Rachel Dolezal and the Sin of Discontentment

Our eyes are never satisfied (Proverbs 27:20) with where we are or who we are. I once heard George Ross put it this way “We always want to be someone else, doing something else, somewhere else.” We envy the lives of others. Rarely, are we satisfied with who God has made us or where he has placed us. Introverts want to be extroverts. Lighter-skinned people want to be the tan ones. The left-brained people want to dominate by the right side of their brain. We are discontent.

The Discontentment of Ms. Dolezal

In 2015 Rachel Dolezal‘s parents revealed she was a white woman trying to “disguise herself” as a black female. She was the president of the NAACP’s chapter in Spokane, Washington. She disclaimed her white parents. She claimed her adopted brother was her son to carry on her facade. She frequents the tanning bed and hairdresser to maintain her appearance. She has admitted she was born white, but she chooses to identify as black. Dolezal identifies as black because of her discontentment.

Dolezal is an example of how far we will go when we are discontent. Have you ever put a significant amount of effort into conforming to the image of someone else?  What have you done to alter who God has made you? At times, we think our lives would be better if we were someone else, doing something else, somewhere else.

But God

God has made us in his image (Genesis 1:26). The Lord crafted us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He gave us our eyes, smiles, and voices. He has gifted us with talents and abilities. He chose our ethnicity, personality, and family. God has had and still has control of every detail of our lives and he is using them for our good (Romans 8:28). Beloved, whatever hinders you from being content, God gave it to you. God has placed you where you are in life. You may be downcast about who you are, but the Master is still molding and making you (Romans 8:29). God has placed you at your wearisome job for a reason. Take courage that by God’s grace you are who you are. His grace has brought you where you are. When you are tempted to be discontent, remember the grace of God.

 

Side Rant:

I can’t leave this post without talking about Ms. Dolezal’s unique option or privilege. Canceling her appointments to the tanning bed and hairdresser could change her life. She could choose to identify as white. Black people don’t have that option. We are black twenty-four seven and that comes with some advantages and disadvantages. One of those disadvantages is pain and historical trauma. I would be curious to ask if Ms. Dolezal would like the whole black package.

Does she want to always wonder “Are they treating me this way because I am black?” What about the feelings of powerlessness? Or the feelings we have when people ignore our history? What about the televised misrepresentations? Does she want to look at injustice and say that could be me or my family? It is costly being someone else.

Whoever we idolize they have particular issues and sins that they have to deal with. Their social media accounts only capture a snapshot of what their lives are like. Instagram may capture their laughs but not their loneliness. Facebook post may reveal their wisdom, but not their weariness. Their emojis don’t show you their hearts. When you find yourself wanting to take a trip to someone else’s life remember that means you have to carry their baggage and yours.

Is It Because I Am Black?

I wonder if he just noticed what just happened.” I was on a recruiting trip at a conference and it was lunch time. My white colleague and I decided to explore the mall in hopes of finding a place to eat. After looking at the long line and the other restaurants we decided to eat at a place that served chicken and waffles. There was no line. A Caucasian girl was taking orders and preparing food. We ordered the same meal. Before we received our order of chicken and waffles she asked if we wanted hot sauce and honey. We were both are from the south so we said “YES” without hesitation.

I watched her pour the honey into one cup. The bottle of honey was almost empty. She squeezed the bottle until no more honey would come out. The cup was filled halfway. Then she went to the back to get a new bottle. She finished filling the first cup to the brim. Then she filled the second cup only halfway. Next, she started to pour the hot sauce.  She filled the first cup, but the second cup was only filled halfway. When I saw the unequal portions of the cups I thought “She is going to give me the cups that are partially filled.” I waited, hoping I was wrong.  Sadly, I was right she handed me the half-filled cups.

I walked away wondering if my white colleague saw what happened. I also pondered another question, “Was I given less because of my blackness?”

The Hovering Question 

Is it because I am black?” I ponder this question quite often. Often I walk into spaces where I stick out because of my darker skin tone. However, I imagine many other African Americans ponder this question as well. But situations like the one mentioned above always bring the question back to mind. My white colleague was dressed similar to me, ordered the same meal, but he received more. I don’t know the reason the girl gave him more, so I am just left with assumptions. However, this is not the case in other situations.

The Hovering Facts

Black people make up 13.3 percent of the population in America. We make up 37.7 percent of the prison population in America. Black people make up 38 percent of the people in poverty in America. More than half of black children in America are born in single parent homes. Twenty-four percent of the people shot and killed by police in 2015 were African American. The unemployment rate for African Americans is 7.9 compared to the 3.8 white unemployment rate. African American boys are perceived to be older and are not perceived to have the same childhood innocence as their white counterparts.

