Easter Sunday (or,Ta-Nehisi Coates, Miroslav Volf & NT Wright have a conversation about bodies)

We are back again. This time it’s very early, and the sun is rising. And the kindly looking bishop takes the pulpit.

“Our scripture reading for today comes from the gospel according to John: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

Bodies matter. Disembodiment is evil. But we are people who believe in resurrection. Because Christ is raised from the dead, we believe that all will be raised. Resurrected to judgement or to eternal life. What I do in my body as a white person matters. And what happens to a black body matters. There will come a reckoning. Continue reading

Holy Saturday, the day of waiting (or, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Miroslav Volf & NT Wright have a conversation about bodies)

Christ is dead in the tomb. Everything is suspended.The congregation is silent, sitting and mourning the death of Prince, a black youth murdered by a police officer (or all of us), and the death of Christ, murdered by jealous rivals (or all of us). Miroslav Volf steps to the front and speaks in a slightly European accent: 

“It’s painful. Death is horrible. I know that you are speaking about his life having a higher purpose in order to make meaning for yourselves. To cope. You’re weaving Prince’s story into the larger story of your Christian faith, and you’re saying that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That’s in the Bible, it’s true.

But stop! Continue reading

Good Friday: The Day God Dies (or Ta-Nahesi Coates, Miroslav Volf & N.T. Wright have a conversation about bodies)

We are all gathered in a small chapel for our normal good Friday service, the candles are lit, the incense is ready, but then Ta-Nahesi Coates stands up in the middle of the service, faces the congregation, and begins to speak:

“When a black man dies, everyone wants to talk about forgiving the killer.They want to weave his death into some kind of higher meaning, some purpose. But I don’t believe in God. I believe in bodies. When I sat in the church Prince’s funeral, my black friend who was rich, well educated, whose mother had groomed him for Yale, when I sat there I couldn’t see a higher purpose in his death. Continue reading

An Uprooting

lent.jpgIt’s Lent. It’s a time we in the church make time and space for God to uproot things in our lives, so he can plant something good.

We start out by admitting our frailness, and our propensity to be bent along the lines of a broken and sinful world around us, instead of walking in the straight and life-giving path of life in the Spirit.

We receive ashes, slashed grey on our foreheads, and we’re told “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” You are fleeting. You are frail. You will fail.

One of the most difficult and most obvious truths I learned the first time I went to counseling back in college was: “It takes work to be healthy.”  Continue reading

Identity & Reconciliation: A quick reflection on “The End of Memory”

Volf ends his book talking about how it should have a warning label because it is hazardous to two cherished notions:
1. We should remember wrongs solely out of concern for victims and 2. We should forever remember wrongs suffered.

It seems crazy to argue that we should remember in a way that is fair, and even generous towards the perpetrators as well as the victims. We all have our little camps, where we want to say, “Never forget!” The Afrikaners don’t want us to forget the Anglo-Boer war, and everyone else doesn’t want to forget apartheid. Survivors of sexual abuse don’t want us to forget their pain, or allow us to give voice to the perpetrator. We can’t forget slavery. We can’t forget the holocaust. We can’t forget colonization.

So many of the corner-stones of social justice movements are wrapped around identity, and rest on this idea that we cannot forget the pain of the victims, and to do so gives the perpetrators power. Identity and reconciliation are two things I’m always thinking about, which is probably why Volf is a favorite. Here’s what this book made me think about…

Identity: We live in a broken world, and in the process of bringing social justice, we need to remember. But I can’t ignore Volf’s idea that we should remember rightly.

One of my new favorite children’s picture books. Illustrations by different authors & really touching words. Great way to talk about black history! Click the image to purchase.

In this world where perpetrators of past wrongs have power, too often the suffering of victims is left out of the story being told. Whether it’s the history of America, or the history of Africa, so far we have not done a good job of remembering all parts of our history—for example, the wrongs we have done in America to groups like African Americans and Native Americans. The reason why we still need a black history month in America is because the rest of the time we do a pretty good job forgetting, ignoring, and minimizing past and present injustice towards African-Americans, and their past and present contributions. Whether it’s the need to remember the horror of slavery, or the contributions that African-Americans have made (and continue to make) in our society today—we need to highlight and dwell on these things. This is part of remembering rightly.

But remembering rightly also involves remembering with grace, and not allowing our identities to be defined as victimsIt involves remembering in a way that is generous towards the offender as well as the victim. That is difficult.

