the sisyphus prayer

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”  Albert Camus

Last night I committed an act of resistance: I allowed myself to feel.

When the hashtags announcing the death of another person of color cease as a trend and become a weekly inevitability, numbness feels like less of a choice and more of a mode of survival. I keep scrolling through my Facebook dash. I avert my eyes from the TV screen. I quiet the clamor of the world with headphones and absorb myself in little happenings that don’t cause my heart to crack.

Then the guilt creeps in. There are others marching, calling government offices, writing, speaking, weeping. This knowledge clings to the edges of my consciousness, much as I resist it at work, at home. The questions persist: Is my silence just another tether for injustice to continue, unchallenged? Should I be doing something? What does it mean that my eyes are dry? 

You’d think that as a social worker, I would understand how trauma works. You’d think I’d be able to point out the symptoms of heartache, the comfort found in desensitizing yourself to it, the body’s reflexes in warding off pain once it threatens to engulf you. Yet it wasn’t until last night when I read the story of Jayson Negron, a 15-year-old boy recently shot and killed by a police officer in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that I realized just how much the constant exposure to racial violence shapes my daily walk in the world.

Under the label of racial violence, I file the black and Latinx persons wrongfully incarcerated, the black sisters and brothers murdered because their bodies are threatening. I catalogue the black kids sent home for having wild hair and tackled for acting out and “being bad.” I index the times a black woman has been exoticized and silenced and dismissed for being too angry. I codify the times a black man has softened the serrations of his anger to navigate the workplace and move up and out. I trace the long line of comments on social media that blame people of color for causing more division and being racist against white people. I find the gaps between files where we are missing; we are too few in the police force, the Senate seats, the boss chairs.

I archive slavery and Jim Crow and urban poverty as well as imperialism and Operation Wetback and xenophobic-ridden ICE raids. Being multi-ethnic means you face oppression on multiple sides.

The sheer amount of data pointing to the existence of racism in my country filters through every outlet connected to my day-to-day life. Maybe once I would have missed it, but now that I am waking to it, I see the shades of it everywhere. It’s a second loss of innocence that many people of color experience at a much earlier age, this realization that the society you were born into was not structured for your flourishing. Hard work and individual effort aside, a black person can do all the “right” things and still end up dead on the street for simply being black. That is the privilege we lack.

I don’t even sense my mind hammering in walls for itself when I’m bombarded by the evidence of this marginalization. I waver between feeling too much and feeling nothing, yet I still blame myself for not fighting back enough. I resist calling myself a victim because I feel like I haven’t lost much–I’m a lighter-skinned, educated woman from an upper-middle class background. Then another police killing happens, and I’m back to figuring out why my gut is twisting inside me.

There is a psychological and spiritual cost in being exposed to examples of racism around you. I use the passive verb “being” intentionally because I do not always choose to hear about these stories–they are often thrown at me and then I have to fly or fight. Even if I don’t experience the situations personally, the racial subtext reinforces the danger, the vulnerability my blackness carries. And because the roots of this positionality are entrenched in histories white people can choose to gloss over or dilute, there is the very great possibility that if I voice my frustration and grief, I will encounter silence rather than open arms.

The Church does not speak to this type of collective trauma enough, and that neglect produces spiritual communities unequipped to comfort and ally with Christians of color as they wrestle with racial suffering. It’s telling that I’m conditioned to react in at least one of three ways when dealing with my own pain in the area of race:

  • Ignore it until it explodes.
  • Talk to other black people. Rant/cry with them.
  • Cry alone and pray.

The last two responses are not bad–in fact, sometimes I just need to commune in a space with other black people and let myself unravel. I also need the spaces where it’s just me and God wrestling through the unexplainables. I have found so much peace in dropping my guard and releasing my pain to Christ because I know He can handle my rage and my questions.

Yet my wounds still ache anew when I see responses from white churches in America and they are cold–or worse, a kindly sort of acquiescence. The temptation to contain my grief, wall it away, sharpens. If racism engineers such tepid responses, how can the institutions that perpetuate it ever crumble when the people whose ancestors built them don’t know or don’t care?

I could also try not to care–I might even find happiness through it. Why exert so much effort to build bridges when it feels like they’re going nowhere? Every life lost feels like censure.

This is where the Gospel flares into life: in the frail smallness of my life against the vast backdrop of racial pain, Jesus is indomitable. Through Him, I have inherited the spirit of a conqueror rather than a slave to history. And He is redeeming all things and wants me to participate in his work. Scripture reminds me that it is injustice, racism that faces a Long Defeat–not me.

I have nothing to prove, no one to please but Him. He frees me from the self-consciousness that shames my tears, and He meets me in midst of racial trauma. My heart learns to be pliant rather than hard, and leaning on Him, crumpling there in His arms with more questions than answers, I re-learn to feel.

So I curled into my pillow last night, and I wept. I cried for Jayson–and for the other black boys and girls lost this year. I thought of my brother, a black boy who just entered college, and I allowed my fear for him to spill out, pooling into the thick summer night. He’s in danger God. Protect him. Please protect him, I pleaded. I don’t want anything to happen to him. I ranted to God about how helpless I feel sometimes, how much I wish all white people could just understand, how guilty I feel inside the walls of academia when there is so much suffering outside them.

I stopped censoring myself in that moment, stopped pretending the pain wasn’t there, and my guards dropped away, leaving me more vulnerable but also more human than I had allowed myself to be. My defense mechanisms may help me keep it together, but they also resign me to a life dependent on my own capacity to process pain. I am called instead to submit all I am to God, whose capacity is limitless.

In the everyday, it means I am in constant contact with Him through prayer, through silence. It means I am wrestling with the pain and letting that process inform how I engage with people. Sometimes it’s too raw and I need to retreat, but I will not build more walls to defend myself. Trusting God to be my shield is uncomfortably counter-intuitive but also desperately needed. There is a way of being that exists apart from the roles of silent sufferer and hyper-vigilant martyr that black people are pressured to play.

I am sick of being strong. Black women are encouraged, praised to be strong. I seek instead the kind of equity that gives me access to vulnerability so I become more human, less of an object conditioned to resist battering. I want to taste more of the freedom rooted in God’s incredible love for me and inhabit that space where I am no longer resisting injustice alone–and I am not alone.

This is my daily rebellious exercise: When I feel the weight of my world like a rock, I pray its movement forward, inch by inch. My fingers may ache, my back grow sore, but I know this weight will not crush me. This is no futile strain. There are hands far stronger keeping me in place as I look past the rock to where the mountain peak waits.

This is endurance–not that I am strong, but rather that I am allowed weakness.

 

*Learn about Sisyphus here

 

 

to write and riot: one year later

Jordan Edwards is dead.

When I lift my fingers to type, they drum down on the keys with the weight of this–the names of the people Racism has stolen from my communities. They are not just headlines that will pass away; they are not just bodies behind bars. Yet I live in a country where non-White features designate people as Other and thus less valued–no matter how many exceptional people of color “make it out.” There is no “out.” We are all inextricably, unavoidably, in this, and the ripples of one boy’s death collide with each of our realities–even those too numbed to notice.

This is for those who hear me and stay.

I was recently startled into the realization that this blog is one-year old. God charged me during the Urbana ’16 conference to channel all the thoughts I wrestle with into something that could not only stretch my growth, but also potentially challenge and lift up others. This blog was born. I didn’t so much leap with faith as really tip over into a new realm where suddenly my words were pulled out of my head and heart and positioned on display for the world to see (whatever sliver of the world manages to find this blog).

