THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
A Christian Response to Race /
Deeds Across Difference
Deeds Across Difference
WEEK VI / DAY VII
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Scripture / Read Luke 10:29-37
Before Baltimore, Charleston, Minneapolis, and DC. Before Freddie Gray’s death, nine casualties at Mother Emmanuel AME Church, the Castile murder, and Terrance Sterling’s slaying. Before all of the recent marches and cries for justice in the nation. Before it all, in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. raised the question, “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?” Today, beloved, we have seemingly chosen chaos over the beloved community. In 1967, Dr. King raised questions and gave answers, which are still on target in 2017:
“Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains? The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity. Overwhelmingly America is still struggling with irresolution and contradictions. It has been sincere and even ardent in welcoming some change. But too quickly apathy and disinterest rise to the surface when the next logical steps are to be taken. Laws are passed in a crisis mood after a Birmingham or a Selma, but no substantial fervor survives the formal signing of legislation. The recording of the law in itself is treated as the reality of the reform. This limited degree of concern is a reflection of an inner conflict which measures cautiously the impact of any change on the status quo. As the nation passes from opposing extremist behavior to the deeper and more pervasive elements of equality, white America reaffirms its bonds to the status quo.” (Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? by King)
These questions of King’s still loom: How can Black America and White America become neighbors? How can we move intentionally toward the “deep and more pervasive elements of equality” that must exist between neighbors? What does it take to get over the “fantasy of self-deception, to deal with the inner conflict which is wedded to the status quo,” so that we can embody racial harmony and be the beloved community?
The familiar parable of the Good Samaritan is one Scriptural passage which aids White and Black Christians in becoming the beloved community. An upstart lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” In my imagination, Jesus tells a parable: A certain [Black] man was beaten and left for dead traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. The priest and the Levite — symbols of authority and power — pass on the other side. (We realize that he is unclean according to the status quo, Levitical law, but he has been beaten and left for dead... He can’t breathe!) An immigrant of mixed heritage from Samaria is the one who cares for the beaten, half-dead brother. An immigrant even puts the beaten, almost-dead one on his animal, pays for the hospital stay at the inn, and tells the innkeeper to bill him for the rest when he returns. So who is the neighbor? Clearly, the immigrant Samaritan!
How do Whites and Blacks become neighbors? First, the Samaritan teaches us that we must develop a double-consciousness hermeneutic or interpretation. In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois defined double-consciousness saying, “the Negro is a sort of a seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness: an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” So we — like the Samaritan did for his beaten, half-dead brother — must, first, view life through the lenses of the other and then respond from the other’s perspective to promote healing. This says that we must intentionally move from powerlessness to power, from the underside to the topside, from poor to the rich, rather than the traditional top-down approach.
Second, we must develop a language to communicate with the other. While we don’t know how the Samaritan communicated with the wounded brother, what is clear that he switched code —verbally and perhaps nonverbally — across race, culture, and maybe even power so that a need could be met. Can we develop a common language that enables us to communicate as brothers and sisters for the common good? Is there a way for the Black and White beloved in Christ to appreciate our cultural distinctions — language, music, etc. — and be truly multicultural rather than being multicolored and forced to cater to the dominant culture? The Samaritan did a defining deed across difference because he used the way that he expressed himself for the greater good.
To have a Christian response to race, we must embrace the call to see the other and then respond through the other’s lenses and to change our speech so that we are culturally sensitive to the other. Then, we shall see the glory of the coming of the Lord because we have embodied 1st John 1, where it says: “Let us love one another: for love is of God: and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.... If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us” (verses 7-8, 12).
As Dr. King says: “Let us hope that this spirit [of 1st John] will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals who pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee once said in a speech: “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be... that love [has] the last word.”
So beloved, we have an urgent choice today: Shall we choose love of other and deeds across difference or shall we choose hate and violent co-annihilation. Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house we shall choose the love of God, other, and self.
What if … we choose love?
Written by Kendrick Curry