Following is the text of the poem performed during President Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. You can watch her perform five of her poems here.
When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade We’ve braved the belly of the beast We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace And the norms and notions of what just is Isn’t always just-ice And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it Somehow we do it Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished We the successors of a country and a time Where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one And yes we are far from polished far from pristine but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect We are striving to forge a union with purpose To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another We seek harm to none and harmony for all Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree And no one shall make them afraid If we’re to live up to our own time Then victory won’t lie in the blade But in all the bridges we’ve made That is the promise to glade The hill we climb If only we dare It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy And this effort very nearly succeeded But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated In this truth in this faith we trust For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us This is the era of just redemption We feared at its inception We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter To offer hope and laughter to ourselves So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe? Now we assert How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation Our blunders become their burdens But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states, we will rise from the sunbaked south We will rebuild, reconcile and recover and every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it.
As Nov. 3 and the election quickly approaches, I have been thinking about what it means to be or to have a distinctly Christian political witness. Of course, inherent in this statement is the assumption that we cannot divorce our Christian identity from the realm of the political. To borrow from Stanley Hauerwas, the church isn’t above politics, the church is its own politic. But my experience in the Church of the Nazarene (in which I was born) has taught me the boundaries of our political engagement. We tend to limit our engagement to voting and speaking out against abortion. For the most part, I was taught that church/spiritual life should remain mostly separate from political life. My general thesis is that when we understand political engagement in such myopic and dualistic ways, it hinders the possibilities of a more robust catalyst for Christ’s love made tangible.
Rather than voting being the “end-game” of our political engagement, it should act merely as an entry point. To view voting as an entry point means there are many other ways for Christians to witness to our distinct kind of political life. And here I want to be clear, to talk of Christian politics necessarily references the means, processes, and eschatological vision of what Randy Woodley calls the “Shalom Community.” To talk about our political witness is to talk about the community of peace and how to enact it.
In the midst of ongoing racial injustice, violence, and erosion of public trust in “truth,” I’d like to point toward an historical flashpoint of racial violence to talk about one of these alternative ways of enacting shalom that faithfully represents a Christian political engagement.
Ironically, Nov. 3 is a meaningful date not just for the 2020 election. It also marks the 31st anniversary of the Greensboro massacre. And in this moment, I agree with John Paul Lederach that Christians ought not “forgive and forget” but “remember and change.” On Nov. 3 1979, Ku Klux Klansmen and Nazis, with what would later be described as police complicity, disrupted a labor march in a predominantly black neighborhood in Greensboro, N.C. They killed five and injured 10 people. In the subsequent trial, all but one participant were exonerated by an all-white jury. Twenty years later, the community remained divided and the germination of the United States’ first Truth and Reconciliation Commission began.
Many of us know the term Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as the process enacted in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. TRC’s are a form of transitional justice utilized in the wake of community harm and mass atrocities, either past or ongoing, that entail truth finding, witness testimony (including victim-centered approaches), acknowledgement of wrongdoing, structures of accountability, and steps toward healing and reconciliation. Many TRCs have been commissioned; including ones in Rwanda, Sierre Leone, Canada, Northern Ireland, and the United States. Typically, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are situated in a broader framework of Restorative Justice and works to bring together survivors, accused offenders, and family and community support networks.
In 2004, The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Project, guided by the International Center for Transitional Justice and a National Board, crafted a process and mandate through a local task force to undergo the first TRC in the United States. Over two years, they received testimony from individuals, held conversations with stakeholders, facilitated conversations, held three public hearings, and learned from other TRC processes. They invited Desmund Tutu to gather with them, who spoke of how violence can lead to a “crippled community as long as you refuse to face up to your past.” A video summary of the Greensboro TRC can be found here.
In May of 2006, they published their findings and recommendations. Fania Davis, in her book, “Race and Restorative Justice,” summarizes: “The final report called for community healing by way of institutional reform, official apologies, anti-racism police training, public memorials and museum exhibits, and the creation of a community justice center and police review board” (Davis, 78). This particular TRC process was initiated by community members and was a grassroots effort. That is, legislatures and policy makers were not a part of the process. The city ultimately rejected the recommendations of the board. The process did, however, spark communal healing in a divided city.
And while there are many lessons to be learned, I’d like to just share a few:
The Greensboro TRC interacted with and was hosted by faith communities. Churches are much more than a collection of individuals who come to worship on Sundays. Churches are built-in community structures that have the capacity to link and fortify social relationships across a community. As such, being willing to partner with and engage in a diverse cross section of community organizations is an essential witness to the shalom community. And, this includes government agencies that can match community work with policy change (one that might have had better results in Greensboro).
Churches are much more than a collection of individuals who come to worship on Sundays. Churches are built-in community structures that have the capacity to link and fortify social relationships across a community.
But this means several things, especially for Nazarenes who are predominately white. First, we must seek the truth of historical, systemic, and ongoing harms. For many in the United States, that means listening to the stories of our black and brown brothers and sisters (both in relationship with our neighbors and through diverse authors). We must either join spaces or create spaces for storytelling and relationship building. Black Lives Matter grew as a collective movement because these listening spaces have not been cultivated. Listening well with grace and compassion is a distinctly Christian political practice.
