Now that the World Has Changed: A post-election essay on racism and the state of Christianity

FeaturedNow that the World Has Changed: A post-election essay on racism and the state of Christianity

I have watched the new era of our democracy unfold while harboring intense reserves of both fear and anguish. Like most of my friends, I’ve found it nearly impossible to escape the weight of sadness that comes with knowing that 81 percent of my white Christian counterparts chose to elect a Presidential candidate who was openly and enthusiastically endorsed by the KKK. I am not sure whether I am more bothered by their indifference to the sheer racism of their choice, or by the implications that arise concerning their understanding of the Gospel. Whatever the case, I am brimming with emotion about it. And yet, I have been silent—quietly afraid that I might not find a constructive way to express my anger, and fully paralyzed by an inability to gather the right words.

In my times of reflection, I have pondered the implications of sharing a “big tent” with religious people whose “literal” interpretation of the Bible somehow fails to capture the bare essence of what Jesus found most important: Justice for the oppressed, care for the sick, a welcome for the stranger, and an upending of systems that perpetuate injustice. A religion – my religion – which burst forth from the hearts and imaginations of a people desiring a world closer to God’s dream has become a monster of nightmares. Perplexed by all of this, I wondered aloud in a series of conversations with a clergy friend: How does one fight for justice from within a philosophy that has itself become oppressive? How does one fight Empire with empire?

After those conversations, I found myself at dinner with two other black women, each involved in justice efforts, and both writers. We talked about the soul of the catholic Christian movement and the soul of the black church. We talked about what it means to exist within a faith that requires so much soul searching. Inside a few hours of healing, sisterhood and lament, we dreamed together about what our religion might be in the world if oppressors within our faith took seriously this Jesus thing, this invitation to a way of discipleship that called an ancient generation to challenge its own ideologies. We agreed into the wee hours of the night that Christians have sided with oppressive ideologies in every generation, and that in every generation, this has caused a movement of visionaries to birth a new standard for radical love. And then we went home, a bit more whole and very grateful to have received a reminder from the Universe that we are not solitary contenders for the faith.

I knew after those conversations that I had endured a traumatic experience during the election cycle. I had been exposed to a harsh truth about my faith, quantifiable by a number: 81% — and I had witnessed the unveiling of Christianity’s great imperative: the imperative to end its own racism. This trauma had somehow changed my understanding of what God requires of me, of Christianity, of all of us.

Trauma always changes the survivor, and it always requires the survivor to ask themselves: Who am I now? Who am I now that the pain is unavoidably present, now that the world is different and now that a new truth is evident to me? Who am I?

Now that the world has changed, I painfully consider daily: Who am I in this religion? Who am I now that the world is different today from what it was yesterday? Who am I?

And I do so while desperately hoping that my religion – deeply steeped in racism and undeniably oppressive on many fronts – will also examine itself and ask: Who are we?

When Jesus said, “I am the way,” he didn’t mean what you think …

FeaturedWhen Jesus said, “I am the way,” he didn’t mean what you think …

In a reflection written almost exactly four years ago, I touched on a few of the important statistics that jolted me out of my exclusivistic way of reading the scriptures and into a more open approach to the texts. I shared that only around 7% of the world’s population are “saved” by Evangelical standards, and I wrote that people die at a rate of more than 100 people per minute. My former image of God had been sending about 100 people per minute to burn in eternal hellfire. I was disturbed by this, so I wrote that I no longer found compelling a deity who could torture 93% of his own children. In a later blog post, I wondered openly why more people weren’t astounded and offended by a theology that would have us all believe in such a god.

I remembered those two written reflections this morning when it occurred to me that this week’s lectionary selections include the famous passage from John which says:

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

(John 14:1-7, NRSV, emphasis mine)

contextI began to ruminate openly on twitter about the unfortunate way in which this selection has been interpreted throughout the generations. I shared that there are equally viable — if not better– ways to read these verses and those like them, before soon realizing that my twitter rant would probably make a decent blog reflection. And so, this reflection is about the three things that we scholarly-types wish more people knew when reading the 14th chapter of John’s gospel. Here are those five things: Continue reading “When Jesus said, “I am the way,” he didn’t mean what you think …”

Our Literacy Bias: What it is and how it affects our perception of scripture

FeaturedOur Literacy Bias: What it is and how it affects our perception of scripture

book-stackI just finished reading an interesting essay titled “Why Everything We Know About the Bible is Wrong” by Robert M. Fowler. I found one of the arguments in the essay so important that I felt I should share it with all of you. According to Fowler, one of the fundamental problems for 21st century Bible readers is the literacy divide between the Bible’s readers and the Bible’s writers. Because we’re a highly literate culture with deeply embedded expectations of written materials, we often misunderstand the purpose of the texts recorded by the Bible’s newly-literate oral cultures.

