Thoughts on Racism

Over the last few weeks, like so many others in this country, I have been considering the role of race in this country. It would seem helpful to deal with what racism is.

Racism is in my estimation the belief that two people are fundamentally different, and in fact one is fundamentally superior, based on the color of their skin, which we see as an indication of ancestry. Racism is the continuation of the in-group out-group themes which have plagued human history. Unlike many other problems in society there is no substance to racism.

Racism is something that exists only in the realm of the mind. You cannot touch racism, or see it, or feel it. You can see, feel, and touch the actions which result from racism. Racism itself though is merely an idea and a racist is merely the person who believes in the ideas of racism.

How do you purge yourself of an idea? Stop thinking it. Stop giving it credence. Stop allowing it to define us. Start defining ourselves as humans, as fellow sojourners in a land of great joy and great adversity. Begin defining ourselves as those who can share hopes and dreams of a time and place when the world is better, where the injustice and inequality have faded and all that remains is hope and unity.

How does this begin? We must stop talking about it. We must stop defining ourselves by our race, unless of course it is the human race. Because if you are reading this you are human. You are not black, white, yellow, or red. You are human and I am human, and if we are both humans then we can share life together. We can share hopes dreams and ideals.

The moment I define myself as white, if you are not white that precludes you from being able to understand me. In the same way if you define yourself as black, or red, or yellow, then I have no way of being able to understand you. No matter how I may desire too I cannot make my skin color anything but what it is.

This is different from defining yourself as American, or Chinese, or African, or some other region/culture. Even if I am from another culture, I can immerse myself in a different culture and begin to understand it. I may never have the same understanding as native, but I can come close.

If you say you are a skin color and that is your most defining characteristic I have no way to bridge the gap. My skin color is what it is I was born with it, and I will die with it. If your skin color is different I cannot immerse myself in it I cannot understand it, and hence I cannot understand you.

If however, we all come together and say we will not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character, we will not define ourselves by the color of our skin but by our shared humanity, our shared hopes, dreams, and ideals. Then we can understand each other. Then we can see each other as we truly are, as uniquely human.

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The Lie

Everybody hates liars. I have been spending a lot of time considering this point. What brought this idea to the forefront of my mind was a conversation I had recently. I mentioned to one of my non-christian friends some of the inconsistent action of my some of my Christian–specifically some of my friends in postions of leadership in the church. I had made my comment kind of off-hand and would not have thought much of it except the person I made the comment to became a bit exasperated and told me ”people like that were the reason she did not like church”. I realized at that point that I had made the comment to the wrong person, and should have been more careful with my words. It was this interaction that has had me thinking about the idea of hypocrisy for the last couple of weeks.

This is the conclusion I have come to. The problem with hypocrisy is not inconsistency. The problem with hypocrisy if the lie. You know the lie I’m referring to. Its the lie we all tell. It usually goes something like this “If they knew the real me, if they knew about my inconsistencies they wouldn’t ________ me”. You can fill in the blank with your own adjective: like, respect, admire, trust, etc…  Perhaps what you tell yourself is you don’t want to let people know the truth about the inconsistencies of your life because they would think you a hypocrite. Yet I would submit that it is not the inconsistency that makes us a hypocrite its the lie. Somehow though I still convice myself that the best thing for everyone is the lie, the cover-up, the little thing that I do or say to make everyone believe I am as good as they think I am or better.

The reality is the lie is what ends up holding us back. We think the lie is the thing that will make sure we still look good but the lie is the thing that drives a wedge between me and you. It becomes an invisible barrier that never allows me to know you or you to know me and when that barrier falls–which it will–the wedge becomes an ocean too far to cross. Why? Because we all hate liars. The lie means you didn’t trust me and I can’t trust you. It makes true relationship impossible, and yet most of us do it.