Second, these spaces-of-encounter must provide an avenue for truth-telling and accountability. If the goal is healing, then we must look at these historical and ongoing harms (like institutional and cultural racism) as wounds that cause trauma. And here’s the thing about trauma — in order to overcome it, survivors need validation that the harm was wrong, answers that help them reconstruct a coherent narrative, the power to have their voices heard, physical safety, and resources to heal. All of these, collectively together, provide a sense of justice. Accountability, then, requires the ones who are responsible for harm to be accountable to these measures and make amends. Our current legal system prosecutes “individual acts,” but doesn’t account for systemic and communal harms done. Community-based truth and healing initiatives (like ones found in the restorative justice field), with churches as primary participants, provide a process for such accountability.
Third, a justice that leads toward shalom requires reparative action. Equity needs to be restored. In a TRC process, the outcomes are constructed from the conversations held in those “spaces-of-encounter.” That means, we’re talking about constructing a justice “with” rather than a justice “to” or even “over” a community. Communal participation across racial or political divides is key to lasting change. These reparative measures can be economic, policy based, educational, relational, and even psychological (see above from the Greensboro TRC as recommended outcomes).
Our engagement doesn’t doesn’t have to be a full on Truth and Reconciliation process, but instigating spaces to gather with the “other,” for story-telling, for truth-telling, and for participatory practices for accountability are all options for re-imagining our life together (the Christian polis). My hope is that the church doesn’t fall into the trap of defining our political witness only through a ballot box or narrowly through any one issue. Rather, Christian political engagement holds the possibility of building social cohesion, repairing a myriad of harms, and through such work witnessing to the shalom for which God longs.
Eric Paul is an ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene, the District Coordinator for Justice and Compassion in the Hawaii Pacific District, and the Executive Director of West Hawaii Mediation Center. He continues to believe that the work of reconciliation is not an addendum to the church’s mission, but is the church’s mission.
There has been a wonderful move away from talking about “uniformity” to instead talking about unity in our diversity. Hopefully we have long abandoned any idea that we need to all look, act, and think like one another in order to work together.
And, of course, from a biblical perspective, unity is both a goal to work towards and a promised gift of the spirit. Being united in spirit and purpose, at our tables and places of worship is good. We know intuitively that harmony comes through unity.
However, we should be aware that calls for “unity” have sometimes been used to silence voices of those on the margins. When those in power use the term in frustration at the challenge of the status quo, the word can become contemptuous. It says, “You’re not like us but you should be, because we are best and right.”
For those of us who are white allies, we have to understand that we may not be trusted in our calls for unity. We may have more reparative work to do. We might need to do more confession and reconciliation work.
It is incumbent upon us to earn trust.
While police-led “unity marches” may have both sincere and beneficial trajectories, we should understand why they might not be accepted among BIPOC, especially if policing practices continue to be excessive.
We have to be careful that our calls for unity are not just an attempt to silence those who dissent. This involves a humble posture of listening, a recognition that all of our answer may not be right, and a deep value of the culture, values, and beliefs of the other.
We’re honored to be able to tell the story of Nazarene student, Chelsea Stone, as part of the Black Stories series in our #reHumanize Project.
My name is Chelsea Stone. I am an Indigenous, white, and Black woman in the US – mixed raced. However, I mainly identify as Black because that is not only my culture, but the community where I feel most at home. I grew up in Salem, Oregon – a predominately white, conservative, suburban bubble. I currently attend MidAmerica Nazarene University, after spending two years at Trevecca Nazarene University, and will be completing my Interdisciplinary degree in Intercultural Studies and Sociology in the Spring of 2021.
I am a bold, outspoken, vivacious, loving, confident, straight-forward, empowering, strong, never-afraid-of-a-challenge, Black woman, and you best believe I’m proud.
As a Christian, I believe in a God that lifts up the oppressed and a Gospel that holds a message of anti-racism.
I believe in a God who fights for immigrant men, women, and children, Indigenous peoples, and refugees.
I believe in a God who fights for Black people who have been oppressed by the hands of racism for hundreds of years, and I believe this because I must believe in a God who fights for me.
I believe in a God who fights for Black people who have been oppressed by the hands of racism for hundreds of years, and I believe this because I must believe in a God who fights for me.
In my 21 years of living I have experienced and seen more racism from Christians than people from any other faith tradition or lack thereof.
I have observed how white Christians coped with their racism and the reality that Black and Brown people are created equal in God’s eyes by way of selective “color-blindness” (refusing to see the color of Black and Brown “friends” as to not treat them less-than but being actively racist towards Black and Brown strangers—ironic in itself as refusing to see color strips Black and Brown people of an intricate part of who they are).
I have been the victim of the “aggressive/malicious” Black girl narrative and have often had to have my white counterparts speak my words for me in order for my ideas to be considered valid.
I have had my identity stripped from me and not seen wholly because white people refuse to acknowledge Blackness because of their own fear and prejudice.
I have seen the photos of my Black family; the photos they took as they were slaves in the South.
I have seen the photos and read the history of my community, the photos of them being lynched, put into zoos, photos of their heads scalped, bellies cut, babies stomped on, teeth pulled out, and backs brutally torn from being whipped.
I have had people come touch and pet my hair like I am a petting zoo animal.