Starting this blog was an exercise in anxiety. I’ve always shied away from public writing, even as I envied others who seem to share with such ease. I also didn’t believe I had anything groundbreaking to offer–not anything other social justice-oriented individuals had already shared (and far more eloquently). Yet God tugged at my feet, so I took a step forward into the unknown.

Rusty from a few years of wildly inconsistent writing habits that would provoke slow, somber head shakes from my former professors, I quarreled with a blank screen and an overload of ambition. I blundered (and still stumble) over the basic stepping stones: to whom to write (audience), what to write about (topic), and how to write about it (tone). Cognizant that I was writing about issues framed as controversial (cite: avoidable) in the Church, each typed word became fraught with tension.

The reality that I am a woman of color in her early 20s loomed over my fingers as they flexed, preparing for the Great White Portal to racial discourse. I sat before my computer (feeling) unequipped, inexperienced, and lonely in my racking desire to confront the racial pain burdening my heart and to help my communities somehow. Then the questions stampeded in, no pause to exhale:

What if I’m too angry?

What if I burn bridges?

What if I have nothing to say? 

What if everyone hates me?

What if I’m wrong? 

Dread wrapped in a tight, thick knot in my throat, I begged God to give me an out. Clearly I wasn’t shaped for this type of work.

A little over a year later, this blog remains (obviously). So what happened? A few realizations unfolded over time:

  • I don’t have to fix racism. It’s not on me to do this–I’m no Savior. I can speak to what I observe, what burdens me, what others have taught me, but I’m never engaging in this work of repentance and reconciliation alone, leading to…
  • I’m joining a conversation. I am one voice, carrying my stories and thoughts and struggles, and my voice matters, but I must recognize that I am entering into a space where I am engaging with past, present, and future threads. There are others I must listen to and learn from, other voices to reflect upon and voices to interact with as we untwist the problems of race and identity and community.
  • I’m human–own it. I am not perfect. Neither am I the ultimate authority on all things related to racial discourse. I can honestly admit that I’m stubborn and struggle with acknowledging my mistakes–I prefer to rationalize them as logical or excusable. I also have a ridiculous capacity for being judgmental, and that creates blinders that prevent me from seeing all sides and angles. I’ve been learning through this writing process how to take responsibility for my sin areas and make space for God to teach me differently. My writing will always reflect my imperfection and gaps in knowledge, but I am committed to deepening my comprehension, adjusting my vision, and growing outwards.
  • The pain is worth it. I’ve cried during and after writing a blog post. Some of them have excavated deep wounds I didn’t realize I still have; some shoved suffering into my face, leaving me adrift and unable to process it all. Some made me feel every single gram of my inadequacy, and I wanted to give up. But then I would get a message from someone who read a post, that it helped them in some way, and it was like God’s prodding to keep going. Words arose, quiet, steady: Keep going daughter. Face the storm. I am with you. So I went on.

I labor over this work–and it’s hard. I am constantly amazed by those of you who have been invested in this labor for years. I agonize over words, pray over them, gnaw my lip and wonder if I should soften the language or shift topics. God rarely responds yes. And even then, I don’t always obey, bending instead to the pressure to be polite rather than truthful.

I don’t (as of now) face incarceration or mortal danger for typed letters, but as the PEN World Voices Festival warned me yesterday, not everyone has that luxury. So I treasure the freedom that allows words of challenge to unfurl out of my being and press against the world in some needed way. I don’t feign the posture of a great Liberator or Artist as I write, but because there is an unfathomable well of pain to speak to, I have a purpose in trying.

Writing, talking about racism is a tangle of pain and hope. The pain rises and throbs as you point to the realities of discrimination, unjust economic systems, and the hidden heart issues that bleed out into our actions. I move through a labyrinth of thought and feeling, a pack of understandings sloped on my back because I realize that confronting racism involves the indictment of that which has been hidden away, held taut beneath the surface and ready to snap. It requires examining what it means to be White and where White comes from. It mandates wrestling what it means to be Black and diasporic. It provokes the questioning of how to locate yourself within a color binary never designed for you if you are Asian, Arab, Indigenous.

This is tense, uncompromising work. It will not make you feel good–in fact, it will disturb and offend you. Confronting ugliness repulses us–and it should. I do not ask God to remove this tension from my gut; it unsettles me into a state of action so I will not be complacent when the needs are so great. They are great, and they are relentless.

With the presence of so much unfettered ignorance and a vacuum of empathy, how can I possibly soothe the heartbreak that racism causes in my country? I can’t. Sometimes all I can do is loosen my tears and not forget the ones abused by it. And I do this: I write. I lift my small torch to shed light on the margins so those willing to draw near them can mourn with me and step through the night into what could await us beyond it. This is a shade of riot, that we repel the forces that would keep us static and demand the ushering of Heaven to Earth, opening our hands to receive it and hold on tight.

Our hearts hurt because we sense that racial division and injustice is not God’s intention for us. His movement, always and forever, is to bind us together with words, with the Word, into one family with no dividing wall.

Words matter, and they have power. Writing can be an act of activism, rebellion even, against that which mars human dignity and distorts the beauty of our relationships with one another. Words have founded revolutions, fractured families and repaired them, and so I handle them with care and submit them to God. I look for the ways in which He is using them already to weave our disparate stories together, and I ask to join Him in that industry.

Yet there can be little communion when one member’s hands are burned, nerves exhausted. To resurrect our fellowship with one another, we must look frankly upon the wrongs done to our peoples and examine them, repent of them. Lament brings us through this cycle of sorrow, weighing the gravity of the past and present and leading us to the One who reconciles all. We end in a small echo of the final paradise: in praise, in community.

So I end this with where I started: a declaration of riot. I feel feeble sometimes, too passive and hesitant to shake walls and topple towers. I walk into rooms with an apology on my tongue rather than a confrontation. But you, my readers, my friends, and my God, you have dared me to surrender fear and point to the world I yearn for and the change I am now willing to labor towards. So I leave you with this and hope to encourage you as you take hold of the calling God has given you and till the soil for a world better than what you were born into:

The Cross of Christ is the ultimate symbol of riot. Jesus’ sacrificial death momentarily shoved the world into a state of chaos as the sacred temple Veil was ripped, the ground itself rocked with tremors, and blood streamed from a beaten body and pooled at the feet of the terrified ones watching. All the cries of the abused, the violated, the oppressed, the lost, the unheard thundered above his bowed head. The darkness of a people estranged from God and enslaved to sin was broken by slashes of lightning that mimicked the aching stretch of his arms upon the wooden beam.

Hell emptied itself and Heaven touched Earth for the first time in centuries as the way to God’s throne was cleared at last, mediated by a soon resurrected Christ. He had thrown everything into violent, visceral upheaval, and we are still experiencing the vibrations.

The riot of the Cross challenges all that is disordered in our society and invites our participation in a holy commotion that will write a new draft above our stained histories. This draft is the Kingdom of Christ being ushered in now, though not yet in its final published form. In this draft, we are charged to disturb the status quo, remake the hierarchies of power,  demand justice for the marginalized, innovate new words to love and live with each other.

