The question that still remains concerning race in America is the question of unity. What does it mean to live in unity with those who are not like us? What does it mean for the majority to recognize and accept the issues that are important to the minority? How can the minority who has been oppressed and still feels the remnant of that suffering move past the hurt to embrace unity with the majority? There are no easy answers to these questions but that does not mean we cannot attempt to have conversations that move us toward resolution. The prevailing sentiment is that we are too far gone; that people have dug their heels in and there is no room for negotiation or discussion. The prevailing sentiment is that any compromise will be seen as defeat; any concession of any point concerning what we believe about race/racism will be viewed as losing our principles. None of which is helpful. We have to be able to have discussions. We have to be able to honestly question each other and allow ourselves to be questioned. We have to be able to hear one another with the understanding that no one has all truth and no one is all wrong.
My hope that this is possible comes from my belief in Jesus Christ as the savior of the world. This week’s lection from John 17:1-11, reminds us that Jesus was given authority over all flesh to over eternal life (v. 2). The tricky part is found in the very next verse: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The unity we seek is in knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to know God? People have used their “knowledge” of God to justify many abhorrent behaviors and beliefs. Racism has been justified using scripture. Division has increased as people lay claim to God’s word as their own, refusing to believe that anyone else has knowledge of who God is. Yet, Jesus prays for all who are his followers. He prays that we might be one as he and the Father are one. This does not mean sameness but does mean an intimately close relationship that allows for difference without separation. We have to be willing to come back to the table and discuss our difference knowing that we are united in Christ. We have to swallow our pride and let go of our self-glorification born out of this belief that we fully know God. We have to admit our limited knowledge of God and embrace the knowledge that others have been given by Jesus Christ.
Until we face the problem with honest reflection, we will continue to live in the division and conflict we see in the world today. Until we let go of our need to be glorified, to have the light shine on our thoughts and beliefs, we will continue to fail to glorify God with the unity God intended. I’m ready, let’s talk.
Every day, I wake up wondering what the day will hold for me. I awake with the question, How long God? How long will they continue to kill us? How long will injustice prevail in the face of the black men and women locked in the racist system called america?…How long?
I then make my way to a seminary campus, which is 95% white that’s located in the midst of an 88% black community. Within the classrooms of this seminary, I hear about Luther, Wesley and Calvin but quite honestly the talk about the theology of race is usually an uncomfortable subject with tremendous scares attached. The notion or better yet audacity, that an evangelical God is concerned about the social welfare of black folks and the poor in general is shelved (by some) for what can be denoted as the need to preach the Gospel faithfully –“whatever that really means.” A Gospel that is disconnected from the “least of these” is not salvific, not the Gospel and simply useless.
I spend most of my days peddling through seminary courses with utter disbelief of how disconnected the church has become to the plight of the real world. We peruse through our seminary world in a microcosm of theological vanity, searching for new vocabulary to tell people how to share and love while injustice becomes the norm of the day. As James Cone asks, “Is it not time for theologians to get upset?” Where is the anger? Where is the prophetic preaching for change? Why is the liturgy not representative of the chaotic state of emergency that we live within? Why are there not prayers for systemic change being rendered for the community that embodies those who are being murdered disproportionately by cops? God cannot be pleased with the senseless murders of young black people by those sworn to protect –Black Lives Matter!
We live in a world that has managed to reduce the lives of black folks to replaceable inconveniences –we get rid of one, another replaces them and becomes another inconvenience. The value of black life in a theological sense is couched for the love of all. Blame is lobbed at the feet of those whom the system has targeted. We expect those caught in the trap to get themselves out. Think about that…they are caught in a trap and we want them to get themselves out. The whole intent of the trap is to ensnare not to free so we as the church must take the initiative to radically bring about freedom.
“It is expensive to be poor” laments James Baldwin but “exhausting to be black in america” replied one of my white brethren.
It is a call from God that ushers in a revolutionary experience of Shalom even while sitting in this midst of the powder keg called america. It may be hard to see the image of God in a riot but it is problematic and sinful to sit silently, while injustice reigns.
I struggle to write many times the very feelings that plague me mentally and spiritually. It is at the expense of being labeled that oftentimes I ruminate instead of write. The constant juxtaposing through worldviews can lead to intense levels of ambiguity for others but a since of clarity for me.
Let me try to explain.
My burgeoning Pan-African worldview is reshaping my perspective through a theological lens. My warped reformed theology is locked in a cage with my real life connection with Black Theology of Liberation (BTL). I not only study BTL, I must live it in thess yet to be United States of (a)merica . It is mildly impossible for a black male not to readily identify with BTL because it is their lives being played out in stereo.
I wrestle with the premise that the very natures of white men are evil. (That is the product of 39 years of racism.) I know that the actions of a few do not equal the sum-total of the whole but therein lays the place of tension-reconciling racism to be dead. Racism has shaped my theology more than I realize most of the time. The construct of racism has such blooming possibilities of evil that never lie dormant. It takes the beautification of God to reconstruct the image of those who have oppressed and have been oppressed to re-activate in such a racial climate.
But my theological lens-though warped by my reformed theology-places me at the feet of a God who extends grace. So I am forced through my understanding of BTL to redirect my angst toward the plight of “the least of these”-regardless of race. It is within those spaces where I find that my warped reformed theology finds the most solace and purpose. It is within this context that the expansion of God’s sovereignty begins to trump the very essence of “big problems/issues.” Those big problems/issues become small miracles in the hand of a sovereign God who predestined a graceful finish within my life as well as others. But it is BTL that highlights those ills with a robust sense of urgency that my reformed theology would overlook.
What the Pan-African worldview does in to bring a glocal perspective that makes me view people through a global lens but act locally. The plight of Africa for the Pan African sits as the centerpiece of success- as Africa goes so goes the world. The struggle is not to isolate one people group above another but show the importance and inter-working of all. This inter-working concept unlocks the presence of Hip Hop in my perspective. The subculture of Hip Hop has the ability to transcend racial barriers by connecting people through the flavor of the music. This calculated amalgamation is phenomenon that has mystified many scholars and theologians. This connection with the funk is a communal effort that reconnects back to a Pan African worldview. The very essence of music is interlocked with the presence of community in the African worldview. Through music the community expresses its emotional response to situations- death, birth, war, etc.
My point with this self examination is to try to define the very notion of how race, religion and rhetoric come into play into one person. This appearance of ambiguity to others but acute clarity to self is an unrelenting force to reckon with. They would appear to be irreconcilable differences housed in one mind but in a pragmatic fashion they work together in community. That which would appear to be disjointed is actually different parts working as a whole.