For example, you probably learned to read when you were young, from people who also learned to read when they were young. You were raised at a time in history when a high percentage of people knew how to read and write. You are deeply embedded in a literate culture. This means that you share some experiences of the written word, and have some fairly consistent expectations of written texts. These experiences and expectations likely include two things: Continue reading “Our Literacy Bias: What it is and how it affects our perception of scripture”

With Regard to Charleston: Why I Want Us to All Stop Praying for a While

I’m certain you’ve heard the news by now. Nine Black people were murdered last night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman, a White man, reportedly attended Bible study and prayed with his victims before launching into a tirade about how Black people are “taking over the country” and “raping white women.” He opened fire on the congregants, killing most of those in attendance, including the Rev. Senator Clementa Pinckney.

I’ve mostly been glued to the coverage of this event over the past 18 hours, both via social media and cable news. I fell asleep for a short while last night knowing that yet another horrendous, racially-motivated act had been carried out against my people in the land that I call “home”. And then I awakened, immediately remembering the pain and frustration of the night before. I can’t describe the extraordinary sadness, bewilderment and longing for justice I feel. I can only say that all of those emotions seem to have seeped beyond my psyche into my bones. The pain has collected in my flesh. I’m numb sometimes, and then I feel the radiating emotional anguish down in my joints all over again.

When the pain subsides, I’m able to process the overwhelming anger mixed with palpable fear— anger that so few people are listening to the cries of the racially targeted and oppressed, and fear that an incident like the one in Charleston will happen again. Unquestioningly, I know that this feeling in the pit of my gut is terror in every sense of the word.

The timing of the shooting was such that I was unable to speak with anyone face-to-face about what I was feeling before taking to social media for solace and human interaction. As a religion blogger, I naturally follow a large number of religious figures online, including clergy, writers, and other thinkers. I noticed that most of them were asking that we all pray; that we petition for divine intervention into America’s problems with white supremacy and racism; that we ask God to help us overcome our addiction to firearms.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 3.14.16 PMI’ve watched my twitter timeline fill with calls for prayer today, all while deeply realizing how profoundly we are missing the mark. To be quite candid, it seems to me that we don’t need to talk with God about white supremacy, racism or gun control. We need, instead, to be talking with one another.

Over the past several hours, I’ve wondered what might happen if people of faith transformed their churches into spaces where conversations about race and ethnicity were not taboo. What would happen if white churches intentionally dug in deep to educate themselves about racism (which is different from discrimination), instead of disengaging when conversations get tough? Who could we become if we boldly turned our attention to having tough conversations with one another?

I continue in this day of sadness and bewilderment with a heavy heart and with the conviction that we religious folks may, perhaps, need a moratorium on our talks with God— for a short time at least. We need, instead, to start talking openly, honestly and without fear to one another about how people in our generation continue to participate in the oppressive phenomenon known as racism. We need to talk with one another about what it means for people of color to live in terror, what it means for a church like the historic Emmanuel AME to lose its sense of sanctuary, and what it means when outrage against events like these only lasts as long as the news cycle will allow.

I understand, my religious friends and colleagues, how desperately you desire to pray, given the tragic nature of last night’s events. However, I have run out of prayers and only desire to ask you: Will you instead talk face-to-face with someone about white supremacy and racism? Are you willing to start a conversation about what the world needs in order to move forward in peace?

Is it possible that our prayers for God to somehow “fix” the world seem unheard because we don’t yet see ourselves as the answers to those prayers? And if so, how do we change our faulty perspective?

I Am Now A Blogger For The Huffington Post

Dear Friends–

I am very proud to share that I am now a blogger for the Huffington Post’s religion section. My first article is a rewrite of my piece about systemic evil and its relationship to the current outcry for justice in Baltimore. I’d love it if you’d read and share this piece along with my future Huffington Post pieces.

I want to share how grateful I am for the support and attention that you’ve given to my writing over the years. I’m closing an unplanned time of semi-hiatus, which I tend to view as a period of relative “quiet”. The “semi-hiatus” lasted around 24 months, which included twelve months to research/write my masters thesis in preparation for graduation in May of last year, and twelve additional months to orient myself as a new co-minister in the Christian/UU church that called me immediately after I graduated from seminary. Now that I’ve been refreshed and refocused, I’m ready to re-engage the world of faith and its vast offering of ideas as a writer. I hope to regain your attention and support as I take on my new writing endeavors.

I’m very optimistic about entering this new time in my creative journey– one filled with deeper interactions with my readers, interesting projects (books!) and bright ideas about what it can mean for our diverse world to seek the Divine individually and together. I ask that you continue to support and provide attention to my work, which will always involve frank discussions about faith and life-giving liberal Christian theology.

Walk with me and wish me well! (And thanks for allowing me to walk with you!)

In God’s Love,