God writes the new draft of a Kingdom manifesto on a scroll of grace, unfurling to coil around each person with a binding embrace. This grace acknowledges our grievous wrongs and our depraved brokenness, both individual and systemic, but rather than charting an arc towards death, it writes us into new roles: redeemed rioters on Gospel terms. With renewed minds, we grow into our roles, stumble, and keep marching so that someday we will see the fullness of a radically altered world.

graceriot 2016

Riot on.

getting out: part II 

Would a white doctor be dragged through the aisle of an airplane for not leaving his seat?

I ask this question not only because it’s timely, but because I’ve asked this question for a hundred different scenarios:

Would a white woman be scolded in this situation, her feelings called paranoid?

Would a white man’s motives have been scrutinized here, his criminal record redlined?

Would a white woman have been protected in this situation?

Would a white man have been given the benefit of the doubt rather than shot?

I am used to seeing black men framed as hulking figures to be feared, the ones you can justify shooting out of fear. I am used to seeing Latinx persons depicted as threats, aliens you can rationalize criminalizing. I am used to seeing mugshots and unflattering photos of Asian, Arab, and indigenous peoples on the news more often than pictures of them smiling or holding their children.

These patterns of representation cannot be attributed solely to individual bias or even prejudiced media outlets. They point to an insidious reality that pervades both our individual and collective experiences: racism as sin. In my previous post, I shared how the personal and institutional dimensions of racism shape the anxieties of many people of color–and the responses of our white brothers and sisters. Racism estranges us from each other because its intent is to sow dissension, distrust, and displacement. It is a very real spiritual force that establishes strongholds around communities, nations so we no longer act as blood-tied brothers and sisters, but as distant relations merely inhabiting church sanctuaries and neighborhood blocks together.

I think of the implications of Easter and feel sadness. The Cross stands in opposition to anything that distances us from the Revelations mural of multi-ethnic, multinational, multilingual, multiracial family worshiping together and celebrating both what distinguishes us and what makes us belong to one another: Jesus’ death for our sins and his defeat of that very same Death. But not only physical death–no, Jesus put to death all things that bar us from the abundant life God designed us for. Racism spits on that vision of freedom and so it must die, and we must die to it.

Some argue that the Christian life should prioritize only personal salvation and avoid distractions like social justice issues that just cause more division and are only “of this world.” We can feed the poor, house the homeless like we ought to, but giving so much attention to “political” issues like race isn’t really as important or necessary on a large scale. Those called into racial reconciliation ministry can do that work, but the rest of us should focus on the spiritual essentials.

A pastor I heard recently responded to this strain of thought by stating: “We talk a lot about what salvation saves us from, but not enough what it saves us for.” He pointed out that while our choice to surrender to Jesus as our Savior saves us from eternal separation from God, it also ushers us into a new reality, a new way of living where we join Him in the restoration of all things. We are in the In-Between, the Here-and-Now, equipped to engage whatever infringes upon God’s coming Kingdom and cultivate cultures, institutions, relationships, and personal practices that reflect His shalom, His harmonious intention for our world.

Scripture draws us to that vision where we are positioned as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21), people of renewed minds (Romans 12:2), and a community defined by love and sacrifice on behalf of others (Romans 12:9-15). Our salvation and the life that emerges after that choice should bear this kind of fruit if we are aligning with God’s work both within us and around us. This signifies that I have been saved for the kind of work that will contribute to reconciliation between estranged peoples, whether that be on the racial, economic, gender, national, or embodied axes.

So when I notice a consistent difference between how people of color and white people are treated in my country and the opportunities made available to them, I have been saved for confronting it. This doesn’t mean that each of us has to become Social Justice Warriors Inc. and devote ourselves to writing books and lectures on racial reconciliation; however, it does require us to expand our understanding of salvation to include the redemption of our communities and institutions.

We each have a unique combination of experiences, gifts, and relationships that God can use to contest areas of racial brokenness on these levels so we can become known as those people leading the charge in our promotion of just and loving ways of relating to each other rather than “those Christians” who lag behind secular activists already on the front lines. There are opportunities for fruitful partnership with those who also value the equal and dignified treatment of all people, and there are opportunities to represent the God who instructs us to care for the oppressed among us (Isaiah 1:16-17).

Movies like Get Out expose us to the racial brokenness that touches each of our lives–whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s not a black people issue for black people to deal with–it’s a sin issue we must bring before God, repent of, and seek ways of supporting those wounded from it. Relegating it to a controversial topic black people should work out is neither loving nor helpful in building the kind of unity I think we all want to see but rarely exert the sacrificial effort to make possible.

I’ve written many times about the exhaustion that creeps in when you feel like you have to market yourself as safe and consumable for white people who tiptoe around race because there’s a cost to wrestling with racial tensions and insecurities. There’s a cost to entering into the mess of it without the clinical distance sustained by TV screens and blog articles (yes, even this one). It’s a cost many people of color pay each day because we can’t necessarily afford to be detached. You can try to diminish how often you think about racism, try to rationalize it as not a big deal or not affecting you as badly as other people, but your body is always with you. You bring the race card into each space you’re in, not because you want to play the game, but because the world outlined the rules of it without your consent.

This anxiety and hyper-self-consciousness is not of God. They are symptomatic of a sinful world which capitalizes on the differences that, rather than celebrated, are cataloged and used to justify why one group of people should be feared, fenced out, or assimilated and another group should be normalized, standardized, and made neutral. If diversity is a reflection of God’s creative imperative and the fullness of the eternal kingdom to come, the discomfort I sometimes feel within my skin must grieve God.

Maybe you’re a person of color who has never felt this way–and if so, I’m glad for it. I’m glad that you have been welcomed, affirmed, and included in the spaces you have entered. But please don’t take that safety as the rule; it is unfortunately the exception. Don’t let your sense of comfort negate the racial pain other people of color have experienced–listen instead. I can only speak out of my own experience and others’ stories I have had the privilege to share, but the experience of being Othered is a common thread. I write about it in the hopes of resisting my impulse to pretend I’m fine when what I feel is a whole influx of complicated things simultaneously. I can be the Georgina of Get Out, calm and complacent even as tears fight to the surface, and I could be the Chris of the final movie arc-furious, desperate-all at once.

Get Out is a cautionary tale, a reminder that white spaces, whiteness exists and should be examined. But beyond that, it demands us to confront our racial wounds and acknowledge that those wounds are psychological, spiritual, and visceral in nature.

How do we get out this mess? And as the alternative…what are we supposed to be getting into?

So I help out with the kids ministry at my local church, and this Sunday the kids will be learning about how Jesus is our “bridge to God.” Many of us have seen the image of the cross laid horizontal, closing the breach between us and our Heavenly Father.

Image result for the cross as the bridge

Why am I bringing this up? I want us to think about bridges and their purpose. In simple terms, bridges allow what was once distant and separate to draw close. What was once separated doesn’t have to cross-they don’t even have to come that close-but the opportunity is ready and waiting.

The Cross Jesus died upon invites us to draw close to God, but unlike our tendency to hesitate, He doesn’t settle for a tiptoe. He wants to be intrinsic to our lives, part of everything we are and everything we do. He wants the kind of closeness where He can be present in and work through every painful and raw and riddled part of our daily experience as well as our past.

Intimacy is the antidote to distrust, to fear, because intimacy is the fruit of love, and there is no fear in love, not when God is at the foundation.  When you take the time to know me, when I allow myself to be known and have the courage to step closer to you, that fear dissipates. When we mutually surrender our interactions to Jesus, we are equipped to wrestle with strongholds that would otherwise threaten to distance us or incite doubt and resentment. Our communion will not resolve all racism or fix the bone-deep systemic issues, but us struggling together, crying together, learning together builds a resistance that can endure and erode those historic fortresses until they crumble.