Further, if the thought that in eternity I will have to sit down and commune with the man who belittled and maligned me as a woman is repulsive to me, if I am not willing to allow the idea that his offenses could be forgotten … if I’ve defined myself so much as a victimized woman that I cannot allow those wrongs to slip from my mind one day in the presence of the joy of God…that’s dangerous.

If the thought that my identity as a third culture kid, and all the losses and quirks and pain that has brought is more important than my identity in Christ, I’m no longer remembering rightly.

As a person defined by God’s grace towards me, I need to remember with grace towards others. I need to set aside the caricatures of the people or the groups I feel have hurt me—I don’t need them. I’m loved and accepted by Christ, I’m defined by him, so I don’t need those props.

I’m troubled by Christians’ inability to remember rightly some of the wrongs we have committed, our inability to acknowledge how we have caused suffering—and I’m equally worried by the victim camp that refuses to allow any grace for a perpetrator. Our emphasis as Christians should be on reconciliation—seeing that as the ultimate climax of justice—rather than retribution.


Reconciliation. My undergrad English thesis was on Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog. It was written by a white, Afrikaans woman, reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. People like me, white South Africans, we’re in a tricky spot. On the one hand, we want to completely distance ourselves from the perpetrators of apartheid, to join the victims in condemning them—and on the other hand, the perpetrators look and talk like us—they are us, in a way—and so we’re searching for some sliver of grace, some chance that even the perpetrators can find forgiveness and a home. Completely shutting out the perpetrators means we will be shut out— and so we of all people should exhibit the grace we long for.

The thrust in a lot of South Africa at present is towards black nationalism. This makes sense. This is what we deserve. But one reason why we clung to Mandela and Tutu, and why we all wept when Mandela died, is that they gave us what we didn’t deserve: grace, and a place to call home.

South_Africa_World_CupAh, but we have this double standard. We white people want to be welcomed, we want to be reconciled, but we only want to be welcomed as victims, not as perpetrators. We will listen to what others suffered for a few minutes. A very few minutes. And then quickly we want to talk about what we lost, what we gave up, how difficult life is for us now compared to what it was then—we don’t often want to humbly ask for grace. We still want to be in charge, to take the lead, to get the credit. And so we’re caught in the middle, unable to receive the grace that’s held out because we’re unwilling to admit we still need it.

Volf talks about this idea in his book Free of Charge, and here again in this book:

“Forgivers forgo the punishment of persons who deserve it and release them from the bonds of their guilt. Of course, to obtain this release wrongdoers must receive forgiveness of their misdeeds as just that—forgivenessjust as any person must accept a gift for the gift to be given, not simply offered. Wrongdoers must acknowledge their actions as wrongdoing, distance themselves from their misdeeds, and where possible restore to their victims what the original violation took away. Failure to do so would not result in the withdrawal of forgiveness; that gift is unconditional. But it would result in the suspension of forgiveness between its generous giver and the intended but untaking recipient.” (p.121).

2. Two Part book Summary: The End of Memory, Miroslav Volf

This is a continuation of my summary of the book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World by Miroslav Volf. For part one, go here

The last part of the book, part three, asks the question how long we should remember. I don’t know how many reconciliation seminars I’ve been to that talk about how “forgive and forget” is not in the Bible, and while you can forgive perpetrators, it is dangerous to forget what they’ve done… I was pretty surprised Volf would go there. But, he does.

HOW LONG SHOULD WE REMEMBER?

Here, Volf asks the question how long we should remember past sufferings. We often seal our pledges to remember injustice with “always.” But Volf asks if after a while, under certain conditions, would it be a good thing to allow these memories to slip out of our minds? (Note: he makes it very clear that he’s not saying that right now, in this present world, we should erase memories which may serve to protect us from further harm—in this section, Volf is mostly talking about our lives in eternity).

The light coming up on the Camino

The sun coming up on the Camino

He opens by quoting sections from Dante, and says, “In God, all the good that has happened in the world “is ingathered and bound by love into one single volume” (p.141). He describes the souls in Dante’s Divine Comedy, who after seeing God remember every good thing. “So precisely by seeing the God of infinite goodness, who makes one forget everything except God, one remembers—gets back in a sense—all earthly goodness and forgets all sin.” (p141).

