a place to start

I sit here stuck. Knowing words, words, and more words aren’t going to change anyone’s heart. But also knowing that my heart changed once upon a time. Not suddenly, but gradually. After lots and lots of exposure to perspectives that were different from my own.

And that’s kind of the thing, isn’t it? We see the world from where we sit, and we’re pretty convinced that this is the “normal, right way” to see the world. And some of us have held these views for a long long time. Can’t teach an old dog, eh?

But you CAN teach an old dog who’s willing to listen, willing to learn, willing to suspend her long-held judgments and ideas and perceptions for a hot minute and see what someone else has to say from a different angle.

So, I write. Words. Words, words, and more words that I pray will change some hearts.

And, speaking of angles, I don’t really know which one to take. I’ve found that we all respond to different things. What resonates with one person is going to fall on another one’s deaf ears. I think I’ll start by addressing a few problems people have had with my stand on Black Lives Matter in recent days.

I’ve had several folks accuse me of being “divisive” and “segregating” instead of “unifying.”

I’ve had people tell me that racism is “a lie that the media wants us to believe.”

I’ve had people say that the REAL problem here is black women aborting their unborn babies.

I’ve heard “Jesus says ALL Lives Matter” and “We’re ALL God’s children” with Bible verses and songs to back it up.

How about let’s start with that last one. (Frankly, some of those others make me want to hit somebody.)

Guess what. I already know this about Jesus. I know that he and his dad love all the people. They MADE them, as a matter of fact.

Like I told one person, “I’m just trying to help America catch up to Jesus.” And that’s what this is kind of about, isn’t it?

You all know America is not synonymous with Jesus, right? And you know that even the American CHURCH is not synonymous with Jesus, right?

“Jesus is the answer,” people tell me, “not the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Oh, I totally agree. Totally.

(Side note: Me saying Black Lives Matter does not mean I agree with 100% of what the #BlackLivesMatter movement says and does. I don’t know everything about them. I DO stand behind the important truth that Black Lives Matter and that they have historically NOT mattered. And by “historically,” I mean all the way up until two minutes ago. So I will use that phrase and hashtag without apology.)

Back to Jesus. I, too, believe he’s the answer. But not the way most Christians are presenting it.

For one thing, let’s think about what the phrase “Jesus is the answer”  might sound like to hurting people.

1.) flippant. 2.) arrogant 3.) a cop-out. And, for people who don’t even believe in Jesus, 4.) dumb.

What exactly do we mean by this anyway, this JESUS IS THE ANSWER thing?

Jesus loves everybody, so everybody’s fine! Yay!

Or: Let’s all love like Jesus–white people AND black people–and then all the things will be better. Yay!

Or: Jesus doesn’t like it when my white friends are standing up for black people and telling me I have white privilege and can we all go back to the happiness and make America comfortable again?

Jesus IS the answer. But here’s what that actually means:

1.) Christians need to do some real Bible-searching and find out what Jesus was really like and what he really stood for. Speaking of lies, your Sunday School teacher is lying to you when she tells you about blue-eyed blondie Jesus and his gentle quiet floaty ethereal self. When he’s presented as someone quiet and compliant, never making waves (and don’t forget, REALLY white), that’s a false image of Jesus.

In reality, Jesus was a poor, humble, very non-white refugee who constantly spoke out against dominant, imperialistic culture (hello, White America) for oppressing people. He stood with the oppressed minority 100% of the time.

There was no “can’t the oppressors just oppress the oppressed in peace? This is working out really well for me actually.” (Which is essentially what many white people want.) No. Jesus picked a side and spoke out not only against governments that treated people unfairly but religious leaders as well.

Of course Jesus was an All Lives Matter guy (remember–he made All the Lives), but when he preached or talked, he was always singling out oppressed groups and saying they mattered. Did anyone ever hear him say, “Pharisee Lives Matter!” or “Sadducee Lives Matter!” or “Roman Emperor Lives Matter?”

No. Because no one was questioning the value of those people in power. Just like no one is questioning the value of white lives in America.

Jesus would be fighting to make Black Lives Matter. And I believe that with everything in me.

The second thing Christians need to do is:

2.) Research some real, non-biased American history and get some TRUTH. I am horrified by the white-man glorifying bull crap I swallowed as a kid/teenager/adult just because it said it was fact in a history book. And my Christian history book in 4th grade was the worst offender of all.

Can you even comprehend the dangerous rubbish we’ve been fed our whole lives?? We were taught to believe that Native Americans (“Indians”) were “uncivilized” and that slaves were dumb and illiterate.

(Do we realize that slaves came on a ship from Africa? That they spoke languages that weren’t English? That they learned how to speak and understand English in time, but that they were forbidden to learn to read and write it?)

(I am especially sensitive these days to people getting mocked when their SECOND–or third or fourth–language isn’t spoken perfectly. Oh, no one mocks me here in Cambodia when I speak Khmer. It’s mono-lingual Americans who do that kind of mocking.)

Some of us even believe that slaves were happy being slaves. That’s all they knew, and they were cool with it.

We came to America, STOLE land, and KILLED people for it. We shoved them onto reservations and did all kinds of horrific things to these AMERICANS (and quite often in the name of Jesus).

Then we shipped more people over here and STOLE their labor, STOLE their bodies, STOLE their lives and their souls.

And, then, after we “let them go free,” WE KEPT DOING THESE THINGS.

(And I just summarized 400 years of horror into 4 sentences. There is sooooooo much more to it than this.)