The greatest thing about our faith is the one thing most of seem unable to accept. We no longer have to tell the lie–in fact telling the lie is not only a hinderance to our relationships with others it is also a hinderance to our faith. What we forget is the great heros of our faith are murderers ( Paul, David, Moses ), cheats ( Zaccheus, Issac, Matthew ), prostitutes ( Rahab, Mary), homeless (Jesus), prisoners (Paul), and all kinds of other social and religious outcasts. I think this is one of the great points ofthe Bible we often miss. God loves the underdog, He loves the outcast, but mostly he loves the honest–and here is the reality most people I have met are the same. We all love an underdog. We all appreciate an honest person. We find safety in honesty–who doesn’t want to feel safe?

Most of us do not mind that the people we know cannot live up to thier own high ideals. That is the reality of the human condition. I believe most of us believe the world and ourselves should be something that we are not. We believe in, or at least hope for something greater. Because without hope what is life? However, I know I fall short and you probably know you fall short. Until we drop the pretense and forget the lie we are stuck, we are hypocrites, lost, alone, far from faith and far from others. The challenge is to become honest. Become honest with ourselves, become honest with God, and become honest with others. Let the world know that we are fallen, broken, and inconsistent–even at the deepest levels. Most people will respect that, and we serve a God who has proven over and over again that he rewards that kind of honest–even in the face of the most heinous of sins. We serve a God that before he transforms the most henious of sinners forgives the most heinous of sinners. That plain and simple is the Gospel. Living honestly–not flawlessly–before God and man.

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Truth, Beauty, and Cold Hard Fact

I often think about the relationship between truth and fact. I was raised with the belief that all things that were fact were truth, and all things that were truth were indeed fact.

Being raised in an excessively, obsessively Christian conservative home and church I was told that the Bible was truth, and that it was fact, cold, hard, fact.

We, or at least I, spent hours thinking of ways to defend the factuality of the scriptures. We had to defend against the secular humanism of the world, against the direct full frontal assault of evolution, and secular humanism on the things we held most dear.

The world in which I was raised was more extreme than that of most Christians I know, and living through that extreme has given me the gift/curse of seeing the evangelical world in caricature. Still though in every church and ministry I have been in I have seen the world painted in dichotomy, the Christians and the world.

In that dichotomization the battle lines are drawn and we as the Christians must defend ourselves against the world at any cost. We must fight against the liberals, the abortionist, the evolutionist, the secularist, the vileness of the world.

But, what if that is not the truth? What if the battle lines are not quite so clear? What if truth has less to do with fact than we have been led to believe? What if our enemies is not “the world”?

Is it possible that all of the “facts” that we hold so dear are indeed the real enemy? Is it possible that we, ourselves–the Christians–are our own greatest enemy?

I think to begin exploring this topic we must first ask ourselves what is fact? What is truth? Are they the same? Are they beautiful? Are they Gospel? What is “Gospel” anyways?

First fact, facts are those things which we can observe and prove. The only facts I know are those things which I have seen and experienced, and at times even those are suspect. My name is David Smith, I reside in New York, I own a 17 year old vehicle. All facts, and none of them tell you much about me.

The facts about me have very little to do with me. Most of the relevant facts of my life are fit on a drivers license. However, the truth about me could fill volumes, as could the truth about you.

To me this is the greatest thing we often miss as Christians. The beauty of our faith does not reside in a series of facts that we need to set out to prove the veracity of. The beauty or our faith lies in truth.

Truth unlike fact is a living, breathing, thing. It cannot be carved into stone, written on a piece of paper, or  subsumed into a scientific principle. It can only be experienced, felt, lived, and struggled through.

The truth is like a great river sometimes calm and peaceful pulling us gently toward the ocean, sometimes a great torrent flinging us about, dragging us under and causing us to gasp for air as we struggle against its awesome power.

Let us cease our striving to prove the facts of our faith–for those are only data, cold, hard, and lifeless. Let us instead strive to live and experience the truth of our faith–a living, vibrant, and beautiful truth. For it has been my observation that I become like that which I pursue. When I find myself pursuing the facts I become cold, calculating and lifeless. When I pursue the truth I become a little more like the truth, alive and vibrant finding the beauty in the world and those around me.

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