I recently encouraged a friend of mind to read a book that is especially outstanding and, when I first read the book, was incredibly encouraging to me–introducing me to a pantheon of authors who I may not have otherwise heard of let alone read. Since reading Yancey’s book, I have read many of the works of 10 of the 13 authors that Yancey writes about in his book. He’s right: they are powerful thinkers, powerful writers–even if they are not all necessarily orthodox evangelical Christians.
Well, as I have told you, I have been ‘having issues’ with church lately due to my untimely and unfortunate dismissal from the congregation I served for nearly 10 years. After thinking about it, for like a minute, I decided that it would be a good idea for me to reread the book too. It might also prove a good conversation starter for us here at CRN.info.
The book was written by Philip Yancey and is titled Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. I certainly haven’t experienced everything that Yancey experienced, and I’m not for a minute suggesting that my friend has either, but I do think that Yancey brings up many important issues for Christians to consider and I’d like to share some of them here with you and invite conversation.
This first subject came to me in a powerful way this past Saturday when I was in class at CSU. My Saturday morning class is Diversity in Educational Settings and we were talking about race, race relations, and the early days of multi-cultural education in America (among other things). I was surprised to learn that among those who were the pioneers of multi-cultural education and the establishment of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History were Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, and one Charles C Wesley. Wesley is described, along with these men, as a pioneer of ethnic studies.
Thus the quote, from Yancey’s book, concerns race. I was a little taken aback Saturday morning when I realized how subtle and insidious hatred can be–hatred being the fuel of racism. My professor grew up in the South and lived through all the racial tension that existed there then. She has seen all sorts of stuff and lived through it. She said to me after class, “I don’t hate.” If The Shack were ever to be made into a movie, she would play the Father role. She doesn’t hate. I can tell by looking in her eyes. I want to be that person–the person who can experience what she has experienced and still not hate. So, Yancey,
Today I feel shame, remorse, and also repentance. It took years for God to break the stranglehold of blatant racism in me–I wonder if any of us gets free of its more subtle forms–and I now see that sin as one of the most poisonous, with perhaps the most toxic societal effects. When experts discuss the underclass in urban America, they blame in turn drugs, changing values, systematic poverty, and the breakdown of the nuclear family. Sometimes I wonder if all those problems are consequences of a deeper, underlying cause: our centuries-old sin of racism. (16)
I have a lot thinking, and praying, and repenting to do. I’m a little naive. I grew up in a ‘white’ town, went to a ‘white’ school, went to a ‘white’ college, and even now live in a ‘white’ community. My home church is ‘white’–literally, no one even of Hispanic background. For my entire preaching career I have served in ‘white’ churches. It’s not that I am a card carrying Klansman or flying the Stars and Bars in my front yard, but it is that more subtle form of racism that refuses to see certain advantages that are inherent in ‘whiteness’ and the all too willing heart to blame people instead of being compassionate–compassionate to all people–regardless of who they are or what color their skin is. That is, it really doesn’t make a difference why people are poor, or why there is no father, or why a person is homeless. Fact is, they are; and that requires response and action on my part.
There was a retired preacher who belonged to my home congregation. He used to pray, when he was invited to pray, that God would ‘forgive us our sins of omission and our sins of commission.’ I understand what he means now.
My first day in the diversity class, I was the only white man in the class of 30 or so people. My second day some other things happened. On the way in, one of my classmates needed help–parallel parking–and was waiving frantically for me to help. She is a student from the former Soviet Union, and at least nominally Muslim. I was able to help her get her car situated. In the class, I was seated in the middle of three African-American women–one from Ghana–who also became my conversation group for the day. On my way out, two African-American women were sitting in their van beside the curb and the van wouldn’t start. At first I walked by, on towards my car that I knew would start. Then the thought entered my mind and I turned around and went back–I have no particular knowledge of how to fix broken vans, but just to ask, to let them know I was thinking about them. I’m in a small study group for the class that includes and African-American man, a Jewish woman, and a woman of Native American heritage.
The Lord is teaching me something and interestingly enough I didn’t even know I needed to learn it. I’m not sure at this point it is necessarily about race as much as it is about noticing people–people I might otherwise overlook or ignore–and being available when the Lord moves people into the path of my daily walk, doing things that might otherwise make me uncomfortable, speaking with people who might otherwise make me nervous. And what strange people he moves into our paths. Perhaps keeping our eyes open and our ears open is part of the goal. Perhaps being open to the promptings of the Spirit is the key. Maybe part of the reason I have been having troubles with ‘the church’ (and not just the one that terminated my employment) lately is because as long as I was in one place, another ‘white’ place, there would never have been an opportunity or a reason to deal with these aspects of my life that were so glaringly deficient and sinful.
I don’t understand all the ways of the Spirit–and I’m not a little sad right now about working at Blockbuster video while I work on my Master’s degree–and maybe I don’t necessarily have to. Maybe all I have to do is be awake, aware, and alert and then God, in His time, will teach me what needs to be taught. Or he will teach me lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn in places I wouldn’t expect them to be taught and in ways I would never expect to learn. The preacher at the church this morning, Allistaire Begg, prayed this prayer:
What we know not, teach us.
What we have not, give us.
What we are not, make us.