I have seen Black friends struggle to accept and embrace their Blackness because of a society that perpetuates a message that equates “white” with beauty, elegance, and well-read and “Black” with ugly, uneducated, illiterate, deadbeat, lazy, and aggressive.
I have been called racial slurs, dehumanized, and had my dignity stripped from me until I felt naked and alone.
And yet, the most angering and disappointing thing of all is this: watching my closest friends, peers, and members of the Church remain entirely silent on the issue of racism in such a time as this. I, and other Black men, women, and children, have experienced too many moments where our dignity and humanity was stripped of us or questioned, and some of us have not lived to tell the tale.
The reality is this, we will continue to experience these moments if this movement does not transcend beyond the last two weeks and into the days forward.
Now, I am addressing the Church here in saying that there is a disconnect between the mission of the people of God and anti-racism. Whether it is from the “color blindness” rhetoric and teaching the Church picked up to cope with racism, or the lack of conversation around the sin of racism is not something I would like to get into.
But I do want to say this: anti-racism is a part of the holistic living we are called to in our spiritual life. We believe in a God who is bold. A God whose love is living and moving, not passive. A God who loves holistically, encompassing all of who we are, not just parts. A God who remains present and wrestles with us.
In our profession as the people of God, I believe our heart’s desire and mission is to not just receive this love but to exhibit it. A love that moves boldly in pursuit of what is good, true, right. A love that challenges us to wrestle with our innermost shortcomings. A love that prompts us to live in a holistic way in which our prayers, laments, commitments, and praises are not merely one moment in time, but parts of a whole.
What I am saying is this: Enough is enough. It is time for the Church, the people of God, to remember their mission. It is time for the people of God to listen to the cries of Black people. It is time for our prayers to be more than words spoken, but actions carried out because we are living holistically with the Gospel. It is time that your prayers for the oppression of the Black community to end be followed through by a dedication to be anti-racist.
I believe in and serve a God who is good, holistically loving, and just. And I must believe that God is these things because I must believe in a God who sees me, hears me, walks with me, and fights with me.
We’re very honored to be able to feature this story by Kerry King. She gives a real and raw account of her varied experiences as a black woman.
“Posting this is one of the most impossible things I’ve ever done. For two decades I have struggled with where to put these feelings inside of myself. In truth, I also did not want to hurt others, some of whom have become lifelong friends.
Much of what I’ll say is intensely personal, tinged with pain and sharing it still feels far too vulnerable. What if I am judged to be playing the race card, living in the past, being guilty of carrying unforgiveness in my heart, of having been disingenuous in my friendships, complicit in my silence or what if the bias is mine? Plus, if I have matured and had evolutions in my perspective since these events, certainly others have too.
Was it unfair to evoke events related to a time when we were all finding ourselves, shaking off childhood and navigating our adult selves? If I actually hit ‘post’ remains to be seen; but if I do it will be out of an overwhelming sense that for too long I have carried an emotional burden that is not mine alone to bear. It will have been because it is too easy to speak of an incident, such as the death of George Floyd, as an isolated incident, without recognizing how the accumulation of incidents impact a life, a psyche and a people. It will be because our actions have consequences in the lives of others that outlive our personal interests in and memory of the events.
In August 1995, I left the island of Barbados and moved to central Ohio, in order to attend a small liberal arts college, affiliated with the evangelical denomination in which I had been raised. I had lobbied my parents to attend Howard University, the illustrious historically black college, because I knew many of the island’s scholars had thrived and found their voice there. I craved the same for myself. My father, fearing for a daughter raging to see the world but who had been raised in the cocoon of close family, a whole lot of church, and a predominately homogenous small island nation, did not feel I was ready to be independent in a big city like Washington DC. I persisted in being allowed to go abroad and the compromise was to send me to this Christian college.
My uncle, a minister in our denomination, had attended briefly in the late 70s/early 80s. He’d had many brushes with prejudice but it was a different time. I would be safe there. There would not be wild parties and violence. I would not be exposed to the wrong element and run the risk of abusing my newly minted freedom.I had been to the United States before, as my sister and I had spent multiple summers in the Maryland suburbs with our aunt and her family. I had also met American evangelicals before in the form of missionaries and officials from church headquarters who would visit the island from time to time. Due to the extent of my parents’ involvement in the Barbados district’s congregation of churches, we had housed and fed many of them. I know they were grateful for the comforts we’d offered them and often displayed unveiled surprise at the quality of our home.
Yet, I always felt they viewed us, collectively, as poor third worlders to be evangelized. I remember sitting at the tabernacle, our denomination’s central gathering place, and listening as a missionary addressed the crowd. Embedded in his address, during which he asked our district superintendent whether we understood him, was the repeated request for those gathered to respond with, “Praise God”. I was a child and did not yet know that his manner could be defined by the word condescension but I will never forget my aunt muttering under her breath, “Praise God we are not as stupid as you think!” Such was my early experience of white people. Christians who brought us American candy and spoke down to us. I began to formulate in my mind that white people thought we were beneath them but somehow I also believed it was all a trick because we knew a secret they did not.
That truth lived only in their imagination.
