I started writing this blog prior to the murders of the nine in Charleston. For those of us who are Christians, our citizenship is in heaven. As much as I appreciate being an American citizen, the greater value to me is the church I make with other believers around the world. It’s a colorful community, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural community, a community with diverse opinions, styles, traditions, and ideas. It’s a community whose bond is not that we do right, think right, live right, or that we know and believe God similarly, but the thing we have in common is that we are self-acknowledged dirty rotten sinners who need God.
My friend Jen were talking books lately, specifically audiobooks, and she recommended I listen to Sue Monk Kidd’s novel “The Invention of Wings”. It has been my car companion for the past couple of weeks…and what a great companion it was! It tells the story of several women but mostly concentrates on two – Sarah Grimke, a daughter in a wealthy Charleston family and “Handful”, the slave she is given on her 12th birthday.
While it is a novel, evidently these were real women. Sarah and her sister Angelina were abolitionists in the 1800s, and were great activists who helped change our country, not just for slaves but also for women. Handful was also representative of a real person, and while a slave was given to Sarah, not much is known about her or their relationship. It is known that Sarah taught her the alphabet and how to read when they were girls, thus breaking the laws of SC and most other states in the union. Handful died young in real life, but her character grows up in the book is a representation of the life of many slaves during that time. Fiction based on fact.
One of the interesting things about the book is the way the church was portrayed during this time. People used the church to validate their wrong thinking. To say that it was right, good, and appropriate to oppress people based on the color of their skin and the station they were born into in life. To make judgments of them because of one obvious factor for which they were not in any way responsible. For a factor that was a gift of the creator, something that brought to the earth richness and beauty and uniqueness. Churches segregated, even when attended by both races. They were open to all, but yet in many ways reinforced the barriers between the races. They often still do that today.
Also recently, another friend Jennifer acknowledged on Facebook the anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision that invalidated laws against interracial marriage. That decision allowed Jennifer to marry a man she loves, who also loves her, and create a family with their two gorgeous and happy children. It stunned me a bit when I thought about it. 1967 wasn’t that long ago…. it was in my lifetime. It took so long for something I see as such a non-issue to even be legal. Still, it’s another wrong concept that churches often help reinforce in people. I remember an argument I had with a woman once who told me that the Bible says people of different races shouldn’t marry. She didn’t know where the Bible said that….she said her pastor said so and she believed him. I asked her to ask him for the reference, because I had evidently missed that passage and he probably needed to set me straight. The passage she returned with said nothing about races….it was about belief. It says Christians shouldn’t marry non-Christians. People whose center of belief is different from theirs. A very different thing than skin color. I hope our conversations raised doubt in her mind….and in the mind of our pastor. If so they never acknowledged it to me.
I don’t get racism. Any logic attached to the discrimination of others based on such an arbitrary thing escapes me. Why would you think less of people because of something about them that they had nothing to do with? As a white woman, people tend to speak freely around me about race. Well, those who don’t know me well, or forget my point of view. I am glad they do, since I don’t understand keeping silent on your opinion, and I hope I am never the kind of person who ridicules someone whose beliefs are different than mine. I probably will question you about it, though. That’s how I learn. That’s how I grow. And if I think you’re wrong, I often have the responsibility to tell you and make you think about it, too. Truthfully I often wish I could insulate myself from any sort of talk of it. That doesn’t seem to be OK with God for me, though. I continually get put in situations where I would prefer to be non-confrontational, but in which God says “You are mine. I gave you a mouth and a mind. Use them.” It’s frustrating and I often feel it is futile. (Probably why the book of Jeremiah is one of my favorites in the Bible.) Sometimes racism seems so deeply ingrained in folks, that I lose hope in the human race. Yet I know we are all actually quite hopeless on our own….but ultimately I know God is able to change even this. I plan to be paying attention so I can see it unfold.
My church is people….it is not a building and it does not have walls. I guess what I want to say is this…some of us aren’t loving our church well. Some of us are not appreciating the artwork of the creator and are even using religion to justify it. The young man who shot my church…he was not born a racist. What are we teaching our world, Christians? I listen and I know racism flourishes in our world. Still. With all races. In churches and out. In fact, sometimes I think more in than out. When are we going to make the decision that it really doesn’t matter what color someone’s skin happens to be and when it comes to seeing the souls of people we choose to be color blind?
Life has changed much since the 1800s, but not enough. We need to invent wings of our own and fly away from some of these things that are dragging us down and making us less than we were created to be. You….all of you….are fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s works are wonderful, I know that full well. The color of your skin is beautiful, but really it is just a lovely, but insignificant, detail.