We’ve got to educate ourselves, friends. How whites have treated blacks post-slavery is just as much an abomination as slavery itself. We have GOT to open our eyes to the truth of what our country was built on. How we got to be so “great” and what people are doing RIGHT THIS MINUTE to make sure we stay that way.

IN THE FREAKING NAME OF JESUS.

“Too many in the American church have perpetuated the myth that this land was built on Christian principles rather than on stolen land and stolen labor. Too many American Christians act as though this land justly belongs to white Anglo-Saxon people, and as the hosts of this land they could expect everyone to assimilate into their world. This false and dishonest history continues to erase four hundred years during which white Americans became a ‘den of robbers.'” (Trouble I’ve Seen, p. 145)

Here’s the thing, folks. We cannot POSSIBLY know what it’s like to be black in America TODAY without finding out as much as we can about what it was like to be black in America YESTERDAY. And, by yesterday, I mean the last 400 years.

We simply cannot use that tired line, “What’s past is past. Let’s talk about NOW.” Not when what happened for FOUR HUNDRED years has a direct effect on what’s happening right this minute. Not when the racism has NEVER stopped, just changed forms.

So, Christians:

1.) Really get to know Jesus and see what you think he’d do in this situation in our country.

2.) Learn some real, true history (from 1492 to present-day). Preferably from the perspective of someone not-white-and-powerful.

3.) LISTEN to real experiences of real black people TODAY without saying to yourself, “That’s not MY experience. They must be interpreting things all wrong.” Listen. Humbly. Ears open, mouth closed

In spite of 400 years of oppression, “black people have primarily chosen to pursue love, justice, restoration, and healing. Most white people need to get past their faulty and insufficient understanding of black history and grasp even a fraction of the nonstop assault on black humanity that persists even to this day.” (Trouble I’ve Seen, p. 129)

Amen and amen.

We can do this, friends. I believe in us.

p.s. *Trouble I’ve Seen (by Drew G.I. Hart) is a great resource to start with. I’m also reading America’s Original Sin (by Jim Wallis). The New Jim Crow (by Michelle Alexander) is up next.

* not aff links, just links.

5 thoughts on “a place to start

  1. Elizabeth Trotter

    You did such a great job here, Marla. I know what you mean about fearing words are not enough to convince people who don’t want to be convinced, but at the same time, I too, shifted in my understanding of these things, and so we hold onto hope that people’s views can change. 🙂

    But it can be so frustrating when others don’t see what you see. For my part, I know I can never UNSEE what I saw when we attempted urban ministry (and broke all the cross cultural rules by the way) in the States. No one can ever, ever, ever convince me there are not systemic, long-standing historic, as well as current, issues of race in the United States (and beyond). Things are not equal. Society is not equal, and the Church is not always equal either.

    It frustrates me when people claim there are no problems and that people who point out issues are being “divisive” and that we are all on the same team anyway and God made us all one and there are no problems. Does this work in any other relationship? To say that God made us one in marriage and therefore we don’t have to talk about problems in our marriages? Why would it be any different in the church? The early church had problems, and it was clear the epistle writers wanted to TALK about those problems. Only then, can you resolve them.

    And what’s up with saying “I don’t hate black people; therefore racism doesn’t exist”?? That doesn’t even follow logically. We are not talking about individual preferences here; we are talking about large scale problems that are subtle (to the uninitiated) yet stubborn and very very real. It super duper irritates me when (usually white men, sometimes white women) say that people of color are complaining and then try to justify each instance of privilege by saying that’s not really what happened or that it was the person of color’s fault or their misinterpretation of the circumstances, because surely white people would never treat others poorly. Talk about not listening to others!

    And the thing is, I’m not even claiming I have any answers to issues of race. I’m only saying we have to admit there ARE issues. Big, deep ones that favor one group of people over other groups of people. It’s easy to say there’s no favor when you’re the one receiving the favor. But claims that there’s no such thing as white privilege are very difficult to swallow, especially from other believers or even other missionaries.

    I think people don’t want to address the racism in their own hearts. What I wish people — ALL people, including ME, would say is: “I have racism in my heart. It’s there in hidden thoughts and feelings, and my heart is not as pure or clean as I would like. It’s there. I don’t like that it’s there, and I don’t know how to fix it, but it’s there nonetheless.”

    We all have pre-conceived ideas in our minds about what certain people groups are like. It’s a very human thing to do, to group people into groups and assume all the people in that group are alike. I think we need to be able to say we struggle with issues of racism without there being so much shame. Instead, people just claim they don’t have racism inside them and end up perpetuating the problems (and lying to themselves at the same time).

    Oh goodness I could go on and on, but I really should stop now. Thank you for listening 🙂 Just let me say again good job on this very balanced and calm explanation! You did such a great job explaining all the relevant issues, and KEEP GOING SISTER. Your words will make a difference.

  2. Ashley

    My only struggle with this is I feel the actual Black Lives Matter is a paid hate group that supports violence and asked people to kill police men.
    I don’t feel that they are solving any issues with their violent beliefs.

  3. Tina Evans

    This post made my stomach hurt. So powerful! Thank you friend. I’ve fairly often thought about how I can be “proud” of this America when we stole it from Native Americans (which is a deep heritage I am proud to be part of as I have their blood running through my veins). Now I’m off to read the wonderful resources you shared. Blessings.

  4. Dave Chamberlain

    Many ponderable thoughts here. As I grew up in the same vicinity as you, I have many of the ingrained values that needed to be re-examined as I went out into the vast and diverse world. Prejudice is a very difficult thing to shake off,but it can be done if we truly want to be honest with ourselves and just to others. So I will go out today and perhaps influence one or two people who are different than me, treating them as I would want to be treated.

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