Anyway, I was off to great America. I was excited and felt I had pulled off a coup in getting my father to agree. It had only taken me two years to convince him! My mother saw me off with tears, surrounded by our youth group and their homemade farewell banner which hung in my dorm room for many years to come.My father, uncle (a different one) and I were picked up at the Columbus airport by a family friend who was the best friend of the first uncle and a then minister in this Faith. I knew him. He had preached a memorable week of crusade services at our church. He had not spoken down to us. We had anticipated that he would but he had not. I can tell you every detail of a sermon he shared with our congregation about putting out your ‘fleece’ as a test of faith.
That sermon was a large part of the reason I was sitting in that car.
As we drove the 30 miles northeast of Columbus, excitement increasingly shifted to anxiety. Almost immediately as we left the Columbus city limits, we stopped seeing people of color. I was not certain what it would mean but I noticed it. I felt somehow less protected. These black people did not know me but by then I knew we were all known to each other. Had I not sat with trepidation alongside my family years earlier as we watched Nelson Mandela walk out of that South African jail? It had been my experience that black people everywhere were one. We were inseparably joined by a trait that allowed us to share in the collective experience of each other’s joy, suffering, and pain.
The three of us set up camp in the Super 8 Motel (to this day the cleanest and most nicely run one I have encountered) and waited for move-in day to come. We excitedly shopped for dorm stuff at K-mart and Walmart. I bought boots and a jacket in August because, well…island people. I was excited about the endless availability of shopping and American junk food at my fingertips! I would no longer have to wait for a relative to visit from the States or ship a barrel home in order to indulge. It was all at my disposal! What a coup d’e-tat.
On one of my first nights in the dorm, girls gathered and giggled, as Freshman and Sophomore girls do. People were already beginning to stake their claims on life partners, talking about who was cute, who they had made eyes with during summer on-campus visitation and the like. I watched, feeling slightly awkward but happily soaking in the newness of this life. In the midst of the giggling, one girl, turned to me and said, “Who are you going to date?” And then inserted the name of one of two black males on campus. Her face did not hold malice, simply innocent inquisitiveness. She was not attempting to inflict pain. She had accurately assessed that there were no other black men there and it was of course understood that I could not have one of theirs. Until that moment it seemed to have been understood to all but me. No one reacted with surprise or dismay at her statement. They also waited with curiosity. “I don’t like white boys”, I replied.
In truth I did not know whether or not I did. I had never had the opportunity to find out.
Unlike her, I said it out of malice. I needed to establish that their automatic and nonchalant withholding of something from me did not hurt. Like sour grapes, I had not wanted it anyway.
As the years progressed, I did date white boys. It could even be said that love had a chance to bloom. Of that I am not even certain, because the desperate loneliness that I felt during that period of my life caused me to cling and distort emotions in a way that now invalidates what felt like love then.I remember walking across campus with a guy I was seeing and having his teammates walk by and slap him on the back sing-songing, “(insert name) has jungle fever”! As incredible as it sounds, I had never heard the term and did not know exactly what it meant, but I knew that it had to do with his choice to be with the black girl.
Somehow his affiliation with me had gotten him associated with the jungle. Was I the animal or was he? I felt conspicuous…exposed…objectified.Another young man pursued me relentlessly for weeks only to abruptly stop calling. He no longer lingered after the chapel services so we could walk to class together. He did not wait for me outside the cafeteria. He did not ask me to drive with him to Walmart. He suddenly halted what had begun to emerge as our routines. When it became unbearable, I cornered him and demanded to know what had changed. He sheepishly explained to me that on his visit home over the past weekend, it had become clear that his family could not accept him dating a black girl. His Christian, bible-believing, regularly church-attending family could not accept me as a suitable match for their son. I did not love him so what I felt was not heartbreak. It was devastation. In spite of all that I DID represent that was good, people would reject me because of something over which I had no control. Something not implicated in my character or conduct.
Being black made me unpalatable to ‘good people’.
I was angry that he did not stand up for me. I was outraged that he could so easily discard me.In my freshman year I sat in a packed lecture theatre. I was one of many who raised my hand in response to the professor’s question. When he pointed in my general direction, we could not differentiate who he meant. In the midst of the confusion of, “me?”, “me?”, “me?” he, in final exasperation said, “the black girl”. A gasp echoed around the room, followed by a deafening silence. I straightened up, eloquently made my point and pretended to be unaffected. I do not know what was more impactful. Having been singled out or my classmates’ reaction to the verbalization of what was clearly true.I remember walking through the halls of an elementary school where I did my first teacher training practicum. A little boy walking by me in the hallway snarled out, “yaaaah black girl!”. I told myself I was unimpacted by his ignorance and actually pitied his upbringing.
I was devastated that such hate resided in the heart of a child so young. That at the age of six or seven he had already determined that the legitimacy of my adult authority was inferior to his innate white superiority. He is now an adult in this world, and I pray he is not raising children who snarl at black people or participate in ‘George Floyd challenges’. God help us.
Obviously no one was flying me home for brief mid-semester breaks. Friends would offer for me to come home with them. I had become bold enough to ask the important questions. “How does your family feel about black people?” Too often I heard, “My (insert grandmother, grandfather…other relative) says things. They are from another generation”. I would politely decline. Being an accidental target is one thing. Choosing to be a target is lunacy.
