Grace, Race, and Peace: Admitting there is a problem is the first step to getting help.

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Josephine Bakhita, St Martin De Porres, Mother Mary Lange, Fr. Tolton

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, or so I have been told by those who specialize in treating addiction. What they also tell me is that the correlative is true: the the greater investment we make in denial, the more the addiction feeds itself.

I was raised, as many in American were to believe that racism is a bad thing. But I was also raised to believe that racism is only a limited description of mean and ill intended choices that one person could, but should not, make. Therefore it was pretty easy for me to agree that being racist is bad, because it was pretty easy to determine that I wasn’t one.

But in the Christian tradition the nature of sin is always far more complex than that. Isaiah admits in Chapter 6 that he is not only a man of unclean lips, but that he comes from a people of unclean lips. The disease of his life is not built in merely to his own individual intentions and choices, but the very imagination, and even the language, that makes up how he sees the world and engages it …and he won’t get better without God’s help. The Psalms are always asking God to search us and to make known to use where there are parts not obvious to us that may be working against what God hopes to be restoring in creation.

Our tradition is one of deep self examination, humility, grace and hope (Psalm 51, Psalm 139). We need to search deeply to see if there is any sin in us of which I am not readily aware, because to find a place of iniquity and decay, is merely to locate the point of God’s ongoing redemption and resurrection.

I am not suggesting some form of cheap grace where simply by discovering there is some wrong within us, we may as quickly forget it and move on. I mean that the love of God wants to do more in us than we can yet even imagine (Eph 3:20). We get to be part of the redemption of all this mess. We get to stop being part of the (even unintentional) hurting and part of the hard work of reconciliation and healing.

Today is the first day of Black History Month in the U.S. It is a designated time to reflect on the significant contributions that have been made to American culture and society by black women and men who have not only altered and enriched the course of American life, but who have in fact changed the entire face of the world. For many this is a time to be inspired, a time to find courage and a time to take pride in black identity. Yet for many others, the celebration of the accomplishments of many great black Americans is an opportunity to contend that racism has run its course and that the remaining threat to American equality is something called reverse racism… which is many ways simply means, anyone who says racism is still a force in America is a “reverse racist.”

For Christians there is a different aspect to our tradition which compels us to walk through this month differently. How do white Christians like myself walk through a month like this in the spirit of the Psalms? Are we to put our guard up, arguing against the possibility of any new or lingering racial inequalities? That does not strike me a a prayerful practice, at least not in the spirit of the Psalms and the prophets.

I want to invite other white Christian like myself to enter into a time… of silence. During this month join me in a time dedicated to listening to God, but also to others. Practice some humility, that even if you are right about something, there is a time to hold your tongue and just listen others. Can we have the courage to listen to our black brothers and sisters and neighbors. Can we listen without interrupting to the parts of American history that have been glossed over or ignored outright. Can we hear their songs of protest, humbly asking the Spirit to guide us, and keep our mouths shut and our comment sections empty?

Will you pray and listen with me during the month of February to the songs and stories of black America? Can we release into God’s hand our own sense of injustice and instead search only our own lives for how God may want to change things?

Our faith is one of grace, peace and without questions, hope. We need not fear what God may reveal to us. Or if we do have that kind of fear, perhaps it is our very understanding of God that needs to change.


During the Month of February follow the Outpatient Monk on Facebook for Updated readings from historical Black Christian writers.