In this section, Volf is talking about this kind of non-remembrance. Not an on-purpose forgetting, but a “not coming to mind”. The thing becomes inconsequential, and we allow it to slip from our memory. He points out that for Dante, and for him, this non-remembrance comes as a consequence of the world being put to right, as well of people being rapt in the enjoyment of God and each other (p.146).

There are many who think even this type of forgetting is immoral, a slight against the wrongs victims have suffered, and would be erasing our identities as humans—if the wrongs we suffer become integrated into our identities, who would we be without them?

Defenders of Forgetting

 Volf basically argues in this section that God forgets our sin, “causes it to come to mind no more” –so eternally clinging to the memory of someone’s sin against us is contrary to God’s nature. He points out we forget many inconsequential things all the time, and perhaps if we were to see our wrongs suffered in comparison with all the goodness and wonder of God, these wrongs, too, would simply fail to come to mind. He quotes Kierkegaard in Practice in Christianity: 

“If there is something you want to forget, then try to find something else to remember; then you will certainly succeed”. The way to forget wrong endured is to remember Christ—every day and in every undertaking. With memory zeroed in on Christ, we “forget everything that ought to be forgotten” like “an absent minded person.” Why? Because we are drawn out of ourselves and resituated in Christ” (p.171). Volf points out we do not have to be afraid of being forgotten. We do not have to fear that if we let go of the suffering we’ve experienced that has defined us we’ll be erased–because we are protected by divine love. He quotes Kirkegaard again:
“No, the one who in love forgets himself, forgets his suffering in order to think of someone else’s…truly such a person is not forgotten. There is one thinking about him: God in heaven, or love is thinking about him. God is Love, and when a person, out of love, forgets himself, how then would God forget him!

Redemption: Harmonizing and Driving Out

 Volf touches on the theme of identity and memory once again here, answering the objection that to forget wrongs suffered would strip people of a meaningful part of their identities. He brings up the oppositeif we are not going to forget wrong-doing, then we are saying it should be eternally remembered—and do we really want that? “Can we bear the weight of eternal memory? Would it be right for one horrible deed to mark us eternally?” he asks (p178). Volf points out that the entry into the eternal world begins with the final judgment. It is not that wrongs will be shoved under the carpet—they will all be brought to light, their full horror revealed, and then forgiven.

He highlights the idea that for modern Western people, redemption and salvation seem to hinge on meaning. We are able to redeem past suffering if we are able to weave them into our narrative identity as meaningful. “It was hard, but it made me who I am,” we say. But Volf asks: is this always true? Must suffering be given meaning to be redeemed?

He gives the example of a Holocaust survivor, who tells about arriving at the concentration camp, and telling his little brother to go with his Mom in the other line. His little brother resisted, but the older brother forced him to go, thinking it would be better. Later, he found out that he had sent his brother to the gas chamber. Can one give meaning to that?

Volf considers the healings and driving out of demons that Jesus did in his earthly ministry. He points out,

“In the Gospels there is not even a hint that Jesus tried to give meaning to illnesses—especially not a negative meaning as punishment for sin. Illness is not to be integrated into the whole; it is to be healed, removed. It presents an occasion for God’s glory to be revealed through deliverance, not for some theoretical lesson that life has meaning…”(p.187) He goes on to say that, “If deeply wounded and sinful people are to find redemption, they will need to experience this kind of salvation—one in which “driving out” and “overcoming” play as big a role as integrating and harmonizing” (p.188).

He clarifies that not all wrongs suffered are meaningless—especially those suffered on behalf of others—but this idea that we do not need to synthesize all the suffering we’ve experienced was his central idea here.

Somewhere in France, after Camino. Rainbows. That sounds like

Somewhere in France, after Camino. Rainbows. That sounds like “rapt in goodness”– or wrapped. We were able to see the whole arc.

Rapt in Goodness

Volf talks about how in the world to come, we will not need memories to “keep the victims alive”—they will not be forgotten because they will be there, themselves, in person. He talks about forgiveness in the world to come, and has several amazing quotes:

“…herein lies the essence of Christian forgiveness: On account of his divinity, Christ could and did shoulder the consequences of human sin; so the penalty for wrongdoing could be detached from wrongdoers. And since on account of his humanity Christ could and did die on behalf of sinners, they, in effect, died when he died; so guilt can be detached from wrongdoers. When we forgive those who have wronged us, we make our own God’s miracle of forgiveness….we blot out the offense so it no longer mars the offender..” (p. 208)

“That many people feel a strong urge to reject forgiveness and non-remembrance is understandable. Moreover, no argument independent of belief in the God of infinite love who justifies the ungodly and finally redeems and reconciles the world can be constructed to persuade those who want to keep a tight grip on strict retributive justice and insist on erecting an indestructible monument to wrong’s suffered.” (p.209). He goes on to say “such letting go is an act of grace and is governed by the logic of grace.”