In my senior year I attended a costume party where a few kids thought it would be funny to show up dressed as the KKK. I wasn’t explicitly invited but went along with some girlfriends. When we got there the party was in full swing. Everyone was having a great time. I arrived and made things awkward. I did not make a fuss. I did not cause a scene. I stayed long enough to not seem like I was running. Perhaps sensing my discomfort, perhaps feeling their own, we decided we would leave. I can’t remember if we spoke about it. The next day a member of the college’s administration called to ask whether I had attended the party and witnessed my classmates dressed as the Klan. They apologized that I’d had to experience this and informed me that they’d be meeting with these students. Later, one of the boys involved came and pleaded with me to speak with school officials. He wanted me to explain to them that I knew it was just a joke. That based on the identity of one of the participants it was obviously meant to be ironic. He wanted me to explain that we were friends. He wanted me to explain that I was not offended. What I actually felt was singled out…trapped…made to be responsible for whether this young man and others would be allowed to graduate. I felt it should not have been on me. I felt responsible nevertheless. I did not advocate for them. I did not advocate against them. They graduated.
In four years at an evangelical Christian college I learned that I was an object. I learned that people would always see my skin before they saw me. I learned that I could be the brightest (graduated Summa Cum Laude and Salutatorian), nicest, most charming person and I would still be unpalatable to many simply because I was black. I learned that hiding your true feelings so as not to make others uncomfortable, no matter how offensive they may be, is an unfair burden. I learned that internalized prejudice is subtle. I learned that the prolonged and subtle experience of prejudice is worse than being called a nigger to your face. The latter you can rage against. The invalidation of the former leaves you feeling helpless in a way that lingers long after the experience is over. I learned that in order to make sense of rampant discrimination you can begin to believe that if ‘those other black people’ could just behave like me they too could be accepted as palatable…they should stop making it bad for the rest of us. The people who taught me these lessons were not neo-Nazis. They were the people who would genuinely give their last to someone in need, who spoke of what it was to have a servant’s heart, who evoke the name of God and speak with the appearance of spiritual authority.
There were people there who loved me.
In saying this, I recognize that it will appear as a statement of appeasement to some. It is also true. My former academic advisor, assistant chaplain, college president and his wife, the registrar (who I refer to as my Ohio grandpa) are counted among the number who made me feel seen and loved. I needed them desperately. Without them I would have drowned.
There are others who have left me confused in the years hence. I have read their tone deaf and often vile social media post about matters impacting the lives of individuals like me and have wondered if I’d imagined their support for me. Did they see me as acceptable because they had made me somehow different (than the others) in their minds? I recognized early on that having a “cute” accent, quick laugh, sharp mind and attractive face have been my greatest tools in navigating white America. I recognize that they put others at ease. They allow people to tell me boldly that I’m not like most black people. It makes them comfortable enough to joke that they are blacker than me. I have not always rallied against this notion. I am not proud to acknowledge this but I am also not ashamed because like my ancestors, I am also built to survive. Sometimes it truly is by any means necessary.
These are a few of the incidents that stand out in my mind. I don’t even know why these ones. There are four years’ worth embedded in my memory banks. Too many to recount. Not worth the emotional energy to relive.
I think if my father had known what I would have learnt there he may have calculated that the risk of me partying, drinking and smoking pot may have been a lesser evil. He did not know. He thought I would have been safe. I was not.
Right now I’m tired. Tired of living this. Tired of thinking about it. Tired of holding it. Tired of not wanting to hold it. Tired of the effort to release it. Tired from speaking it. Tired of calculating how to be palatable. Tired.
In the last few days every time I have felt depleted, and unable to process any more, unable to rebut insular thinking, I have been fortified by the voices of my friends. Many of them from my time in college. They have spoken with clear voice about the persistent wrong of racism. I sat in tears as I saw a ‘Black Lives Matter’ march in my former college town. I never anticipated that in my lifetime.Much is wrong in the world. Stereotypes are easy. As black people we have felt too justified in holding on to them because in many instances they are intimately tied to our safety. A miscalculation of friend or foe can cost our lives.
The required hypervigilance of living in that dynamic is exhausting. It leaves us depleted, angry, resentful. Even as I speak my truth I am hopeful that we will ALL do better.
We have been silent for too long.
As black people we have sat and languished in feelings of shame and inferiority that are not ours alone to bear.
It is long past time.
We have been silent for too long. As black people we have sat and languished in feelings of shame and inferiority that are not ours alone to bear. It is long past time.
Emily Hardy, who spent time living in East Asia, helps us think a bit about the racist undertones we’ve seen in some of the discussions about the Coronavirus.
Words are indeed felt. The conversations we engage in and the language we use to discuss the realities of others are meaningful.
The world came into being through conversation. God spoke. In response: existence.
It must be valuable.
Yet somehow we forget this, as is evidenced in the discourse I’ve seen among Western cultures about coronavirus.
Really, to make this a bit more personal, this is discourse I hear among patients at the hospital I work at too.
I work in a lung cancer clinic and my role is not of the same importance as a doctor or a nurse, but it allows me to have the most dialogue with the patients we see.
Most of the world at this point in time with the spread of the virus most recently dubbed COVID-19 is taking precautions and we are no exception.
This means that every day I am blessed (that’s the word I’ll choose to use, though the one I’d like to use has a similar but opposite meaning) with the task of asking patients if they’ve travelled internationally in the past month.