If you’re aiming for the “feel-good,” flowery kind of intimacy, this isn’t it. This is the intimacy of the Cross: Blood. Grief. Confusion. Pain. Death. Love. We must get close:

Personally: We must take the time to listen to each other’s experiences without the defensiveness or fear that often freezes conversations about race before they have a change to delve deep. Instead, we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit so we can repent of the ways in which we have hurt each other (and may continue to hurt each other–we aren’t perfect!) and forgive what has been done against us. We have to be honest with our friends and neighbors as we build relationships with them, understanding as well that trust is bolstered over time and backed up by consistent actions of love and vulnerability. We each have baggage and scars in this area, and we approach each other with patience that can only be enabled by the One who redeems all things.

Communally: We must take responsibility for the racial sin marring our history as a Church and the sin rooted beneath our neighborhoods. We mourn this history and lay it before God, and we commit ourselves as a community to actively open up spaces for marginalized peoples to speak to us and lead us in efforts towards reconciliation and justice. We commit to engaging the racial tensions within our neighborhoods. We promote the ministries, services, and organizations building bridges through these tensions and we ask God for guidance in what our participation should look like as our love for the people in our proximity grows.

Institutionally: We must take ownership of the power we have been granted, whether that be through privilege of our skin color, our socioeconomic status, our gender, our able-bodiedness, our social connections, our citizenship. These privileges are ours to steward in a way that benefits those whom the laws and institutions of our land disenfranchise. We must demonstrate the willingness to consider what people value outside of our partisan camp and how that may either reflect the heart of Christ or contradict it. We should speak to those things in love, using our voice, our vote, our civic action to challenge injustice when it is exposed and call our leaders and representatives to be accountable to those whom they serve–especially the ones most vulnerable to neglect and oppression.

There are more ways we could draw close to the problem of racial sin, but I want to emphasize that engaging with it on one level isn’t enough because our faith is not restricted to one dimension. Our salvation didn’t just cover the personal–it had ramifications for ALL of these areas–it’s holistic. When Jesus conquered Death, he established a new path for humanity that culminates in the harmonious diversity depicted in Revelations. If that is what our salvation points to, our daily lives must point to that eternal reality as well. So we get out of the mindset that dealing with race is a side-project and we get into the toil of generating a culture here and now that reflects God’s ultimate design for us as a community.

There will be those who will not enter into this process, those who will scorn the grace extended and reject the efforts of those who seek understanding and reconciliation. They may halt conversations out of anxiety, anger, and defensiveness. They may continue to gravely hurt their sisters and brothers of color-as well as their allies-with their actions. I pray for them–the ones I can’t reach. I pray that God will soften their hearts and filter through any distortions in their vision so, someday, they can join me on this journey. Some may never take that step, but the Cross dares me to hope.

As a woman of color, I surrender my anxieties to God and ask that He enables me with the grace and courage to step across color lines and trust white people with my vulnerability and pain. It doesn’t mean I throw pearls before swine or pretend they have no power to hurt me,  but I am open to welcoming them into my struggles and my celebrations. I see the bridge and ask for the courage to cross.

For my white sisters and brothers, I challenge you to meet us (people of color) beyond the halfway point since we are usually the ones expected to stretch far to accommodate you. I invite you to suffer with us as much as you enjoy our cultures and our company. I am not just black, I am not just Latina, and I am not an object upon which to cast your pity or look to for absolution for any guilt or discomfort. Yet God decided to form me this way, knowing the labels that would be fixed to my body, and there is intention in that design. I ask you to take the whole of that rather than the parts you are comfortable with if we are to learn to step forward together into this redemptive work.

What do we do on a larger scale? Imagine if more white people talked about racism with their neighbors, whether that be in the Midwest, the South, or New York City. What if they introduced black voices to them so they wouldn’t seem so threatening? So they could listen? What if we led our nation in repentance for our racial sin and reclaimed our interconnectedness so all could flourish, and not one at the expense of another? What if more people of color were empowered by their church communities, supported by their family to process their wounds and equipped to transform nations in profound ways? What if all Christians were labeled “Social Justice Warriors,” and it was a compliment of the highest regard?

Intimacy is one step, not a whole solution. But it’s a pursuit, and it makes us more than strangers–it makes us family.

I am reminded of this every time I have a conversation with one of my friends who are white. They are never just White Friends. They are my sisters. They’ve seen me at my worst and loved me. We’ve argued and stumbled as we’ve unloaded our struggles with race and have been made better for it.

No friendship is ever without difficulty, and when you add race into the equation, it means a lot of arguments and apologies and explanations and renewed commitments to understand. But I love my friends and their willingness to take this road with me. It’s hard on them too, and they want to listen and help, and my heart cracks open to receive them.

A day after the presidential election, I dragged myself to the highest floor of the student center near me, fighting tears the entire time. Desperate to hear another human voice, I called my friend, a white woman from the Midwest. Phone creased into my ear, fingers trembling, I didn’t even know where to begin, but I started talking. Then I started crying. And it was like she was sitting there beside me on that lonely stairwell as I cried myself out. My heart was heavy from seeing the rise in hate crimes, sensing the division in my country, feeling like my peoples weren’t being listened to–and I felt alone in it. 

She cried with me. And as her voice shook, she told me: “I feel like they’re attacking you, and that hurts me. They’re attacking me too.” Her words are steel in my step. I have people in my life who not only see my pain, but also huddle with me because they recognize it as their pain too. They don’t know the loss I have-and neither have I walked in their shoes-but they tether themselves to the stakes I face personally because God has made it matter to them

And they don’t stop there–I have seen them defend me, advocate for me, and pray for me. They carry my stories and share them. They assess their own hearts and seek God in unlearning bias and expanding their vision. This has been a source of healing for me because my heart has been slammed too many times by the silences of my white brothers and sisters when it comes to addressing racism in my country. People are dying, people are crying out for acknowledgement, and when those cries litter the wind, unheard, it hurts. Yet in the silent stairwell, my friend on the other line, I saw another way.

Movies can show us the either/or side of racial conflict: evil white racists or victimized black people. They don’t always tell the stories of me and my white sisters on another scale entirely, three-layers deep and finding freedom together on the other side of the Cross. We need more of those stories. We need more of that God-enabled intimacy at work among us, healing our land and ourselves. 

 My sisters, white by nature of a society who scripted us in stark colors, stand with me. This is where I see salvation at work: We get in together, and we go deep.

getting out: part I

I’ve never been strapped to a chair in preparation for lobotomy, but when I saw the horror in David Kaluuya’s eyes as his character’s desperate situation dawned on him, I discovered that the pounding of my heart in sync with his was not new…it was familiar.

I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch Get Out with a group of my friends who are black. I had seen the teaser and assumed the movie would be about slavery ghosts or some drama like that. What I got instead hit uncomfortably closer to home. What director Jordan Peele accomplishes brilliantly (and disturbingly) through Get Out is that he creates a movie for black people in which we are allowed to be afraid.

Thanks to my family, I’ve seen my share of horror films, and a trend we mock constantly is that “the black guy’s gonna die first.” And he does–not always, but enough times in bloody, gratuitous ignominy that we can joke about it to shrug off the uncomfortable truths propping that reality. Get Out resists that narrative by presenting us with a black man who not only experiences terror and still makes it to the end of the movie blessedly alive, but who also gets to see his fear legitimized.

