My parents decided that when they had children they would not raise them in the ways they were raised by their parents. At least this is what they claimed to me, so I will believe them. One distinct way they did this was a profound sense of God’s love for all people as His creation. In other words God has created us all in His divine image of Love. White, African, Hispanic, Asian, are all the beautifully created work of God. I did not know my grandparents well on either side, however you kinda pick up on some beliefs they had through the comments that I heard. One of these issues was race and racism. I do not know if my grandparents were racist, but when you hear the comments like, “if your grandpa knew what you were doing he would roll over in his grave” directed toward other family members when they dated people from another race you kinda get the idea on where they stood on this issue.
I thought I would add my two cents in the conversation pot after the events in Virginia this past weekend. I mean everyone else is giving their opinion, what is one more going to hurt.
I begin this blog on racism with the a parable that Jesus told from Luke 18, “Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
A lot of times we read this parable and teach about how we judge others. However, I want to reverse that thinking. This parable is not only about how we judge others but more importantly how we judge ourselves. A lot of people do not realize this, but for God, self reflection is a virtue. In fact I would say that Jesus calls all of us to look at our lives first. Who are we? What have we done? What do we believe or have believed? What are our passions, strengths, faults, hiccups, stumbling blocks, etc. This parable is a great example of self reflection.
Ok, so some self reflection on my part. Talking about race as a white male might seem hypocritical. First of all I have really never had to deal with the devastating results of racism and bigotry. You can agree or disagree, but being white in the USA carries with it many advantages. Most advantages are on a personal level. For instance, when I walk into a store I am not watched to make sure I do not steal something. I am not stopped after checking out of Walmart and asked if they can see my receipt. If I am bumping my music in my truck, people are not looking at me as if I am a gang-banger. In fact they are probably laughing at me. I do not have the stereotypes that other races have. I do not have to face the discrimination that other races face in daily life. So where does my opinion or voice matter? What do I have to offer anyone who struggles with racism and bigotry?
Well let me tell you a story about myself. Back in 2001 as I was in college I was seeing a woman. From my perspective it was a casual relationship with no real commitment. We had fun and hung out with each other. She was associated with my fraternity because her best friend was dating one of my fraternal brothers. I kept this relationship like every other relationship with women, at a distance. During this time I only thought of myself and nothing else really mattered. If something didn’t effect me personally it wasn’t important. Anyway from the other side of the perspective this woman was trying to get closer to me and wanted more out of the relationship. Without going into too many details of our relationship I will skip to the topic at hand.
One night this woman decided to put her relationship with me on the line and tell me how she felt. She declared her love for me. She had fallen in love with me and was seeking the deeper relationship. After this outward expression of love for me she waited for my response. What she got was less than what she wanted. In fact my response was probably the last thing she thought would come from her expressing herself. I flat out responded like this, “I can’t love you, your a Mexican.”
Ok, start throwing the tomatoes and shouting for my head to be put on a pike. Let’s hear the words that are associated with a comment like this; bigot, hater, racist, jackass, deplorable, redneck, jerk, and other explicatives that you would call me if you heard the conversation in real life. In fact I am sure that if this woman friends had it their way I would be singing soprano because I would have been castrated. So where does my opinion and voice count, exactly here. I am the voice of a recovering racist.
No, I didn’t want to dominate all other minorities. Nor did I want other races to fall off the face of the earth. No I was the racist who never knew I was. I lived in a reality not taught to me by my parents, but one that I built for myself. A reality that focused on the outward appearance. A reality that focused on my own benefit. A reality that on the outside looked and acted like a good person, but on the inside it was the exact opposite. I lived in a fantasy world where I was a great person, but it was still a fantasy. In fact if my dad knew this story and what I said, he would roll over in his grave. Thank God he was cremated. I do not deal with the effects of racism, I deal with the cause.
I have watched the news this week, probably more than I have watched in a while. I have read Facebook posts, blogs, and Twitter. I have seen confusion, hatred, anger, a loss of reality, and the opening of a wound that many believed was healed. This whole week I have been saddened by the rhetoric that is coming from people on all sides. Where is the clarity? Where is the answer? When is the chaos going to be settled?
One thing I know for sure is that no answers or healing can take place until we start to look at ourselves. The parable above is about two understandings of self. The Pharisee is the diluted understanding of self. The diluted self lives with the understanding that they are an ideal human because of their ideals, actions, education, etiquette, intelligence, being an activist, political views, right income, right job, right family, right breeding, they have progressed into what humanity is supposed to be. Since they have progressed to such a state physically, intellectually, and spiritually, that makes them a good person. It gives them a false sense of reality of what humanity is and therefore a superiority over anyone not like them.