I know that is a lot of stats and you may be able to forget them. I can’t. I was the black boy who was assumed to be older. I have family in prison. I grew up in poverty and in a single parent home. I have seen the videos of African Americans killed unjustly by police. I have family members who desired a job but struggled to find one. These stats haunt me because those numbers have names and faces attached.

The Steadfast God 

I am troubled by the assumptions and stats, but I am comforted by the God who is mindful and cares for us (Psalm 8:4). My soul rests in the fact that His love and His mercy is never ending (Lamentations 3:22). The hairs on my head are numbered. He knows and controls the stats. His sovereignty is enough to calm my vexed soul. However, I still have questions.

Though the stats may hover and assumptions may be many, my God is still on the throne. He knows what happens because of my blackness and He will never give me less than what is good for me (Romans 8:28; Matthew 7:11).

 

Would love to hear others share their stories or thoughts….

 

Another Racial Parable

(Inspired by reading Divided by Faith)

Joe and James were best friends and high school seniors aspiring to attend the same notable college.  They both enrolled in an ACT Prep course hoping to attain an ACT score of 25, which was a requirement for the college they wanted to attend. They enrolled the same day but were placed in different classes.

Joe was placed in a class that was comprised of the top students in their county. They each had their own cubicle, which contained a laptop, a calculator, and ACT Prep books. Each student was given a significant amount of one-on-one sessions with an instructor.

James was placed in a class that was comprised of students who were struggling academically. They were given pencil, paper, and several ACT prep books they had to share.  The instructor was always late for their classes, so they were never able to cover all the required material. The room was over populated so the instructor was not able to answer all the questions posed by the students.

Joe and James took the ACT on the same day. Once they received their score Joe revealed he made a 20 on the ACT. Although, James scored a 14.  Joe was applauded and asked, “James, how could you make a 14 with the help of this prep course? Were you listening in class?”

They both decided to take the prep course again in hopes of getting a 25.  Joe was placed in a similar class to his previous one. James was placed in an overpopulated class, again. They took the test again and Joe received a 25. Sadly, James received a 15.

Joe was upset because he believed James had not applied himself. “These instructors are trying to help us, but I guess you don’t want to go to college. Why did you even come to this program if you weren’t going to try?” said Joe.

James said as he wiped tears from his eyes “I want to go to college. My whole family wants me to go so I can be the first male to get a college education. I really tried in this course. I think we had different experiences.” Joe ended the conversation by saying “Well you just have to try harder next time because this program is set up to help us, and I think they tried really hard too.”

“Joe, I sat in a crowded classroom with kids who were struggling academically. I had to share my ACT prep books. My teacher always showed up late and never finished covering all the information,” said James. Tears began to fall down Joe’s cheek and he said “I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.” Joe and James cried together. After that, Joe said, “Let’s go talk to that ACT prep course and demand they give you the same treatment they gave me.” “We should demand fair treatment for everyone,” said James.

“….to engage in a serious discussion about race in America, we must begin not with the problems of black people, but with the flaws of American society-flaws rooted in historic inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes. And we must acknowledge that structures and behavior are inseparable, that institutions and values go hand in hand”

Cornel West 

Key Points

  • The assumption that we all receive the same treatment ignores the facts.
  • Defending a structure without an adequate amount of information is dangerous.
  • Individual effort coupled with a broken structure is disheartening.
  • Listening can produce lasting fruit to assist in bridging the racial gap.
  • Listening moves you to have compassion.
  • There is hope.

 

 

 

Confessions of A Black Seminarian Pt 3: Letter to Black Seminarians

Dear Black Seminary Student, 

God has used you to encourage my soul. I remember so many moments where we discussed our shared experience. You come from various places, but God has allowed us to connect. Your stories have been inspiring and saddening.

I remember the time you told me your child was a victim of discrimination on campus. You have been disrespected in class for telling about the about the African-American perspective. I was there when they misrepresented you. I know how you feel when people call you an Oreo because you do not fit a stereotype.

I understand the burden of having to be bicultural to survive. It is tiresome, feeling like you to have to know about the dominant culture and your own to succeed. I know how hard it is to learn about another culture while trying to hang on to your own.

You have told me about your frustrations. You are in a white space and it is obvious. All your professors are white. The preachers in chapel services are white. The scholars are white. The administration is white. Most of the people in your class are white. You wonder most days “Where the brothers at?”  It causes you to wonder “Who represents you here?” You expressed to me how saddened you are we don’t have more diversity. It is easy to seat back, do your work, be quiet, and get through your degree.