“Are you asking me this because of that stuff in China?”
“China is dirty. I’d never go there!”
“Oh, yeah that coronavirus in China is bad. I suppose that happens because they’re poor and can’t afford to clean their food.”
“Those Chinese. There’s just too many of them and that’s why this stuff happens.”
The statements written here are not verbatim and unfortunately, they’re probably more forgiving than what was actually said.
China, the epicenter of the virus, is home to many of my most cherished friends. I suppose that makes it that much easier for me to feel a deep sense of loss at what I hear people saying in response to the situation.
The kinds of oversimplified statements I’ve heard being used to explain the cause of illness and suffering among a people group make me weep. It is a sincere problem, if we believe that these claims are not harmful.
It’s a problem partly because what’s being said here is not being said in its wholeness. There’s an entire underbelly of context that isn’t being explored. Every place comes into being through historical, cultural, systemic, environmental, and spiritual mingling. The life rhythms of a place are reflective of that. To say China’s food preparation practices are unsafe is unfair unless we are also choosing to move the conversation further into deeper understanding.
Even so, once we have rightfully taken a statement to its proper end through this kind of exploration, what was our motivation behind doing so? What is that really doing for the lives in crisis in this very moment?
I do not want to dismiss the value in attempting to understand the cause of a disease so that it can be prevented in the future. I do, however, want to emphasize the importance of reframing our thinking so that we can better hold space for the pain others are experiencing in the moment they are experiencing it.
Empathy is not birthed through the collection of knowledge, facts, and understanding. It is available to us always without condition.
In any worldwide catastrophe whether it be mass spread disease, political tension, war, systemic racism, or something else, we need to remember that those affected are first and foremost victims. For the sake of these victims, our responses cannot be thoughtless and they should not assume blame.
We must do the hard work of considering before we speak and act how what we are doing is going to impact the insides and outsides of ourselves.
I say “we” consistently throughout this piece of writing intentionally because this is a collective movement toward growth, rightness, and holiness. Everything is interconnected. If it’s about me, it’s about the rest of the world too.
That being said, all of this is a reminder for myself to be better.
It is a reminder that I continue to fail to provide the right kind of togetherness for those who are suffering. It is a reminder of how easy it is to come to conclusions that further increase hurt. It is a reminder that unknowing can be good as to allow myself to be present in the moment with pain that does not have an explanation. And it is a reminder that there will always be a world full of people I do not know or understand that need my empathy to remind them they are seen and they are not alone.
There is no singular reason for the deep division that besets our nations and our churches. However, in many ways, the church is reaping what it sowed through some of the principles of the church growth movement, namely the homogenous unit principle.
This principle asserts that, since people are most comfortable being with people just like them (who share affinities, interests and demographics) we can most effectively grow churches by helping people feel the most comfortable.
This is an oversimplification in practice, of course, but this thread ran deep in evangelical circles. The fruit of this, then, has shown us to be more segregated than ever, from race to age, from political party and socio-economic class to music style.
The recovery will be long and difficult. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit and her wisdom, the church can and must work redemptively to repair these breaches. It will take intentionality and it may be painful. But we must remember both our shared humanity and divinity, best expressed in the unity found only in our diversity.
This blog post is part of a recurring series called the #reHumanize Project, an initiative by Nazarenes United for Peace that seeks to help us rediscover our shared, divine humanity.
It’s hard to remember that there is a living person behind that twitter handle, isn’t it? People are reduced to avatars and screen names and we forget our humanity. I tend to be much snarkier with a short, 10 word comment on Facebook than I would ever be in person.
Gaby helps us think about this phenomenon and how we can better #reHumanize one another in our digital spaces. I’m grateful for her contribution to our project.
I have many friends on my virtual friend list with whom I disagree politically and in other areas. I bet you do, too. Several of them are also friends in “real” life – people I worship, work, and homeschool with.
And I would tell you that I don’t mind that we disagree, that I can handle people having a different opinion or perspective than mine. At least that’s what I thought.
But then I began to take a closer look at what was truly taking place in my heart:
One day my friend John* posted an angry and lengthy status about how people who are on welfare are lazy and simply don’t want to work.
Later my friend Jessica excitedly shared a link inviting evangelicals to contribute money to build “The Wall.”
Then my friend Mark put an offensive meme on his wall poking fun at “those hypocritical, narrow-minded Christians.”
Because I have strong personal ties to and opinions about all of those issues: each article, status, and meme hurt and angered me. I felt disappointed by my friends and wondered how I didn’t know these things about them. I promised myself that I would erase them from my list of friends, virtually and physically.
“I am done with ‘those’ people!” I fumed. Who could blame me? We disagreed fundamentally on issues dear to my heart in ways I felt were insurmountable. How could I possibly be in relationship with people who, in my mind, were so awful?
However, the truth is that I was viewing people through the narrow, insufficient lense of social media. I was using that one post, that one shared article, that one meme to measure the whole of a person. I was willing to vilify and discount those friends as “all bad” or “all wrong” and I was prepared to discard them from my life.
However, my perspective was soon challenged when I spent an afternoon working with John on a church service project and I saw how tenderly he spoke to the homeless people we were serving. He treated them with such dignity and I remembered that he has a heart full of compassion that breaks at the sight of pain.