The latter part is especially compelling when you consider what his character is afraid of: white people. This movie has been criticized in some spaces for being “anti-white” and feeding into “reverse racism” because the circumstances in which Chris finds himself when he visits his white girlfriend’s family home are seen as exaggerated. The movie showcases him interacting with white people who squeeze his arm to admire his “genetic advantage,” who attempt to forge camaraderie with him by declaring they would’ve “voted for Obama a third time,” who ask him to speak to “black issues” and praise his existence because “black seems to be in fashion.” They definitely turn out to be on the extreme end of cultural appropriation by the movie’s third-act reveal, but what Peele ultimately points to is not a demonization of white people, but rather the very real fear and discomfort people of color carry into spaces where they are the minority. 

It’s vital that we center our analysis of the film on the experiences of the black characters rather than contesting the lack of “good” non-racist white characters that white audiences can feel safe relating to (even Hidden Figures surrenders to this trope). We enter the film through Chris’ black gaze, and that is subversive and rare both for the horror genre and for mainstream media.

We need to commit to this black lens because Chris is, in many ways, a stand-in for people of color who find themselves walking into a room of white people, preternaturally conscious of their Otherness. This doesn’t signify that those white people are malicious or intentionally hurtful; neither does it insinuate a space void of friendship or positive connection. That sensation of internalized difference is instead symptomatic of a society where color does hold differentiated weight and value, even if that truth lies unseen by those within the majority group. We have enough past and present histories to evidence that people of color have good reason to feel uncomfortable with white people when their embodied existence has been consistently devalued in so many ways–even by the most well-meaning people.

Devaluation and disenfranchisement take different forms, sometimes in the blatant examples of horrific mass incarceration rates, the headlines of a black teenage girl beaten by police for acting like a criminal, the mockery black celebrities like Leslie Jones endure for their atypical looks (when I say atypical, I mean she’s not white). But it’s worse when racism appears in casual, conversational, and normalized form because it’s overlooked and easy to dismiss by white people.

Racism outside the bounds of the hateful bigot who is easy to point to can seem innocuous, but it’s no less hurtful because of how it piles up. It looks like the absence of ethnically diverse church leaders, local authorities, and policy makers when congregations and neighborhoods are diverse. It emerges in the passive acceptance of injustices facing people of color and in victim-blaming. It’s wrapped up in compliments that exoticize a person of color and suggestions that they “be less angry” when sharing their experiences of racial pain. It shows up in the standardization of life practices, worship styles, dress, language, literature, theology, and media as normal only when they are based on a white Euro-American context. It can take form as stereotypes and the assumption that people of color are in the wrong, that they must factually prove their innocence and their pain to have a stage to speak.

We must extinguish the belief that racism equates to racial hate. Being confronted for acting or thinking in ways that maintain whiteness as the norm should not be perceived as an act of character assassination, yet there seems to be no greater crime than to be accused of racism (white and POC communities can do better in addressing this anxiety). Racism is a stronghold of sin that inflicts deep pain, but not on the basis that all white people hate black people; instead, it grounds itself in the lie that only bad people perpetuate it. The white people Chris meets at Rose’s home don’t necessarily hate him; they think they are doing the right thing in their approach to his blackness. However, their actions align with a racial narrative that outlines his blackness as something they can benefit from or downplay without personal cost. This narrative is real and pervasive in America, and it’s rooted, not in hate, but in blindness.

There is a collective unawareness among white people that our system of racial difference was created to reinforce the superiority of people classified as white (supplying the reason for why reverse-racism does not exist), and so it bleeds into both individual attitudes and institutional policies. It may have started with slavery, but the impact of that practice is felt in the here and now. And when racism is understood not solely as a posture of hate (since there are definitely still people bearing hatred towards people of color) but rather an assignment of meaning and value to physical differences, it becomes harder to address. Even if a person of color notices it and speaks to it, they risk being chastised as crazy or-the worst crime in Christian spaces-divisive.

To avoid this labeling, people of color may inure themselves to stand politely, speak diplomatically, and grip silence rather than point out when a white person has said or done anything offensive. Within the realm of race discourse, we classify this as “catering to white fragility.” White fragility is a term thrown around a lot whenever a white person gets upset about a person of color talking frankly about racism or confronting them about the ways in which they unconsciously hew to problematic racial ideas. In this case, I refer to white fragility as a dynamic that arises when a white person has a low threshold for experiencing the tension and discomfort that comes with conversations about race. This low tolerance of discomfort can result in the seeking of a quick exit from the conversation, a defensive posture as if responding to the subject as a personal attack (even if it’s not heated), or a rationalization of how they are not racist. The pot gets hot; they jump out.

This discomfort is understandable, and I empathize with my white brothers and sisters struggling with it. But there is a cost when a white person’s reflex is to avoid engaging with racial issues or critically reflecting upon both their experiences with race and those of their brothers and sisters of color. The burden is heaved upon people of color to navigate the racial systems they didn’t create and to heal the wounds dealt them. It’s the loneliness of that work, the weariness of that everyday resistance that engenders frustration towards white fragility.

I bring this up because fragility-like fear-is an experience that people of color are not usually afforded. Since our Otherness is stamped upon our features, and our society has imposed lenses through which to view us as alien, deviant, and threatening (the thuggification of Michael Brown highlights this), we can’t easily avoid conversations or experiences directly related to our race and ethnicities. Our communities suffer because of the historically-seeded narratives that frame our opportunities and identities, and so we enter the trenches to understand racism and struggle to dismantle it. We at least value our lives, and we know God does too.

For this reason, I think black people are familiar with walking in someone else’s shoes because you have to in order to navigate the minefield of feelings and reactions of white people in regards to race. It’s an anxiety that hinges on my words when I talk sometimes to my white friends, not only because I’m afraid of rejection, but because I’m afraid for them. Few people choose to make others feel uncomfortable or offended, and for a people-pleasing, way-too-apologetic woman like me, I lean into making myself a buffer to console white people rather than airing out the warring thoughts inside me. The lines between consideration and accommodation become blurred, and I get lost in the middle.

Tasha Robinson from The Verge speaks to how Chris mirrors this experience in Get Out:

It’s significant that Chris starts out as a passive, quiet, conflict-averse man who defers to white authority in every form. Peele has said that his target with Get Out was primarily the white liberal elite, the types who think President Obama’s election and their own open-mindedness have solved racism. And he’s unsparing in mocking them, in terms of making his antagonists not just ruthless, but laughable. Still, Peele spares a little side-eye for Chris, who’s willing to go along with anything to avoid causing trouble, and gets himself in trouble as a result. The entire film is about Chris coming to terms with his need to defend himself, to fight back, and to trust his instincts about who’s a threat, no matter how congenially they tell him that black skin is “in fashion” at the moment.

As Tasha points out, Chris appears as the “safe” black man at the beginning of the movie–someone white people can feel complacent around. He encounters white people who accentuate his difference and make him the anomaly of the room-even when they say color doesn’t matter- and with a hand-wave he responds: “It’s okay.” How many times have we said that to avoid bringing more attention to race or to our own anxiety about it?

