race is a scary issue for me. and i am serious about the word scary. i have actual feelings of fear even now as i write this.
part of the reaction to racist history is that we have given permission as a society for the oppressed to lash out in anger and frustration when the voices of the powerful speak without perfect justice. some people see this as unfair. i see this permission giving as a hopeful stage in a process of healing. nevertheless, every time i open my mouth around this issue, i am aware that i am opening myself up to that kind of attack. so mostly i just keep my mouth shut.
it is clearly an issue that needs talking about. while there are congregations that are diverse, most churches are filled with people who all look the same. is this a good thing, or a bad thing? what part does the church play, what part should it play?
a few days ago, a conversation provoking blog post went up on the emergent village web site. it took me a while to hear some things which i am now hearing as i read the conversation. somethings i am still having trouble hearing. i'm going to post my reactions here, not because i believe i am seeing or saying anything brilliant, but because this is my blog. here is what i thought:
my first response .. which i posted in the comment thread was a plea for the conversation to go well. the people speaking for the marginalized have a prophetic quality. they sometimes speak in strong, forceful, painful ways. i don't want us to diminish the power of these statements by insisting that they be calm and reasonable. but i was hoping that i could get, in return, permission to be calm and reasonable and not get in trouble for not being prophetic enough.
but i retract that plea now, after reading more of the comments, and more of the other writings of the people who commented.
in particular, eugene cho. he pointed out, using a well known conversation in the church about gender as an example, that the powerful voices who seek to continue the marginalization of women are not afraid of their stance, don't feel the need to blend in. they are willing to shout their opinions from the mountain tops.
so he rightly suggests that maybe it isn't enough to quietly "do the right thing" in our own little corner of the world. this has set me back and i am quietly chewing on what this means for me. i think maybe i have heard something which will change what i do in the next few months, we'll see
second response: i have a particular reaction to statements like this (also from the comment stream on that blog post):
"all I see is a group of (mostly) middle-class, educated white folks sitting around talking about something for which they have little first-hand experience. (myself included)"
this paragraph makes me crazy. can i unpack the craziness, open myself to some criticism, and maybe learn something .. without it seeming like i am attacking the writer for writing that?
i hear four things:
- self deprecation
- pre-surrender to the angry reactive response
- disdain for conversation as transformative force
- shaming the oppressor into silence
#1, i admire the humble. i am too much of a jerk to be able to even pretend to be humble most of the time. #2 i also recognize and admire, we have to honor these statements and earn the right to demand that they be made fairly. #3 i have little patience for. not going to apologize for the weakness of conversation, nor champion it's strength. it is what it is. if this is "just a conversation" it is still worthwhile making it a good one.
#4 .... is this the best response? to shame the oppressor into silence?
that was not a rhetorical question. i try not to let it make me mad, understanding that i'm on the privileged side, with an ear for the prophetic utterance. i hear this kind of thing often, and from people who deserve respect. is my only place in this process to stfu and sit and listen?
we christians seem to have a strong general tendency to sing on sunday mornings with people who are just like us. i've been the oddly colored one in non-white churches enough times to know this isn't a "white thing". the last thing that i am still rumbling on is a comment repeated a few times. since the church tends to be divided by race, for whatever reason, most conversations about the issue of race tend to be missing the other side. several people suggested that the best first step, is one outside of your little bubble. i think that is the main source of my fear when i think about race. i like it in my little bubble.