The tax collector is the realistic self. The realistic self first off does not look at self, but at God. The focus is not on the tax collector it is on God. The realistic self understands that their life has a greater impact in the world than we could possible imagine. The realistic self understands that their actions, ideals, education etiquette, intelligence, etc. does not come from a progressive attitude, but a humble attitude. The realistic self is not the center, God and others are at the center of everything. The realistic self sees the reality of needing help and is bold enough to ask.
So what does this have to do with racism. Well for me and probably most people living in this country, before we start screaming and pointing fingers have we truly looked at ourselves. I bet most of us have not. The only reason I say this is because if we truly looked at ourselves we would not like what we see. We would not see a victim, but a perpetrator. We would not see how we have progressed, but how we have become stagnant. We yell and scream about hate, while hating others. In fact most of what we hate about others is really transference of what we hate about ourselves. What is truly taking place is a reflection of how much we hate ourselves.
Racism at its core is about being empty. My life is empty, therefore to dilute the emptiness I have in my life I will make someone else feel worse than me. As much as we want to deny how we feel about ourselves it will come out. Even when we are fighting for people’s rights and dignity if we have a diluted self understanding the emptiness will come out if provoked. In fact I am seeing this more and more. Because of this emptiness even the concept of “love” has been lost. In the Church we say God is love, however it is a powerless love because true love is transformational.
And here is where the rest of my story fits in. You might be wondering how I ever threw off the diluted self and put on the realistic self. For starters I encountered Jesus Christ. I was taken back by a God who knew my heart, my life, my thoughts, my pain, my anger, my emptiness, and I was embraced, but that is not the end of the story. Almost a year after my racism boiled over into a spew of verbal garbage I saw that woman in town. I went up to her and struck up a conversation. No I wasn’t slapped, although I should have been. No, I was taken back by God again, in the form of forgiveness.
I had gained a new relationship with someone that I had hurt worse than anyone in my life and it was accomplished through forgiveness. In this encounter with forgiveness I was shown in bodily form what Romans 12 proclaims, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
My life has never been the same since those two events. What happened was a transformation. My heart was changed and transformed through love and forgiveness. The other thing that I value in all of this is that my transformation did not come through guilt or being called names, or being shamed for what I had done, or through a protest, or groveling, or by the laws, or by education, or progression. No, my transformation was made perfect an act of sacrifice. I was shown the LOVE that is filled with power. It was a LOVE given to us on the cross and claimed our victory three days later. My battle with racism was overcome through the embrace of a woman who forgave me.
And yet the story did not stop there. In fact the story is still taking place. The woman who transformed my heart with the Love of Jesus Christ was the woman I married a year later. That’s right I married a Hispanic woman and now we share two amazing children, one of whom is half African American.
Two things need to happen for racism to be defeated. It will never be a law passed by our government that will end racism. I mean look at our history. Slavery has been abolished and the Civil Rights movement has been accomplished, but racism and bigotry is still in our society. I will never understand how people can believe that a law or rule can ever defeat evil. Humanity lives in a false sense of reality that if we can progress enough we can establish a utopia society. I will say that education never hurts in the battle of evil, but you can’t claim victory over evil just because you read a book. No book, not even the Bible has the power to overcome evil. Nor can we ever defeat evil through reason, or taking down any symbols of hate, nothing in humanity will overcome the evil that rests in our hearts. Only the Crucified and Resurrected God can defeat the evil and take away the emptiness in our lives.
When you encounter Jesus Christ you will be confronted to look at your life. Not what has happened to you, but what you have done. You cannot fight injustices like racism and bigotry until you have taken care of the injustice in your life. You must be like the tax collector and be embraced by the God of LOVE. The second thing is to embrace others through forgiveness. It does not matter what they do to you, forgiveness is the only way to turn an enemy into a brother or sister. Is forgiveness hard, of course. However, the LOVE of God is stronger and more powerful than all the world. True forgiveness is not for the sake of self, but for the sake of the other. True forgiveness recognizes that pain and suffering stem from the reality that pain and suffering is present in the other.
It does not matter what side you are on, Jesus the Perfect Revelation of LOVE died for all people, ALL PEOPLE. For those who have truly been transformed by the Love of Jesus Christ we can tackle these hard injustice issues that face humanity with a truly realistic power. Pray!!! Pray for yourself to be transformed. Pray for others that they may be transformed. Pray like you have never prayed before. Speak up!!! Don’t be silent. However, use language and words that reflect the heart of transformation. Stand up!!! Stand in-between those who want to hurt and those who are being hurt. Be Patient!!! Love takes time. As God’s patients is our salvation, your patients is a reflection of God’s which brings people salvation. Be slow to anger even when chaos surrounds us. Be everlasting in love. Sacrifice!!! Lay down your life for others without taking theirs. You have the new life found in Jesus Christ, they do not. They need time to receive it. Through your transformation the powerful love of Christ will be the answer to the evil in this world. “Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good”…