In the beat before “It’s okay,” “It’s fine,” and “No big deal,” lies the reminder of who holds power in the room–and it’s not people of color. Peele explains that the inspiration for this movie came after Obama’s election and how the media touted this as a symbol of our post-racial age. We’re equal now. Race doesn’t matter. Yet in Get Out, Peele magnifies one of the consequences of this thinking: white Americans believe they don’t participate in racism. Even though the narratives surrounding black people and other people of color have been updated instead of altered (see: the Mamie, the submissive Asian woman, the Latino lover, the Thug), even though our system still disproportionately allocates resources to black people and disproportionately punishes them, even though our churches still struggle with segregation, this belief that people of color have nothing to complain about because we’re equal now is nationally circulated. This accomplishes much in rationalizing the patterns of collective inaction among white people, particularly white Christians, in respect to racial issues.

So when I tell my white friend in college that I feel self-conscious in class because I’m the only black girl in the room as we elaborate on the virtues of Western literature (which apparently don’t include black or Latino or indigenous stories except for spring electives) and she gently offers that I might be “paranoid,” I shut my mouth. I’m making a big deal out of nothing. When I attend formal events for work, I catch myself lapsing into the role of the conciliatory minority, smiling away microaggressions as they amass in my gut to be picked apart later. I don’t want to make a fuss. When I visit someone’s home and sit at their dinner table as the only darker-skinned person present, sometimes anxiety locks my spine straight because I just want to blend in as much I can, leaking only the parts of my cultures-the parts of my self-that will be safe here. I don’t want to stand out more than I already do.

I’ve been at that dinner table, that party lawn with Chris. I can still have a good time and enjoy the company of people I’m with, but there is this ever-present anxiety that accompanies me in predominantly white spaces that has rarely been acknowledged or validated. Instead, I’m pressured to blame myself for feeling this discomfort when in a group of white people. I’m reminded that I should be the one getting over it because clearly no one else but me has the problem. So my eyes widen when Chris is proved right. He is right in feeling tension. He is right in noticing something is wrong with the way he is treated. He is right to defend himself because he is someone worth defending. I keep rooting for him to get out of that house, that sunken place because I feel like I’m still clawing my way out of it.

every black drop

There’s about half an hour left of Black History Month as I type this, and I am determined to cling to each minute left, use it. I feel like I’ve been slightly MIA this month–a respite from writing, a sabbatical from marching, moments in shadowed corners away from the fray, where I hear my breath and hear my thoughts.

February has been such a pendulum month with peaked highs and such deep lows that I don’t know how to summarize it, so I won’t try to. I can’t fully articulate the soul-ache extended to my limbs, the way you wake up tired after a full night of slumber. Neither can I fully capture the heady joy that awakens, vibrates into being unexpectedly, and thrums new life into my fingers as they flex and I face a new day. It’s both of these coexisting realities I have known this month as I unravel my country to examine its threads and allow God to unravel me so I can be known.

But in these remaining minutes, I want to remember, that is, I want to pay homage to the blackness that birthed me and has also been part of the dual realities–the weariness and the vitality. I want to remember the black women who have seen me through seasons and those seasoned with years beyond my own.

I want to remember my Abuela whose stories pulled me to an island I had never seen and whose own story dared me to be a warrior like her, serenity and fortitude in the cocoa-brown of her eyes.

I want to remember my Grandmother Joan, whose patient brown hands could stir pitchers of brown-sugared lemonade, wave into the air with her bright, high laugh, or clasp my shoulder as she reminded me again that I belong to her, belong to family.

I want to remember my aunts, black, bold, laughing, loving, drawing us all in and together, Caribbean beats and earrings with afro-womened silhouettes.

I want to remember my mom, who gave me histories to interpret my existence, took me to Civil Rights museums and MLK’s fatal hotel, but also the grassy knoll in Downtown Nyack where she hosted picnics with me and my sister where we feasted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; she gifted us innocence. 

I want to remember the black girls of my childhood on my screen, the Tia and Tamera Mowrys and Kesha from The Magic School Bus and even Francine from Arthur (coded black) that showed me that I belong in so many spaces, even if then the screen didn’t show us in all of them.

I want to remember the women from graves long grassed over: Sojourner Truth with her blunt, fierce gaze, Harriet Tubman, Marian Anderson–whom I did my first biography book report about.

I want to remember the black women in my childhood church who mentored me, sang with me, and taught me to pray to a God that created all our colors and cherished us.

I want to remember the black sisters in my church now that give me the freedom to break apart but keep me from being forever strewn in pieces–who also let me be full and loud and unapologetic.

I want to remember my black friends in college who rinsed the product from my hair, invited me to discover my own blackness, and taught me how to be angry.

I want to remember the black women on YouTube who helped me love my curls.

I want to remember Maya Angelou, whose words taught my own to push past the wired walls of fear and self-consciousness that caged them and find the music freed beyond them.

I want to remember the singers of the blues, of the oldies, of Motown, that my 24-year-old soul still finds resonance with years later when I hear them sing of new love, endured struggles, and the sparkled, boogied happiness to be found in-between beats of a longer song.

I want to remember the black women I see protesting on the news, lecturing in white academic halls, preaching poetry in protest on a vacant stage–the ones who refuse to be made invisible and give me the courage to be seen.

I want to remember the black women whom I am friends with still, whom I weep on the phone with and rant on sidewalks with and dance to Beyonce and the Wobble and samba with (shout-out to all the Afro-Latinas out there!). 

I want to remember the black women I have never known, but whose lives I feel the weight of with each step I take.

You will never be forgotten. With 2 minutes to spare, I’ve done my very small part in making sure of it.

percentages

What does “Christian” mean today in America? Not for those who consider themselves followers of Christ, but for those who do not: When you hear “Christian,” what words or images come to mind?

Let’s get real here. People see 81% (voted for Trump) and 76% (approved of the travel ban) and white evangelical Christians get branded racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and then are shoved into a box by liberal-minded people so they can continue in their ignorance at a safe distance from the rest of America. Now, the self-identified Christians contained in these numbers span a spectrum of experiences: some may consider themselves culturally Christian because of their upbringing; some obligatorily take the label “Christian” and agree with Trump on a moral basis; and some claim a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ as their Savior.

These nuances matter in examining Trump’s rise to power and the consequences for communities now suffering the brunt of his nascent orders. The shades within the data prompt more complicated questions about how Bible-believing Christians align with Trump’s policies even if they dislike the man himself, how race and class shape political beliefs for people of faith, and how the Church should deal with the burgeoning resentment it faces in the United States.

The response to the latter question might earn you a lecture about John 15:18-25, where Jesus declares:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason’.[b

I’ve seen Christians proudly raise the banner for our status as foreigners in this world–in not of, present but separate. I resonate with the core truth that our primary belonging is in Christ and not the mores of our current society. Our attitudes and actions should be counter-cultural if those standards misalign with how Jesus calls us to live; we are to emulate him, not mimic the denizens on the It-List. Where I experience tension is when Christians use this passage to avow the persecution of American Christians and shrug off the ire of non-Christians as the same kind of lamentable hate John 15 describes. Christians start glorying in percentages and media attacks as proof of their righteousness, proof that we are right, they are wrong, and we must either endure their misguided slander like societal martyrs or challenge it as morally superior conquerors.

I want us to look at the last line of the passage again: “But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ Remember, this is Jesus talking. When he was on Earth, he was perfect, holy, loving…and many people hated him–enough to crucify him! The Pharisees and other religious folks’ rationale for killing him was founded on fearful, self-serving reasoning, not any actual moral high ground. And so in this passage, Jesus warns his followers that if they seek to be like Him, they will experience persecution. The world will not understand them. It will hate them instead.