And then I went to a party thrown by the Hispanic congregation of our church and I watched Jessica rock the babies, play with the children, and laugh with the teenagers of the very people she wants to help keep out with her money. I remembered that she loves everyone in her sphere of influence with great generosity.
I overheard Mark passionately defend a Christian friend we have in common to a co-worker who was mocking her beliefs behind her back. And I remembered that he is the protector of the underdog and would do anything for people to feel safe around him.
The truth is, over the years I’ve learned kindness from John, open-handedness from Jessica, and courage from Mark. I am a better person for knowing them. And this is true about many other friends and family I drastically disagree with regarding issues that are important to me.
I have to constantly remind myself that people are so very complex:
That sometimes we can hold a belief yet behave in ways that completely contradict who we “should” be based on that belief.
That more often than not, we put our relationships with other humans first, even if our politics don’t match in theory.
That we react to life based on the experiences we have or have not had, the ways we were taught to believe or behave, and the perspectives to which we have or have not been exposed. (I view life through the lens of a Hispanic woman, raised in Ecuador by a single parent, an immigrant to this country, a person who did not grow up in a Christian home but came to know Jesus in my late teens. Hence, my worldview is significantly different from my husband’s worldview. He grew up in a small, mostly white, southern town here in the USA, in a two parent home, the son of a Nazarene pastor. Naturally, our political views are colored by our backgrounds but he and I have helped each other, over the years, to see the world through the other’s perspective and we are better for it.)
That, at our core, most of us want to love truly others and are blind to the ways we hurt them.
So, I am finding ways to fight the temptation to reduce people to one picture or post shared on social media and lose sight of their wholeness. Sometimes that means finding opportunities to engage in face-to-face, gentle discussions with them about those issues. It pushes me to think deeper and to listen better, to look at things from different perspectives, and to learn to disagree with grace and kindness.
Sometimes it means not engaging with certain people about certain topics because I know it won’t be fruitful and can actually be harmful to our relationship. And sometimes it means hiding some of my friends from my feed because it helps me to love them better in real life.
I naturally want to isolate myself from people who disagree with me, to label them as less than human and cut them out of my life. But there is so much more to my relationships with these people than political agreement. If I let myself get caught up in the social media drama, I will miss all the other ways these friends make my life richer.
*All names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent 😊
Gaby Johnson is a native Ecuadorian who has lived in the USA for the last 25 years. She is married to a chaplain and homeschools their two amazing kiddos.
This blog post is part of a recurring series called the #reHumanize Project, an initiative by Nazarenes United for Peace that seeks to help us rediscover our shared, divine humanity.
There’s a whole lot of “othering” going on these days. But our Wesleyan theology can help us overcome the tendency to retreat into our silos with battlements. It helps us be sure we are not creating victims through our theology.
Rev. Dr. Jones’ post comes at just the right time. I think you’ll enjoy it. May God help us.
We are swimming in a disorienting cultural moment. For some of us, it feels unprecedented. For others, it is yet another Monday in a succession of Mondays. But something does feel particularly poignant, a certain weightiness to navigating the cultural waters at the risk of drowning amidst the chaos. I grew up in Tornado Alley. Inevitably, when storms came, we would seek shelter in a cellar, hidden from the power of the storm. And, this image has provided an all-too-appropriate metaphor for the Church’s strategy for weathering the cultural maelstrom – hunker down, secure all exits, cram “our” people into the small space, and hope it blows over.
There is a not-so-implicit theology of holiness that is operational in this model of cultural engagement. It is the idea that holiness is a matter of separation between clean and unclean, holy and unholy. Like water and oil, the two can’t mix. And, in fact, evil, sin, and the unclean contaminates that which it touches. Holiness is delicate and must be protected at all costs. Evil becomes a tangible thing (rather than an absence or twisting of the good) that must be eradicated. It is a small step toward eradicating the bodies and lives of those deemed “unclean” by these holiness codes. After all, holiness must be protected from contamination, lest we all become unclean by contact or association.
Of course, holiness-as-separation (priestly tradition) is not the only framework for understanding holiness in the scriptures. The wisdom tradition gives testimony to the shared experience of living wisely in the world. The prophetic tradition emphasizes communities that preserve the well-being of the most vulnerable in society through means of justice (i.e., widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor). The over-emphasis on priestly separation creates a significant imbalance in our vision of holiness. And, in its most twisted versions, priestly holiness can only define itself by what it is against while unable to name what it is for. Such a fragile vision of holiness undercuts the quality of holiness that promotes the “good” toward which it must be aimed. Extremes of holiness-as-separation devolve into fearful “escapology” rather than hopeful “eschatology” – the redemption of the world. To be called out and separate is always for the sake of the world, not over-and-against the world.
The over-emphasis on priestly separation creates a significant imbalance in our vision of holiness.
How curious and yet convenient that the holiness-as-separation paradigm fits incredibly well within a political and economic framework that sees all of life on the basis of production, consumption, and competition. It is a framework that at once captures both institutional realities and individual lives. After all, politics and economics as they are currently constructed in the United States rest foundationally on the principle that we are all competitors vying for limited resources in the midst of a sea of insatiable and unending desire (supply and demand). Thus, we may have tentative agreements between select groups that work together for mutual benefit but inevitably it breaks down into individualistic self-preservation (after all, survival is the primary good in this system). In other words, competition devolves into conflict and competitors evolve into enemies – between the haves and have-nots.
