I was faced recently with a terrifying proposition a week or so ago. I have been wrestling with issues dealing with race. I think it is important to deal with them and air them out to begin dismantling the power of racism. But what if it’s not so easy?
What if racism is so ingrained that our brains act out those concepts without our being aware of them? What if our words and speech patterns are polite, gentle, compassionate, but our body language shows fear, apprehension, or even aggression? What message are we sending? What thoughts flow through our minds without us even realizing it?
The podcast Invisibilia brought these idea to my attention, daring me to begin sifting through my own mind. They warn that this kind of self-examination can be difficult, emotionally draining. So why do I bring it up in the first place?
I bring it up because I was faced with a terrifying proposition… oh, you thought I had already gotten to it? No. The idea that shocked me into a truly self-reflective mode was this question: “When we read scripture, which characters or people do we relate to?” For my whole life I had assumed that I should read myself as the Israelites, or the Jews in the New Testament – claiming some kinship with the fathers of my faith. But then the next question arises, “What is one of the defining characteristics of that people?” The answer is – they were almost never in power and almost constantly assailed and oppressed. The only time ancient Israel had a large, unified empire was right after David and through Solomon’s reign. Leading up to, and following, the Israelites seemed to be in constant apprehension of the next great world power that would attack or threaten or cajole them. The Jews post-exile hadn’t fared much better, gaining a modicum of power following their successful revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes and his Greek empire, only to later fall under the thumb of the Roman Empire, noted for its cruel efficiency.
So the dangling question is… “Who do I relate to?” Have I experienced the oppression, the fear, the wandering of the Israelite? Have I experienced the fear, anguish, longing, and disenfranchisement of the Jewish exile or Jew under Rome? I don’t know that I have… I think I would actually relate more to the Roman, the Greek, the Babylonian, the Assyrian. Suddenly I find myself on the side of a Jonah’s call to repentance to the Assyrian capital of Ninevah. I find myself in the position of Cornelius, faced not with an opportunity to climb to the heights of power, but a call to join with those who hunger and thirst for God’s justice (righteousness), with those who mourn, with the poor in spirit, with the peacemakers, with the persecuted.