But what if there was another reason for us to be hated?

For many years, Christians have had a reputation as being intolerant, dismissive, apathetic, ignorant, and largely irrelevant to the systemic problems shaping the lives of marginalized peoples. That is our tragedy, and we cannot just blame the media for it. We have to be willing to step closer to the question of why we are hated–and if not hated, then met with such friction.

Where is hate born? It can emerge from that destabilizing fear of what one doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to–like what the Pharisees experienced in respect to Jesus. But it can also come from hurt, and there are ways that as Christians living in America, we have collectively hurt many people.

Through the eyes of non-Christians-especially those with marginalized identities-they see us criminalizing trans people over bathroom stalls without caring about the staggering percentage of trans teens who commit suicide. They see us dismissing black people’s pain while chastising them as divisive for speaking out against racism. They see us getting defensive when the segregation and power imbalances in our congregations are challenged. They see us fall silent as hundreds of black men and women are unlawfully imprisoned each year. They see us reducing the plight of Latinx immigrants to a matter of “just following the law” or assimilation rather than us taking time to listen to their stories and look at our detention centers, our labor exploitation. They see us trying to change gay people before we allow them entrance into our sanctuaries. They see us forget the indigenous peoples of our land to protect our economic self-interests. They see us prioritizing hierarchy and tradition and theological debate over standing in solidarity with the suffering.

It is possible that what they are valuing represents the heart of Christ more than what our words and actions are conveying. Rather than promoting a compelling vision of a world being redeemed, walls torn down and people made equal, we too often advertise the failed systems of prejudice and oppressive powers of an old order.

But who is this generalized us anyway? The we?

I ask these questions because I’ve noticed that when other people rant about Christians or ridicule them on social media, their words are coded for white Christians. White is seen as the face of the church in America, the benchmark for our loudest and most featured voices. In media representation, we get either the white evangelical stereotypes or the soulful black Gospel choir tropes. But when it comes to conversations about social justice and Christians, the image of white Christians materializes first. And so when they are framed as corrosive, we all get burnt–the other “we” being Christians who are not white. Where do we feature in these media portrayals of Christianity, and are we included in the “hate” for it, even as we face our own oppressions?

I stand somewhere to the side in this space, apart from the pie chart dividing white Christians who echo Trump’s policies and those who don’t. I see the debates raging about where Christians stand, and everything is “white evangelical” this or that, and out of those rhetorical battles, the bitterness towards Christians as a whole grows. In this languaging, I’m grouped with the perceived oppressors, and my multiple identities don’t factor into the equation. Maybe I’m looked at with pity for remaining with a socially illiterate faith community. Maybe people are waiting for me to get further woke and leave it. Maybe it would be easier to do that after all the hurt I’ve experienced and witnessed within it.

But I have to ask myself: How big is my God? Is He bigger than the Republican party as it exists now, conflated with religion? Is He bigger than His white followers who inadvertently perpetuate harm towards me and towards marginalized communities?

I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that anyone who voted for Trump or even voted for the immigration ban is a bad person (and I don’t see my fellow Christians of color making that argument). That’s the old way of looking at things, where people can be divided and dismissed. These people are still my family in Christ, and they love Him and desire to follow Him. But they have their blindspots, the voids where that love is not found, and the consequences for people of color are well-recorded in history. Those blindspots must be accounted for and confronted.

What do I do with that? I will not demonize white Christians whose attitudes reflect the world that birthed Trump, and neither will I respect “opinions” that denigrate the dignity of human beings I am supposed to love and protect. There is a distinction between the two, even as I reject the idea that all white Christians can be subsumed into one ignorant collective and cut off. It’s not that simple, and we cannot reduce decades of racial tension in the Church to “good progressive white people” vs. “bad racist white people” when the insidious dynamics of racism defy dichotomies of good vs bad. Instead it fabricates a society where it is entirely possible to be kind, loving, intelligent, and follow Jesus and yet reinforce white supremacy and racism through one’s attitudes, actions, and participation in public life.

Whiteness as a construct infiltrates our institutions and results in policies that disenfranchise people of color in ways that would horrify our white brothers and sisters if they grasped the extent of it. As James Baldwin put it so eloquently:

“I don’t know what most white people in this country feel,” he said. “But I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know we have a Christian church that is white and a Christian church that is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday.

“That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.

“I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.

“Now this is the evidence,” Baldwin said, his voice rising with indignation. “You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.”

There is dissonance between the experiences of black, brown, Asian, and indigenous Christians and the experiences of white Christians that belies the systemic reality Baldwin exposes. The former peoples are not included in the percentages that rouse animosity towards Christians-even as we follow the same Christ-and our loyalties are constantly tested as we sit in churches that nurture our spiritual formation, but whose members will not march with us when our children are shot in the street nor question their own prejudices.

There are the individual dynamics that Christians with dis-empowered identities must wrestle with as we interact daily with white people whom we love and know love us yet resist engaging with the unsettling and even threatening truths embedded within our experiences. I say threatening because making the commitment to educate yourself about race will destabilize your comfort and worldview if you are white. There is a cost to entering into a battlefield where history is indeed our present and something that we always carry with us, as Baldwin suggests.

If we (we being Christians as a whole) want to understand the resentment towards Christians within America, we must navigate the kinetics of these systemic and individual realities. We must lament them. We must ask God for clarity and courage to change them. My white brothers and sisters must also consider the stresses endured by Christians of color as we rally against the temptation to be bitter and jaded in our pain. We may understand the ire towards Christians better than anybody because we must wrestle with it in our own hearts; we persist in asking God to cultivate the forgiveness and grace in us we don’t always feel towards our white brothers and sisters.

From this tangle of identities and tensions, I speak to the hate, draw near, and repent. To those we have harmed: I own the sins of my Christian community, including the wrongs done against me. I repent of that and submit to you. I get it–some of it. I am not white, and sometimes I wonder where others would fit me into this conversation. I’m a black, Latina woman with roots in Africa and China and defiantly American…and I’m a follower of Christ. I’m still reconciling that tension.

The Christ I follow isn’t some White God. He isn’t defined by the politics of my country. He isn’t the arbiter of imperialism, colonialism, slavery–no matter how his image has been manipulated for other ends. He is not diminished when those who follow him fail to share his love with those who most need that affirmation.

Tenets may be questioned and examined, but I have an eternal relationship with this Jesus who embodies what love and sacrifice and faith looks like in action. And the historical faith that is woven into my story has many of the same roots I do: it comes from the East, from Africa, from huddled groups of brown exiles praying for deliverance from oppression, from loud, praising peoples declaring the glory of God from prisons, from radical communities loving the poor, calling out injustice, and opening their homes to each other. Christianity isn’t White, and so it is a shame that our theological texts and Sunday School lessons have painted it so.

Jesus isn’t contained within the percentiles of whiteness, maleness, or any other category–but since we have divided ourselves and allocated power disproportionately to different categories, we must now grapple with our sins committed against others. We must trace the statistical lines that encase our hideous realities and turn to the God who transcends them. Part of love is being accountable to those you have harmed, and that is what I expect of each person who answers to any policy that sins against another person and causes them suffering. Percentages do not define us, but our lack of compassion and humility will define our witness as the Church in America if we do not repent of it.