No one can demand forgiveness, no one deserves it. No one. But forgiveness can be given, as a gracious gift.


Phew! Okay, in a few days, I’ll have a reflection on this book.

1. Two part Book summary: The End of Memory by Miroslav Volf

51L9wnCkiiLMy birthday, senior year of college, I missed hearing one of my favorite authors, Miroslav Volf, speaking at Taylor. My loving fiancé attended his talk, and got his most recent book (at the time) autographed for me. This book has been sitting on a shelf in the attic in Minnesota for the past three years, along with every other book in our possession. I just finished it, and since I know most of you won’t have time to read it, I thought I’d save you the trouble and give you a summary–because this book is full of hard stuff for us people who think of ourselves as being for social justice. It’s easy to think of justice in terms of guilty and innocent, oppressed and oppressor. But Volf (like a very kind doctor) makes us sit down and take our medicine. Makes us actually apply our theology to the world around us, and asks us some very hard questions.

I’ll summarize the book in two parts, and then give some reflection on it. WARNING: I’m super summarizing, so I won’t be explaining every concept (especially forgiveness, which Volf has written extensively about elsewhere)—but if something peeks your interest, I’ve titled my sections after the chapters in his book, so you can find them. Also, it’s pretty heavy stuff (and long)– but also worth wading through. Here goes:


Volf frames this book by talking about his own experience of abuse in Yugoslavia, when he was randomly held and questioned for many months. He speaks of the abuse he endured by his interrogator, Captain G, and then asks the question: How should he, as a Christian, remember Captain G? How should he remember the wrongs he has suffered? If he does not want to hate or to disregard Captain G, but walk in the way of Christ, of love and reconciliation (even in his mind), how should he remember?

Elie Wiesel 2008 (wikipedia)

Elie Wiesel 2008 (wikipedia)

He explores some common ideas about memory and social justice. Elie Wiesel is famous for his views on memory. He sees “Never forget the Holocaust,” as moral imperative. To remember keeps the memory of the victims alive, helps them to heal, honors their experience, and serves as a shield from repeating past injustice.

Volf affirms these ideas, but then brings up the flip side—he points out that we shape memories, too. We remember in certain ways—not always truthfully. That in the victim there is the temptation to demonize the perpetrator (he can think of Captain G as utterly evil, when in fact, perhaps Captain G was a good father. People are complicated and contradictory like that). The victim is also tempted to remember herself as entirely innocent. Volf points out that in his memories, he never dwells on his own anger, feelings of vindictiveness, or even self-righteousness he had towards Captain G –rather, he is always right.

Memory can also be used as a weapon—look at how the memories of the Anglo-Boer war were used to stir up Afrikaner nationalism which ushered in apartheid. Look at the genocide in Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsis. It’s not enough to remember—we need to remember rightly.

HOW DO WE REMEMBER RIGHTLY?

1.We should speak the truth, and practice grace as we remember. As followers of Christ, we are bound to remember the truth of what happened to us, but also the truth of who we are. Volf and Captain G stand together at the foot of the cross, equal sinners. We must resist the temptation to demonize each other. We wrong the other person when we exaggerate their evil. Equally, the perpetrator has an obligation not to minimize their wrong-doing, either. It’s not that the evil must be glossed over; rather, it should be looked square in the face, for what it is—not more, not less.

2. Wounded self, Healed memories:  Memories are folded into our identities, but we choose how we identify ourselves. We can control and shape how we interact with these memories. Volf can see himself primarily as a victim of Captain G, or he can see himself primarily as a valuable human, saved from sin by Christ, who had a terrible experience being interrogated in his youth.

Volf says, “Christians believe, however, that neither what we do nor what we suffer defines us at the deepest level. Though the way we think of and treat ourselves…does shape our identity, no human being can make or unmake us. Instead of being defined by how humans relate to us, we are defined by how God relates to us…we are defined by God, not by wrongdoers’ evil deeds and their echo in our memory…they may live in us, but they not longer occupy us; they may cause pain, but they no longer exhaustively define us. We are more than what we have suffered, and that is the reason we can do something with our memory of it…” (p80).

