(In The Life Of The Church)
Black History Month and Listening
If you’ve been to any of our liturgies in February, you know that we are engaging Black History month for the first time this year. Perhaps better stated, we are taking a cue from Black History month and engaging conversations of race, diversity, and faith within our liturgies. As a staff, we’ve been talking about doing this since March of last year, and we read James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree in the Fall. Cone’s book is equal parts profound and devastating. Though it covers a wide range of issues, one primary idea Cone returns to multiple times is that white Christians in America not only failed to see lynching culture for what it was, but have continued to be blind to the disparity between the treatment of black Americans and the gospel of Christ. Cone sums of this idea in one place this way:
White theologians in the past century have written thousands of books about Jesus’ cross without remarking on the analogy between the crucifixion of Jesus and the lynching of black people. One must suppose that in order to feel comfortable in the Christian faith, whites needed theologians to interpret the gospel in a way that would not require them to acknowledge white supremacy as America’s greatest sin. Churches, seminaries, and theological academies separated Christian identity from the horrendous violence committed against black people. Whites could claim a Christian identity without feeling the need to pose slavery, segregation, and lynching as a contradiction of the gospel for America. Whether we speak of Jonathan Edwards, Walter Rauschenbusch, or Reinhold Niebuhr as America’s greatest theologian, none of them made the rejection of white supremacy central to their understanding of the gospel. Reinhold Niebuhr could write and preach about the cross with profound theological imagination and say nothing of how the violence of white supremacy invalidated the faith of white churches. It takes a lot of theological blindness to do that, especially since the vigilantes were white Christians who claimed to worship the Jew lynched in Jerusalem. (159)
The story underlying the history that Cone recalls is still unfolding, and white Christians today are the representatives of those in the past. So, if we are quick to reject the theological blindness of white Christians in recent history, and try to place ourselves above them, there are at least two actionable steps that are more productive than pretending we have nothing to do with that situation. The first is to turn “I was not a part of that,” or “I would never do that,” to “Such behavior was fundamentally sinful. God forgive us (because we are part of the same Body).” The second is to pray fervently that the Spirit would make us aware of any way that we are complicit in this same sin in our own day.
This sort of Spirit-led introspection is one of the best tools we have for confronting broad cultural issues that seem insurmountable. We are, after all, part of culture and thus have some level of influence on our direct surroundings, so if we lean into the transformation work that the Spirit is already carrying out in us, we have a decent chance of inching toward being better citizens of the Kingdom of God. This leaning-in also delivers us from the false assumption that plagues our culture that we no longer have a racism problem (and, to be clear, the treatment of black people is not the sole feature of our racism problem, but the way we confront this aspect of the problem determines how we move to address others).
Ubc is, and has historically been, a predominantly white congregation. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with being white and Christian, but if that is the only variety of voice or experience that we ever seek to learn from, we cannot claim to be a people who are seeking to be formed in the way of Christ. And not just because Jesus wasn’t white. It’s because Jesus’s own life, and the emphasis that Jesus had in his ministry, was focused on entering into the struggles of those to whom society did not grant personhood in the same way it did for the elite (whatever variety of human that might be), and, ultimately, seeking to level out that difference.
This work is slow, uncomfortable, and painful, but it is also non-negotiable. We must learn to listen to voices that are different than our own, and listen well. If we suppose that we already understand the experience of people who are different than us, we will fail miserably at this. But if we enter into this with a holy curiosity, seriously desiring to come to know people who are different than we are, we are well on our way to taking a fledgling first step behind Jesus. Because seeking to know someone is part of loving them, and loving someone means being willing to come alongside them in their pain, to take it seriously, and, insofar as we are able, to join them in fighting against the source of their pain. But first comes listening.
This is why we have been interviewing people in our liturgies this month. The questions we have been asking have all been centered around their own experiences as people of color, particularly within the context of faith. The vulnerability with which they have engaged these questions has been a gift of immeasurable value. And, make no mistake: it is a gift, it is not something we are owed. It is not the responsibility of black people to explain what it is like to be black to white people. It is a gift that was shared among the family of our faith community to help us understand one another better, and to hopefully form us more fully in the way of Christ.
All of these interviews will be posted on the blog next week. I hope you’ll take some time to listen to them again, and to do so with a desire to come to know Kerri, Kareem, Leah, and Rennekia better, and, if you are white:
1) to notice that there isn’t one “black experience.”
2) to listen for the things that people (particularly church people) have done that invalidated or negatively framed this part of who they are, and ask the Spirit to help you seriously consider if you have been complicit, intentionally or not, in causing this sort of pain.
3) to imagine how you can carry these sorts of difficult conversations into your own friendships, or how you might apply this curiosity in seeking out blogs, documentaries, etc. to learn from people you do not know personally (because, once again, this sort of vulnerable insight is not something that black people “owe” white people, so outside of the context of relationships, asking these sorts of questions can come across negatively).
4) to notice that we live in a culture where no one really has to ask white people about their experiences; not that there is only one “white experience,” either, but our culture—even our American “evangelical” church culture—has been so saturated with white voices, a general idea of whiteness is not difficult to come by.
As always, if you want to talk about any of this further, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Our Newest UBCer
Name: Jett Francis Jobson
Birthday: January 6th, 2017
Height: 19 inches
Weight: 7 lbs 3 oz
enneagram number: 3
Ash Wednesday is March 1st. We will be having services at UBC at 7:00 AM and 5:30 PM. If you have any questions please contact email@example.com.
UBC Spring Retreat (Freshman/Sophomores only)
Spring is in the air, I know it’s only February, but it’s Texas. We are going to do an overnight retreat at a lake house in Malakoff, TX, April 7th-8th. The cost is $20: that will cover meals, lodging, and a shirt. The retreat has limited space, so it will be for the first 20 people who sign-up, and pay their deposit. Sign-ups will start this week, after church. If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are looking to get involved at Cesar Chavez MS this semester…
1) Lunch buddies is back! If you’d like to meet with a student this semester on a weekly basis, please email Marshall@ubcwaco.org
2) If you have the gift of encouragement, and would like to write a note to the CCMS faculty and staff as they approach testing, email Marshall. A list of the teachers you can write to can be found here. We’ll have something for the kids closer to test day.
Rend Collective @ UBC (May 5th)
Rend Collective is playing a show at ubc on May 5th at 7pm. Tickets go on sale today, and you can buy them here. (We aren't selling them through the church). Tell you friends!
Work is Worship
Coffee Makers: Jacob and Katie
Mug Cleaners: Madison
Money Counter: Josh M.
- Sunday Sermon: We will have a guest preacher this Sunday. Rev. Dr. Delvin Atchison from the BGCT will be preaching.
- March 18-- The Middle Ages -- TBA
- March 24th -- UBCYP cookout at Jamie's House
- April 2-- UBC Families @ Soccer Fields -- More Info to Come
- April 7th and 8th - Spring Retreat (Freshman/Sophomores)
- April 13th - Maundy Thursday
- April 14th - Good Friday
- April 16th - Easter
- April 22--The Middle Ages Baylor Theatre production of the comedy NOISES OFF—
- April 30th - Mr. Rogers Sunday
- April 30th - Graduate Luncheon
- May 2nd - Study Hall
- May 5th - Rend Collective @ UBC
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