In a very simplified way, I am describing the cultural marriage, an unholy trinity, now present in the United States which is predicated on economic self-preservation, religious sectarianism, and political jingoism. The communion of capitalism and democracy under the guise of Christian faithfulness has been long embraced and retains numerous adherents. Questioning or theologically deconstructing such systems is difficult to maintain without significant reformation. Most systems are resistant to critique and prefer the certainty of ideology and demagogues. The extremes of holiness-as-separation, nationalistic isolationism, and capitalistic consumerism provide a sacred litany of categorical demands and classifications, sustaining power and privilege in the hands of a select few and preserves the “holiness” of the system without serious questioning of the system. The baptizing of nationalistic and capitalistic allegiances in Christian language demands conformity, lest dissent be punished with labels such as “unpatriotic,” “communist,” or “un-Christian,” etc. In other words, failing to ascribe to the system renders one unclean, unholy, and unwelcome – other. Likewise, those who are born outside of the system, those who challenge the system, or those who can be categorized as competitors (i.e., the poor, ethnic minorities, different nationalities, adherents of different faith traditions – including those who identify as Christian but question the system, etc.) are quickly labeled as enemies.
Such categorization justifies any violence deemed necessary as a holy war fought to preserve the imagined sacred and holy status of a “Christian” society. Of course, nobody laments gaining the economic spoils of war (thus, pro-capitalism and pro-democracy are chief tenants of this cultural Christianity). The war may result in physical violence, such as a religious pogrom, or it may be as seemingly democratic as a court case determining if employers can fire LGBTQ+ employees with impunity. Regardless, the message is clear; those who do not fit within the parameters of this society and play the game are quickly labeled as “other” and either dismissed as inconsequential or destroyed as a potential threat. Such coalescing of holiness-as-separation, economic competition, and nationalistic exceptionalism is the perfect storm that can only see others as potential threats to be exorcised from the body politic of society. That politic goes by the simple name of Empire whose telos is power, not love.
It was just such a system that crucified a poor, Jubilee-proclaiming, political dissident – the same dissident who mingled with prostitutes, lepers, the poor, and the outcast; the same crucified Christ who announced Sabbath freedom to the blind, the lame, tax collectors, widows, orphans, and sinners. And, it is this same crucified enemy of the Powers-that-be who instituted a Table as a gathering place for all who recognize that by God’s grace and as Kin-dom people of God, we can be neighbors rather than enemies. God, resplendent in holiness, has torn down the dividing wall, dissolved the categories of “other” in order that we may be made one, even as the Son and Father are one.
After all, it is God who is Holy/Wholly Other, who takes on our flesh and becomes one of us – which is to say, God does not remain “other.” This is the scandal of incarnation and crucifixion – the condescension of God – to become one of us, not merely in appearance. And, this same God confronts Peter in a vision in which he is told not to call unclean that which God has made clean – namely, Gentiles (a social and political “other” to the Jews). This trajectory of dismantling “other” from the grammar of our lives is clearly embodied at the Table where Jesus says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28, NIV). What greater sin is there than the lack of love which promotes the “othering” of those whom God loves and calls to dine at the banquet of divine grace?
John Ortberg tells a powerful story of a priest set apart for service to others, which may bring further illumination.
“Father Damien was a priest who became famous for his willingness to serve lepers. He moved to Kalawao – a village on the island of Molokai, in Hawaii, that had been quarantined to serve as a leper colony. For 16 years, he lived in their midst. He learned to speak their language. He bandaged their wounds, embraced the bodies no one else would touch, preached to hearts that would otherwise have been left alone. He organized schools, bands, and choirs. He built homes so that the lepers could have shelter. He built 2,000 coffins by hand so that, when they died, they could be buried with dignity. Slowly, it was said, Kalawao became a place to live rather than a place to die, for Father Damien offered hope.
Father Damien was not careful about keeping his distance. He did nothing to separate himself from his people. He dipped his fingers in the poi bowl along with the patients. He shared his pipe. He did not always wash his hands after bandaging open sores. He got close. For this, the people loved him.
Then one day he stood up and began his sermon with two words: ‘We lepers….’ Now he wasn’t just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward, he wasn’t just on their island; he was in their skin. First, he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.
One day God came to Earth and began his message: ‘We lepers….’
Now he wasn’t just helping us. Now he was one of us. Now he was in our skin. Now we were in it together” (John Ortberg, God Is Closer Than You Think, 121-22).
May such holy love be evident among “us,” tearing down the walls that divide, so that we might confess together: “We lepers…”
Rev. Dr. Levi Jones serves as the Director of the Doctor of Ministry at Nazarene Theological Seminary and Co-Lead Pastor at St. Paul’s Church of the Nazarene in Kansas City, MO. He is married to Rev. Rebecca Jones and is grateful for her partnership in life and ministry. They have two wonderful children, Hannah and Caleb.
We are very excited to present to you our free Peace and Justice Advent Calendar for 2019. We hope it is a blessing for you and your family. Feel free to share it with your friends and faith community.