If Christians are going to be disliked, mocked, or even hated, then I hope it’s for the right reasons. I hope that we are known first as those ridiculous people who reach out to those who oppose us and love them, those weirdos who give up our privileges and comforts to follow Jesus, those radicals who consider people of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, citizenship statuses, sexual orientations, and physical and mental abilities lovable and worth defending. I hope we are hated for being too much like this bewildering, offensive, audacious Jesus, rebels with a cause, heirs robed as servants, wielding grace as the hammer under which all things unjust crumble.

don’t catch fire as you rise

Wax dripped onto my fingers as I gripped a candle in the midst of hundreds. I stood in Washington Square two nights ago, catching snatches of the speakers’ declarations, a litany of “Stand up, fight back”s and “This is what America looks like”s and “No ban, no wall”s. The memory of the press of people at my shoulders bolsters me now as I consider the past few days of controversial Executive Orders and the resulting protests.

It is a complicated day to be an American. It gets even more labyrinthine when you are a woman of color and a Christian. I find myself caught between multiple communities, affirming some words, hesitating with others, all the while trying to be consistent in where I stand. I must contend with the condemnations of the Women’s March that I walked in as well as the constant charges from other Christians to “give Trump a chance” and “wait and see.” I understand their reluctance to judge Trump’s actions–it can be perceived as an exercise of grace for a new leader.

Yet Trump has had more than a year-decades in fact-to demonstrate what kind of man he is and what he values. Words reflect the orientation of the heart, and I take his words seriously, as well as those from the constituents he surrounds himself with, many of whom at the worst have ties with nativist, neo-Nazi, and other discriminatory organizations and at the least offensive are unqualified for their positions of influence.

One hand grips this understanding. Then there is this:

Do I believe in a God big enough to transform Donald Trump’s heart, lead him in paths of wisdom and mercy? Yes. The answer will always be yes, as much as it was for Paul, as much as it was for me. When I align with Michelle Obama’s stance that “When they go low, we go high,” I choose to believe in God’s boundless ability to cultivate love in any person and use their life for good purpose–I refuse to doom them to eternal depravity, and it’s not my role anyway. Out of this, I choose to refrain from attacking Trump’s family, from engaging in aggressive actions against those who voted for him. Even if he doesn’t change, I still choose this. Going high means we don’t get to satisfy our desire to hurt others who have hurt us, no matter how justified it may be, and only God can enable that kind of grace.

I want to do the hard thing: acknowledge the imago dei in others AND hold them accountable for their actions–especially when those actions carry so much weight for communities already facing intense marginalization. There is a way to do both, and that path leads to the Cross. “We have the privilege of loving our enemies,” a friend told me yesterday. “And God’s like ‘You weren’t able to do this before. Not without me.'”

I had never thought about it in that way before. I get the privilege of loving my enemies. Before Christ, there was NO reason to do this–it makes no sense, it feels wrong even. Unfair. That is the Gospel though: the unfairness of Jesus’ sacrifice for us because how dare He choose to love the unlovable. How can I stand before God and reject the humanity of another person He created when I have been reborn through this Gospel?

I think it becomes harder to receive this message when others have co-opted it to silence you and soften the edges of horrific realities. I have witnessed too many white Christians appropriating the grace of the Gospel to dispel the pain of their sisters and brothers of color. I went to a Christian college and felt the sting when me and other black students were criticized for “creating more division” and “being too angry” when we talked about the racial problems on our campus. By the time a blatant incident of racism happened and no one at school could ignore it, the chimes of forgive forgive forgive forgive from our white classmates pricked at calluses built over years of dismissal and apathy.

Looking back on that experience, I’ve realized that the barriers became so thick because I felt like we were being asked to extend a hand, extend trust, extend grace, with no assurance that the other students even acknowledged our pain or would take steps to stand by us in the future. Some of us had been burnt too many times to risk it.

I’m sharing this now because I want to emphasize how hard Jesus’ teaching is when he tells us to love our enemies–and it may not even be our enemies! It could be loving our friends and neighbors and co-workers-and even family-who have committed microaggressions against us, who have offended us with their words spoken out of ignorance, who have perpetuated a passive acceptance of the world as it is because they haven’t seen it for the specific challenges we experience–or have been unwilling to. Where we locate the resistant tension in our hearts when we think of these people in our lives, that is where all the implications of “do good to those who hurt you” becomes a serrated truth, cutting deep.

I get the privilege of loving others when it feels impossible to do so. That is what Christ enables us to live out in our everyday interactions with others, whether that be on Facebook, in the work room, or at the dinner table. But what does this love look like? Does it look like holding hands and smiling at each other, pretending that our houses aren’t burning behind us? Does it mean we wave off Trump and get over it?

Well…no.

There is grave injustice at work in our country, and there are forces actively spurring the flames of disunity and fear. We shouldn’t diminish the wrongness of that. I am furious, and every time I see another Executive Order, I feel like screaming to the sky “Come, Jesus come!” Our church is in a fractious state, our conversations with neighbors brittle with unspoken grievances. We must stand where are and look around; this is where we are starting. Loving each other within this space of tension and uncertainty and breaches of understanding means that we choose to wrestle with the pain, with the current division and still face the Cross together as we do this.

We call out evil when we see it. We humbly challenge each other to consider experiences we aren’t familiar with (I’ve been learning a lot about the experiences of my low-income white sisters and brothers lately). We mourn the pain of others even as we invite them to enter our own. We speak out when we’ve been sinned against and repent when we sin against others, individually and as a community. We say NO to any laws and actions that harm our neighbors. We resist racism and sexism and xenophobia and persecution of any kind that grieves God’s heart. We acknowledge unbalanced power dynamics in our relationships, in our systems, and we dismantle them, guided by those who have been disempowered. That is love that rises to survey the mess and embraces the incisive truth-telling and white-knuckled dialogues that form the foundations for bridges.

Exposing the pain, exhaling it, tangling and untangling it with another person willing to work through it with you, as equals, is one of the most terrifying and healing choices you can make. I had one of these conversations with a friend, a white woman I love dearly, and I’ll never forget what she told me, or the validating balm it was for my grief and outrage:

I’m sorry that in the great gamble of history, for some reason, people who look like me, people with my color skin, came out on top. I don’t know why that is when it could’ve have easily been the other way around. I’m sorry for the ways me and my people have hurt your community. I’m sorry for the ways I’ve oppressed you or silenced you and your community–especially unintentionally…The greatest injustice is that you were made to feel guilty for doing the things to survive, to feel safe…I don’t have a right to your trust. I have to earn it…Will you forgive me?

I did. And she forgave me for all the times I’ve painted her with a broad-brush, dismissed her as another white person I struggled to trust, failed to empathize with the suffering she has seen and experienced in the South. We’ve had a lot more of these conversations in the past year–and it’s hard. It’s confusing and tense and cathartic and vulnerable. We have found communion within burning wreckage and discovered ways to build a friendship that allows us both to rise without blistering.

In some ways it’s easier and harder to do this with a friend–what about with a stranger? Someone on the Internet? That person at church whose politics make you grit your teeth?The politician who makes himself an dart-board for mockery? Can we pursue this type of radical, counter-cultural, Gospel-seeded love with them too? I am asking myself this question now as I struggle between the reflex to pile insult and indignation and the awareness of how my actions testify to Christ whom I claim dwells in me. There is a difference between the righteous outrage that illuminates wrong and the bitter rancor that can warp our vision. We cannot shame and demean another person and face the Cross at the same time. Neither can we go high and still grip stones to throw.