3. Frameworks of Memories. Volf also says, then, when we remember, rather than being shaped by a victim/perpetrator narrative, as Christians we should wrap our memories around a sacred narrative. The Jews were to wrap their identity around the Exodus story, and we are to wrap ours around the Passion: the death and resurrection of Christ.

The crossing of the Read Sea, Sistine Chapel (wikipedia)

The crossing of the Red Sea, Sistine Chapel (wikipedia)

Exodus: Every year, Jews were to remember Passover, but remember God’s gracious deliverance rather than re-hashing the oppression of the Egyptians. Focusing on the Egyptians could have led to xenophobia, but instead, there are many commands in the law to “welcome the stranger and alien, because remember you were foreigners in Egypt”. Israel’s national identity was built around God’s gracious deliverance, and that was the kind of people they were to be. It’s not a memory of past wrongs suffered, but a memory of God’s deliverance from past sufferings. Israel is to be on the side of those downtrodden, remembering God is the one who will one day bring justice to all. We are able to remember rightly, and not distort or villainize the perpetrator when we are confident that an omnipotent and faithful God will deliver us.

Passion. Volf says,

“For those who see the world in strictly simple moral terms, with clearly divided camps of the righteous, deserving vindication, and wrongdoers, deserving punishment—any talk of grace and reconciliation seems sentimental, even immoral. .. for Christ’s passion embodies the core conviction that, under certain conditions, the affirmed claims of justice should not count against the offender.if the salvation of the world, not justice, matters the most, it is also understandable that a lover of humanity would embrace the grace of the Passion—and suffer under the scandal of justice both unmistakably affirmed and unequivocally transcended” (p. 111).

Paul’s account of the passion in Romans 5:17 scandalously affirms love for not just the victims, but also the perpetrators. While we were still powerless and trapped in sin, Christ died for the ungodly. Christ reconciled us to God through his death, but the Passion memory also “anticipates the formation of a reconciled community even out of deadly enemies” (p.119).

Michelangelo's

Michelangelo’s “The Deposition”- shows Nicodemus helping Jesus down from the cross

The memory of the Passion does three things:

  1. The Passion memory teaches us to extend unconditional grace (for this is what we have been shown).
  2. It teaches us we must affirm as valid the claims of justice as well. “The extension of unconditional grace does not disregard the demands of justice; rather, grace recognizes those demands as valid…forgivers forgo the punishment of person who deserve it and release them from their bonds of guilt…” (p.121)
  3. It hopes for communion—we forgive the offender, and hope for communion with them as well.

Because our identity springs from being beloved of God, notwithstanding our sin, we don’t have to frame ourselves as perpetually innocent and the wrongdoer as perpetually evil. We are free to be truthful. We are able to oppose wrongdoing with grace:

…that is remember wrongdoing so as to condemn it and so as to be able to work for just relations between the wrongdoer and the wronged…The wrongdoing is remembered as a condemnable injustice committed against a person, who, in his own way, is also condemnably unjust…it wards of the dangerous tendency toward self-care at the expense of others…brings healing in community and with wrongdoers, not at their expense.” (p.125).

I figure that’s enough to chew on! Part Two later this week.

Which part of all of that struck you as new or interesting?

Stories and Social Justice (a sandwich)

cropped-childs-face.jpg

The short answer, for why I write on this blog is because it satisfies an itch.  I get tired of ugly things. Not to say that my blog is the most beautiful piece of writing ever to grace the interwebs. It’s more that the things I care about: social justice, reconciliation, power dynamics, privilege, sociology, Jesus, holistic ministry… are usually written about in text books, or journal articles, or long, detailed articles. Which are good. We need those. Facts are good. I like facts. I don’t like all this Invisible Children “let’s just cry our eyes out over some sad thing that happened in Africa but we don’t really know what we’re talking about” stuff. 

But I was an English major. And sometimes I get this longing for something beautiful. I hear sermons on theological abstract principles that don’t inspire me, so I go home and write what would have inspired me. I read things about the need for adult father-figures in low-income communities, but it’s the stories about the iThemba mentors that I write, and then read again, and think, “Wow. These guys are changing the world.” 

But there’s also the opposite side. So, I was an English major in college, and that’s what we did- read stories, played with language, analyzed words. As I was writing, I would get hung up not on the words  and images, but on what they meant. I was interested in the point, on the social dynamics the literature portrayed, on the injustices the piece was debating. I liked pieces that some critics would call propaganda. (George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession anyone?) It was kind of to the point where I would get irritated. This isn’t just a story, people, this is real!  So I wrote my English thesis using sociological frameworks of interpretation, and now I’m doing a Sociology thesis looking at narrative. Oh well. 

