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.
Life as a black man in (a)merica is a strange predicament wedged between misery and sublime while being rushed by transcendence. The addition of a loving God would appear to deconstruct the misery that ultimately leads to a different life. Unfortunately, that is not always the cause for many black people trekking through this life in the Western world. On a bigger picture it can be assumed that God is not that fond of black people (men or women) due in part by the mass levels of oppression. We have endured years of unfairness, injustice and pure racism just for us to be seen as human. That in itself would make anybody question the intentions of a loving God.
The incarnation, Walter says in his response, means that “God will do something about the suffering.” It appears that what God did about the suffering was allow more suffering. There is not this overwhelming sensation of triumph that has overtaken the black community that signifies everything is alright –we will be alright but there is no overwhelming sensation that alerts us to the phenomenon. James Baldwin articulates, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If he cannot do this, it is time we get rid of him.” Although this reply is harsh there is some level of contemplation that can be rendered upon this statement.
The continual suffering of a group of people does not equate to love in most places. The systemic displacement of black and brown people, not to mention the Indians, has made life difficult to negotiate in america. When you have become numb to ignorance instead of vigilante, then acceptance looms as an apparent answer. This is where many black Christians live. They live on the edge of sheer apathy with comedic hope for change. They will succumb to mistreatment by standing on a faith that change is around the corner. Well, all of that is good but there also needs to be a voice that addresses the wrong and provides a plan for change. But, God must be actively present in the midst of the chaos. Now, I digress and admit that God may very well be actively present in the midst but my understanding is lacking to comprehend what is actual going on. That is my hope and but the appearance of this mayhem in the lives of black folks makes me wonder at times.
The dialog continues…
This written by Walter Strawther in response to Incarnation- Incarnation, Perichoresis and Racism.
So yesterday my friend and brother, Brian Foulks, asked a question: How the Incarnation influences how we interpret the cross as African Americans? After much contemplation here is my first attempt to answer.
First of all, I am hesitant to sound exclusive, limiting my response to being African American while at the same time recognizing that theology is contextual. I offer this response as a way of adding to the dialog, so that as we share our experiences and context we grow more and more in the truth of who God is and what God does.
This question reminded me of growing up in the Fire Baptized Holiness Church and attending worship services each Sunday that included a testimony service. There are many phrases and words that seemed formulaic, then and now, but were grounded in the experience of those bearing witness to God’s goodness. One phrase that comes to mind, in response to this question, is “the God who makes a way out of no way.” This is the essence of the incarnation. Jesus comes to do for us what we cannot do. Jesus comes in human form to do what would otherwise be impossible, making a way out of no way. Through his life Jesus associated with and legitimized those who were outcasts. The experience of African Americans as outcasts and marginalized throughout a significant portion of this country’s history, and there is still work to do today, resembles that of those who Jesus spent time with during his life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
The incarnation for African Americans is more than just the presence of God but, as Brian Foulks writes in his blog, it is an “active presence.” Jesus does not just encourage the oppressed to see a new reality but participates in making that reality come into being. It is not enough for the oppressed to know that God is there. There isn’t any hope in God only being a witness to the oppression. The meaning of incarnation in light of the cross is that God will do something about the suffering. Yes, Jesus participates in the suffering by dying on the cross but three days later God makes a way out of no way and raises Jesus from the dead giving final victory to those who are suffering. This is a beginning to this difficult question.