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Doing the Work, Part 1

You can’t get there from here. That’s what I think about this academic stuff.

It only goes so far, and then it runs out, like an asphalt road built along the surf line. The ocean does not work with asphalt roads. You need a boat, a tree or something that will float. You need your body, your arms and the motion they make against the waves, pushing you along, a little speck in a great sea. Don’t be afraid. All things that are wild have your heart at the core. 

I began this work because I wanted to heal myself and my people. My people (white people, German people) created this system of injustice and I need to do my part to destroy what we built, what we keep on building.

But how do I destroy this system, the house that I’m living in, the one that shelters and protects me? I must be a lunatic.

I fight with my ancestors at night when I’m lying in bed not sleeping. “Be quiet,” they say. Then louder: “SHUT UP. HOR AUF.” But I can’t stop. How can I?

I’ve seen the pictures: people, parents and children, their bodies stacked like firewood, naked and ashen. This is mine to fix. (It is yours, too.)

“Not our problem,” some of my ancestors hiss. They left their country. When war changed the borders, they moved on.

What kind of fiction do we have to invent to make this history okay?

A big BIG story. An underbrush, a thicket, each lie overlapping lie.

My ancestors came to this continent, carried inside my father, but they didn’t know about me yet. I am what came next. I feel it here in this country, in the forest by the ocean that looks like our old home. All the people whose land this is, they talk to me.

Maybe I wouldn’t be able to hear them if the forests weren’t clear cut. But I do hear them, at night when I am arguing with my ancestors. They whisper: “You don’t belong here. Be useful or go away.” Some of them are angry. Some are gentle. Some look at me like they know who I am.

Where does it come from, this need to make it right?

I have to make it better for myself.

I can’t live here anymore, in this house I’m trying to destroy. I know it has stout, wide-timbered walls, but it is not my home. Yet it is SO big. Where can I live where I am not under its roof?

I go small and I gather friends. I am part of the resistance.

And there is a bigger part of our life, one I know…even though no one has told me it’s true:

Our Mama God, Mother of the Cosmos, is bigger than this house, this roof we’re living under. Nothing the germans (or english or french or spanish or dutch…), nothing any of us could make, even hundreds of years old, is bigger than the

BODY OF OUR MOTHER.

You can’t contain her.

She will hold us all, she will shelter us, when the house finally comes down.

Look…a hole in the roof! I can see the stars. LOOK! There’s proof.

None of it is hopeless.

All of it is worthwhile.

Don’t stop.

Don’t be quiet.

Step up, speak out, keep moving.

This is the first half of a meditation I wrote recently while struggling through my thesis on white religious racism. I am trying to find a vision for what sustains me to do my work for racial justice.


What Color is Your God?

What color is your God? I envy my friends their relationship with rocks and rivers, ocean and trees. God for me will always wear a human face: Our Lady, blessed mother of the world, and Jesus.

I’m knee-deep in a thesis for my master’s degree about racism and White Christianity. Womanist scholar Mukti Barton writes that while feminists have asked if a male God can save women, white people have yet to ask:

Can a black God save white people?

Because regardless of what you believe about whether Jesus was divine, as a historical flesh-and-blood man, Jesus wasn’t white. Some scholars even point to our use of “Middle East” as a convenient way of avoiding the reality that Jesus came from a peninsula in eastern AFRICA. Jesus is from Africa, people. Jesus is a black man.

I’m trying to write about this and feeling stuck, because I know exactly how my body feels about Jesus as a black man.

I’m afraid of him. I’m a white woman, raised to be afraid of black men. Kelly Brown Douglas has a brilliant book in which she explains that to demonize a people you first have to sexualize them. My nervousness around black men is rooted in the lynchings in the American South. To imagine a black man saving me has an edge of erotic danger. Racism alive and well in my white female body.

I can look this in the face without becoming overwhelmed by guilt because I remember that I did not invent this. I carry it, name it, and resist it.

I’ve been invested, in this blog, in looking at the costs of racism to me as a white woman. Not to minimize the costs of racism to people of color, but to find motivation for me to resist and call my people, white people, to resistance.

One cost of racism is that we white Christians have made God in our image. Malcolm X told us long ago that white Christians aren’t worshiping God, we are worshiping whiteness. We’re worshiping ourselves.

I definitely don’t mean to suggest some romanticized ideal where black people rescue white people from white racism. (And there’s a whole other correlation between the crucifixion of a black Jesus and lynching of black men in the American South…I’ll write more on that later.) We need to do our own work.

I think we can start with refusing to display a white baby Jesus in our nativity sets. And as naive as it sounds, I think we  white people have to confess our racism as sin and commit ourselves to a new relationship with a new God….one that perhaps has yet to be revealed in our hearts and lives as white people.


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