I think the hard work of restoring all things involves all aspects of creation. We need both beauty and justice. Reflection, contemplation and action. But there’s still a tension. So, here’s a stories-social justice- stories sandwich to embrace that tension. Because, you know, I’ve written 100 posts now. I’ve got to start stealing from other people because I can’t think up anything new. 🙂 

Sarah Groves: Why it Matters. Perhaps my favorite song, about how creating something beautiful can itself be “a protest of the darkness and chaos all around”.

“A materialistic world will not be won to Christ by a materialistic church.” ― David Platt

“People die of hunger because we prefer to spend money on … A very disturbing question: For what are we willing to let other people die?”– Miroslav Volf

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however is to change it.” — Karl Marx.

“Theology is not only about understanding the world; it is about mending the world.” — Miroslav Volf. 

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. — Desmond Tutu

“Christianity does not exclude any of the normal human activities… There is no essential quarrel between the spiritual life and the human activities as such… The work of Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord’… We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so.” — C.S. Lewis

“Stories are light.

Light is precious in a world so dark.

Begin at the beginning. Tell… a story.

Make some light.” ― Kate DiCamilloThe Tale of Despereaux

glowing-festive-lights-christmas-tree-white-small-bulb-bokeh-free-stock-photo

 

Justice Isn’t Blind (part 2)

In Justice Isn’t Blind (Part 1) I argue that I don’t like an emphasis on non-racialism, because I don’t think it promotes equality. The reason I gave is because our past history of injustice based on race means that certain racial groups today are still economically advantaged and disadvantaged. A blind application of formal equality (as opposed to “substantive equality” which our constitution subscribes to) means that racial injustice can continue unchecked. (What do those words mean?! I hear you ask. Here). 

But there’s another reason. And maybe it’s more controversial. I don’t like this idea of non-racialism because I think by being “blind” to race, it erases and discounts a significant perspective that we need in order to achieve a flourishing, diverse society.

This is the image I got when I googled flourishing.

This is the image I got when I googled flourishing.

South Africa’s motto is “Unity in Diversity”. I can understand that non-racial advocates want unity. They are afraid that if we keep talking about race, we’ll split off into competitive groups and have a genocide (“Rwanda! Rwanda!” The people cry. And I respond with “American white-melting-pot of oatmeal”!!)

I don’t think this is an either/or situation. I don’t think we can either have diversity or we can have unity. If we can figure out a way to celebrate the strengths that difference give us, then we don’t have to be threatened by it. (Enter Miroslav Volf and this idea that as Christians we can have one foot in a specific identity, such as race, and another foot in a larger identity, such as Human, or Christian, and this keeps us from being caught up in narrow-minded identity politics, and, you know, makes us like Jesus. Also, it is my dream to one day be a Volf disciple and follow him around and write down every word he utters.) 

Some people say that since race is constructed around an artificial difference (not a “true” difference)  it’s evil because it was constructed in order to advantage some people and disadvantage others. So we need to completely abolish it. I agree that there’s nothing innate in our biology that makes us different species. We’re not. In that way, you could say race is not “real”. But, because society has been constructed around racial categories in the past (and it doesn’t look like we’re really going to just suddenly “stop seeing race” any time soon), this means that race creates different experiences for different people. It has real repercussions in society.

perspectives

As a white person, when I come to the table, I see the world a certain way. My way of seeing has been shaped by the way people treat me, by the way I perceive others reacting to me, by images I consume, by politics by… you get it. By and large, society has privileged people who look like me, which means my way of seeing is shaped by that privilege.

And as a black person, when you come to the table, you see the world a certain way. Your view of the world has been shaped by the way society treated you—your parents, your teachers, the media. And by and large, society has not privileged you, in fact, by and large white privilege was created by removing your privileges. And so you have a different (perhaps clearer) way of seeing.

And as a white person, I need to hear your view. I need you to show me what I’m not seeing. And maybe there’s something my perspective can offer, too.

Of course, these race histories and perspectives are not the only things that shape our experience and world-view. I’m also a woman. I speak English. I’m 24. I live in a nice house. I went to good schools…. All those impact how society treats me, and how I view the world. All of those aspects of identity are important, and I think we need diversity across all of those social categories (gender, class, etc).

