This past year I have been learning a great deal about identity, what it means to be white and male, and what it means to be a Christian in a world infected with chaos and prejudiced hostility. I imagine living in Korea for a year will also teach me a number of things about ethnic identity. However, I presently have a lot that I’ve yet to grasp.
The church I am currently a part of in Seattle has a class they off annually called Faith and Race. This past Sunday was the first of the three sessions. It began by having our standard three services with a sermon by Dr. Brian Bantum titled “Are We Blind, Too?”, which was about why there is a gap in who sees and who does not see in regards to the racial rifts in our society. Following the services Dr.Bantum kicked off the Faith and Race class by speaking briefly, and then we discussed questions in small groups. This gathering was followed by some smaller breakout sessions on various sub-topics. There were two primary things I took away from last Sunday.
The first thing I became aware of was the need to know who I am. At one point during his sermon Dr. Bantum said, “Our lives have to risk telling the truth”. People of color face an unequally heavy burden in this country, and if I am going to step in love to be with them and for them, it will require me to speak, act and be in manners and situations that will likely make others uncomfortable. Speaking truth is often met with hostility, fear, and resistance. We see this in lives like Dr. King, Malala Yousafzai, Mohandas Gandhi, Elias Chacour, and the like. As a 21 year-old, I think one of the most necessary things I need to do in the present to embody spaces of systematic tension is to know who I am. To be the first to speak, to stand alone in a room of like-faced people, and to refuse to leave the people of color in my communities to fight this battle in isolation, seems to call for intrapersonal durability and spiritual resilience. Being in a time of identity formation means that neither of these tend to come easily, but also that I need to be cultivating them as I grow. We need to be deeply rooted in who God calls us to be, people of justice, mercy and humility, so that we can see and speak truthfully, in spite of the cost. Who I am shapes the way I love.
The second thing I learned is that who I listen to matters. White voices, males voices, wealthy voices, and articulate voices are typically offered a more receptive ear than other voices. Last Sunday someone made the comment, “It takes power to speak to power”. If my particularity is one that has historically been afforded power and privilege, then why not flip “it takes power to speak to power” on its head by intentionally listening to those who have no power to speak. This means reading books, listening to lectures, watching movies, and seeing lives that are told from the perspective of people of color, women, the poor, and those who are generally marginalized. We are shaped by what we consume, so by only consuming stories told by those that look and sound like me, then I am perpetuating a flow of power that is hurtful to those who do not look and sound like me. The voices I listen to shape who I am.
Here is the sermon from last Sunday. I encourage you to watch it and earnestly ask yourself the question; are we blind too?
Spoiler, the answer is yes.