuring out where my white blind spots are.
I recognized myself as white that day.
And since that day, I learned I had white blind spots when it comes to theology and church, too.
Who are the voices we listen to?
Which big names are often cited as heroes in church history?
Augustine. Aquinas. Calvin. Luther. Erasmus. Wesley. Spurgeon. Edwards. Whitefield. Finney. Asbury.
The only person outside the white European tradition on this list is Augustine, who was from North Africa. However, Augustine’s ethnicity is sometimes hidden in portraits. Do a quick Google image search. Sometimes icons make him look pale and European; others celebrate his Berber heritage.
The attempts to make him European trouble me. It’s like the blonde, blue-eyed Jesus portraits. They erase Jesus and Augustine from their historical contexts, and that, to me, weakens their message and impact.
Christianity is a global religion, and yet so often our telling of the Christian story is limited to the white European portion of it. That narrow focus belittles the story of our global brothers and sisters.
Who are the current theologians and pastors showing up most often in my Facebook feed?
John Piper. Andy Stanley. Tim Keller. Bill Hybels. Chuck Swindoll. Billy Graham. John MacArthur.
What common threads run through this bunch?
Every one is white. Every one is male. Notice that: every one of those voices is a white man.
Think about it for a second. Who are the expert voices you most often turn to? Are there any common threads?
And I’m NOT saying white male voices are bad; I’ve got a few heroes in Wesley, Luther, Thielicke, Bonhoeffer and Grenz, to name a few.
What I am saying: white men make up a very narrow slice of global Christian leaders.
Other fabulous voices exist, and they have much to teach us. Female. Asian. Black. African. Latino. Native American.
Today, if I could get people to read just one theological book from a non-white author, I’d send them to Mitri Raheb’s Faith in the Face of Empire. It’s a short little book written for a lay audience by a Palestinian pastor, and there’s relevance for all of us making sense out of faith in a Trump era.
One thing I appreciate about being able to preach at my church (and hearing another woman preach as well) is being able to model to young women that God is able to use them in a variety of ways and to demonstrate to men that women have voices worth hearing.
What we see modeled broadens our picture of the possible. Particularly for those of us who are not wild trailblazers by nature.
If all we hear are white voices, we miss out on opportunities to see the ways our culture has been intermingled with the Gospel in unhealthy ways. We’re in danger of worshiping the god of whiteness, instead of the God of the Bible. Additionally, we’re in danger of believing white men are the only voices worth listening to when it comes to faith.
What am I doing in the wake of Inauguration Day?
What does it mean to love people like Jesus does? This is the question I continue to ask before I write.
Tomorrow, loving people like Jesus does, means I march in St. Paul. (While loving like Jesus involves me marching, that may not be the case for you. You don’t have to imitate me; you, the Spirit and the Bible can figure out what loving like Jesus means for you.)
I march because I have much to learn about love and standing with those who are hurting. I march because I need to do something and participate in something bigger than me, rather than sitting on the sidelines as life unfolds. And marching is not about denial of reality or sour grapes. It’s about love, solidarity, and knowing I’m not alone in my hunger for justice.
Love means I must act instead of remaining silent. Love must be spoken and demonstrated to be known. It is not assumed.
I want to stand with those who are scared and hurt. I am not fighting for anyone; I will stand alongside. I’m not a hero or savior or a superhero.
I’m a woman trying to follow Jesus’ footsteps. Muddling my way through doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. Marching with a bunch of strangers seems about as a good a way as any to practice what I preach for this socially anxious introvert.
And frankly, I’m a pessimist in dogged pursuit of hope.