But I don’t think you can leave out race. Do we want universities and governments and businesses and churches where we are diverse in terms of class, but we miss out on the views that different races bring?* I sure don’t.

Research has shown that diverse teams out-perform uniform teams. Diversity is strength. Yes, we need a strong foundation of unity—we have to see that we’re all on the same team in order to really work together—but that doesn’t mean we have to negate diversity in order to achieve unity. That’s a completely unfounded fear. Just read anything by Christena Cleveland.

The reason why I like thinking about these kinds of things not just in airy-fairy ivory towers, but on my blog in normal words can be summed up by quotes from two very different people:

Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however is to change it.” Karl Marx.

Theology is not only about understanding the world; it is about mending the world.” Miroslav Volf. 

Ok, the end. I’ll go back to writing my thesis now. 🙂

(*Also, let it be said, that even if university admissions adopted class-based ONLY (aka “color-blind”) admission procedures in South Africa, because class and race are so closely intertwined here, and because many of these institutions are previously white, you could easily end up with a situation where the 30% of “rich” kids allowed to attend ended up being all white, and the 70% of “other” kids all black, and then you’re just reinforcing stereotypes about rich whites and poor blacks rather than fostering new ways of thinking and inclusive relationships).

The Path From Indifference Starts with a Step

One of our awesome volunteers who helped out at Holiday Club!

“I go about my own business…I reason: the road from Jerusalem to Jericho will always be littered by people beaten and left half dead; I can pass–I must pass–by each without much concern. The indifference that made the prophecy, takes care also of its fulfillment.” –Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p77.

This week I’ve been in the office a lot, doing admin work to get ready for a bunch of events we have coming up in the next few weeks– organizing volunteers for the Jabulani Kids Club Christmas party, the thank you dinner for the teens who help us out at JKC, a team of 6 Azusa Pacific University students who will serve with us for 3 weeks, and a team of Danish students coming out in January.

Sometimes people wonder why we go through so much energy and time in order to have teams from overseas or volunteers from Hilton partner with us. Surely we could get the job done in half the amount of time and expense with volunteers from Sweetwaters? And bringing outsiders into the community of Sweetwaters might just enforce a misconception that white people have all the resources and we should just depend on them?

These are very real concerns, and something that I think iThemba wrestles with every time we bring in a team or group of volunteers. However, one of iThemba’s aims is to link communities. A very real problem in the West, and here in South Africa, is the problem of indifference. Because of the structure of our societies, it is very easy to ignore those who are on the outskirts, or to arrange our lives in such a way that we don’t have to come into contact with people who are different from us (whether culturally, economically, racially, or spiritually) very often. In Hilton, it is very easy to forget that Sweetwaters is just over the ridge, and is full of people who need Jesus. It’s even easier to forget it is also full of people who may know Jesus even better than we do and might have something amazing to teach us about God.

Those living in the West have a similar problem with those in their own communities who are of different socio-economic levels. What we need sometimes is something to jolt us out of our routine of indifference, and open our eyes to see how we can begin to integrate service, love, and cross-cultural outreach into our daily lives.

Even though helping at a Christmas party or building a jungle gym for a day is not really going to bring about deep cross-cultural/socio-economical relationships, it is the first step in breaking down the wall of indifference. Once the first step is taken, perhaps it will be easier to take another, and another.

Even though it’s complex and messy to link groups that are on opposite ends of the cultural, racial, or economic spectrum–that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It is something the Enemy doesn’t want to see succeed, so he takes advantage of the many opportunities for miscommunication and offense that occur in cross-cultural situations. I think the difficulties are a sign that we should prioritize and engage in linking communities even more.The early church struggled with having Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor all in the same places of worship– just read Paul’s letters, they are full of issues about who sits where, and this person being ignored, and that group going first. But, the diversity in the early Church was also one of its most powerful witnesses: A witness to the fact that the blood of Christ is stronger than the blood ties of family and culture.

Pray with us:

For the many opportunities we have in the coming days to link communities: Our US Azusa students, our Danish team in January, our Christmas party this November. Pray that real life change will happen as people step out of their comfort zones and get to know people who are different than they are.

Pray for Teens Camp this December. We are taking 50 teens to the beach for a Bible speaker, worship and games! Pray that we will get a good camp speaker, and that all 50 teens will be sponsored (post in the coming days will tell you more about camp!! :D)