I know it is difficult but, don’t lose heart. Don’t give up on our brothers and sisters from the dominant culture. Don’t give up on the seminary. They need you. Do you remember the time you explained the difference between diversity and multiculturalism? Your classmates needed to hear that. What about the time you discussed pro-life vs anti-abortion? You stated pro-life must include black people killed on the streets. Or what about the time you helped your classmates view the black church rightly? Your voice is essential. Remaining silent denies the seminary the privilege of knowing you and your culture.
Brothers, there are so many people who are part of the seminary community who long to hear your voice. They want to know what you think so they may love their neighbor rightly. They are wrestling with ideas about Black Lives Matter, Racial Reconciliation, and cultural differences too. Several of them might call you a heretic, race-baiter, or black nationalist. In those moments remember “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1)  and “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).
Beloved, it is tough being a minority here, but we must stay because Jesus prayed that we might be one (John 17:11). The ability to become one is a product of the gospel (Ephesians 2:11-22).  Becoming one requires growing pains look at the early church in Rome of Ephesus. Our oneness will not come if we chose to retreat to mono-ethnic settings. We can’t complain that 11 am is the most segregated hour if we are not willing to sit a few minutes in another culture’s classroom or pew.

May Grace and Peace Be Multiplied to You,

Your Fellow Classmate

 

Why We Can’t Wait and Walter Scott

Martin Luther King Jr.’s  “Why We Can’t Waitstill speaks to the postcivil rights black community. Racist signs in the windows have come down, but there are still places we are not welcome. The dogs and the hoses aren’t that popular anymore. We don’t fear those in white sheets as much as we fear those with blue uniforms.

Walter Scott’s death is one of numerous of unarmed black males killed by the police. The case of his shooting ended with the judge declaring it a mistrial. Another life is gone, and no one held liable.  How do King’s words speak to us today?

Waiting

People frequently say in cases like Scott’s we must wait for the details. King writes:

when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”

Nobodiness” is why the Black Lives Matter movement exists because we feel as if our people are nobodies. We are dying in the streets while the shooters walk away unscathed. For example, in New Orleans Joe McKnight died in the streets. The shooter spent 24 hours in jail,  released, and then charged. Mcknight’s  life appeared not to be worth over 24 hours in jail.  It was as if he didn’t murder a brother, uncle, or cousin. It is as if he murdered a nobody. King also writes:  “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “Wait.”” It is easy to saywait” when you and your people are not being attacked.

Silence Makes A Statement

The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of good people” (MLK)

Throughout history, numerous churches have been quiet about racial issues. Their pro-life statements didn’t extend to the black males shot in their cities. Educational and economic racial disparities weren’t discussed in their mission strategies. Mission organizations learned enough to empathize with those in Africa but not those across tracks. The same is often true now. Silence says these are not my concerns. Silence implies I will let someone else talk about that. Silence means I don’t care. Shame on us if we are silent when our brother and sisters need our voices. We must repent of the silence of Christians.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the  good people.” (MLK)

Responding

It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city‘s white power structure left the Negro with no alternative” (MLK)

What are our options to responding to racial matters? How should we respond Scott’s mistrial or injustice?  King acknowledges we don’t have that many options that get the majority to listen. Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem. Bilal Powell wears cleats about gun violence. Beyonce performs “Formation” at the Superbowl These are examples of utilizing our options. This is why you have the Black Lives Matter non-violent protest. Trevor Noah  asks, “What is the right way?

People kneel during the anthem and they are told to leave the country. They protest and they are whiners. What are the right methods?

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens’ Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the presence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct actions”; who is paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time  and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

Solutions

“Solutions to the complex plight of the Negro will not be easy. This does not signify that they are impossible.” (MLK)

The issues that African-Americans face are difficult to solve, but they are not hopeless. There is not a 3-step process to fix America overnight.  Finding solutions begins with awareness, confession, and action.

It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years. How then can he be absorbed into the mainstreams of American life if we do not do something special for him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him to compete on a just and equal basis?” (MLK)

 BUT GOD

“God’s companionship does not stop at the door of the jail cell.” (MLK)

    African-Americans have a history of oppression. We have been a people who have depended on God to deliver us from oppression. The slaves believed God would free them. Those under the yoke of Jim crow believed God would bring justice. They never believed God left them during the beatings, hoses, verbal abuse, and injustice.   God didn’t leave King when he was sitting in solitary confinement. Immanuel was still with him.

God is still with us. This why Judy Scott confidently proclaims the power of God in light of her son’s mistrial. God’s companionship has not left us in injustice. We should remember God’s presence and role in the fight for justice.