Wrestling with White Privilege

Image used from Scene on Radio, Episode 37’s page.  Composite image: Chenjerai Kumanyika, left; photo by Danusia Trevino. And John Biewen, photo by Ewa Pohl.

Chenjerai Kumanyika is an ongoing partner on the podcast “Seeing White,” a series by “Scene On Radio.” In Episode 37 (part 7 of the “Seeing White” series) Kumanyika, a black man poses a question to the host John Biewen, a white man. He asks John if he feels any responsibility for what other white people do? This question has sat in my soul like a splinter deep in the bottom of my foot.

Kumanyika goes on to explain that as a black man there is a black identity that exists, a connection felt between black people. When he received his Ph.D., he said that he thought it was a victory for all black people, not just himself. When he sees a criminal that is black, he feels that he is part of that failure. He is trying to remove himself from thinking like that, but it is hard. For white people, here in America, we do not have that same connection to the events, situations, and actions of other white people.

The splinter in my foot, the question gripping my soul, is should we? Should my whiteness be attached to the actions of other white people in our society? How would our culture, society, and community change if I, and all white people, personally felt attached to what other white people do?

The truth is I never have and I am sure most of the white people reading this never have either. What I have started to understand this is one aspect of white privilege. I don’t have to look at the actions of Dylann Ruth, who murdered nine people at church and feel any attachment to his actions at all. I feel horrible that he did it but I wasn’t connected on a racial level with him.

The same is true with the actions of the people in Charlottesville, VA this last week. I never really felt connected to other white people who carried Nazi and Confederate Flags while chanting hateful, horrible things about other races. I don’t feel connected to James Alex Fields who drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

I am starting to feel connected. No, I do not agree with their ideology, their twisting of scripture, and the despicable ways they view the world and those who live in it. The connection I am feeling is that I have to limit my own privilege to remove myself from them. I can’t ignore them or their actions by simply saying, “Well, they have a horrible worldview and they are not me.” They are white Americans. I am a white American.

I have to start to acknowledge that as a white American, I have a historical advantage over people of color. Our country has in its foundation, given an advantage to people who are deemed as white. I have been born into and part of this privilege, like it or not, claimed or not.

What claiming this connection can do is to help start naming where it goes wrong or acknowledging the systems that existed and still exist today which continue to hold up this ideal.

Naming these systems, acknowledging our privilege, pulls the sins of the past, present and future, into the light. It gives a voice to what I’ve ignored, out of ignorance and privilege, for a long time. As we name these realities and shed light on the pain they caused, we can work towards reconciliation and equality on deeper levels in our society.

I don’t have answers. I’m simply naming the reality of my soul as I feel the weight of the privilege I never understood I had…until now.


Prayer for this National Day of Prayer

This is the prayer I will pray at Indian Trail’s National Day of Prayer service held at my church, Indian Trail UMC.

National Day of Prayer: 
Let us pray, creator God, you imbedded into humanity in your image and it is because that divine spark that each one of us strives to know you.  Long ago people came to this country because they desired religious freedom.  They were striving to find a new place to live their faith openly and properly.  We give you thanks that our country, the United States of America, still allows us to worship freely, openly and without fear of punishment or persecution.  Lord God, you have blessed America, and for that we give you thanks….Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.
God of love, today as a nation, we have set aside a time for prayer and we give you thanks for this gift.  Prayer is a time we can connect with you, our God.  It is a time that we empty our soul into you but also a time when we are quiet and listen to you speak into us.  As we come together to pray today, may we talk and lift up our concerns and dreams but may we also listen to how you are directing us and speaking to us this morning… Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.
Prayer is also a time of confession and we would not use this time justly if we did not confess our sins to you, forgiving Father.  We are a nation who’s history, both past and recent, is soaked in blood and turmoil.  We ask your forgiveness for how we as a nation have not lived up to the ways that you have taught us to live.  We pray for the native people who lived hear before the explorers claim to discover them.  We pray for the settlers who came to find freedom but found indentured servitude instead.  We pray for the slaves that were brought over and whose backs broke building and farming our nation.  We pray for the immigrant who arrived on Elis Island with big dreams and hopes but only found corruption and starvation.  Lord we pray for the current crisis in our country now as communities and cities work through the injustice, fear and hate between residents and police.  Lord, we ask for your forgiveness and your peace today…Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.
Gracious God, we have come so far as a nation.  We are one of the richest countries in the world and you have blessed America.  Yet, we also have children who are homeless and hungry.  We have people who are struggling even thought they work two jobs.  We have cities and towns that are thriving and others that are dying.  Now the divide between rich and poor is growing ever wider and how wide that gulf gets is unknown.  So Lord, we pray to you, we reach out to you, to show us the way and teach us how to live and treat each other with dignity and respect.  Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We give you thanks for this beautiful land we call our home.  We thank you for the wonderful gift of the resources and splendor that is our country.  May we always recognize it’s beauty.  As we gaze upon blue hued mountains or emerald seas; as we hear the rush of traffic or trains and yet can still smell the sweet scent of fresh cut grass; may we never take this gift for granted.  May we strive to be stewards of this land like you have commanded and leave it in good standings for generations to come.  Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.
Lord, we lift up the leaders of our country.  We pray for our Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government.  We pray for our President and Vice-President and their families.  We pray for the leaders of our state, our governor and his family.  We pray for those who lead this town, our mayor and council members and their families.  Lord, we pray for wisdom and guidance in their lives.  As all of these people, who truly are simply people, guide, direct and lead our country, state and town, we pray that their hearts be open to your will.  May our leaders never be far from our prayers…Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer.
Look graciously, O Lord, upon this land.  Where it is in pride, subdue it.  Where it is in need, supply it.  Where it is in error, rectify it.  Where it is in default, restore it.  And where it holds to that which is just and compassionate, support it.  Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer. 

For it is in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

North American God

TeacherLady asked a good question about my previous post. Who is the “North American God”? I used that phrase from Bishop Will Willimon’s podcast entitled “Preaching Today like the Prophets of Yesterday.” Here is the actual quote from Willimon,

“I am worried about this turn in contemporary homiletics, be it liberal or conservative, toward the listener. I am worried about a contemporary, North American, narcissistic, sexually driven,…I could go on…person being the test for what Christians should utter in worship of this God. Because the test for this is my God not my own contemporary North American limitations.”

In it Bishop Willimon goes on to explain that we as preachers need to be true to the text not the world around us. The world around us will try and pull us in certain directions and frame the way we are to be followers of Christ. I think this is why we have the prosperity gospel movement that tells us that if we worship Jesus we will have wealth, health, and a huge house. In our society we would love it if God was simply an ATM (The Almighty Teller Machine). Another example would be hoard of sermons that are being preached about Social Justice. I would probably say that they are not being preached because of God’s Word stirring preachers to talk about social issues and the church’s response to them, but because Glenn Beck made headlines.

We, as North American Christians, have to peel back our social coats and listen hard to the Word of God because the Word of God is for the world, not just the part we live in. That can be hard when we live in the Rome of our time. We think we are the end all be all and that if it ain’t American, it ain’t right. We have to realize that Jesus was not buried with an American Flag over his coffin. Many times American ideals and Christian theology are used interchangeably. This is done from our lips during conversations with others and from behind the pulpit as well.

To paint a word picture of who the “North American God” it would be one word, Superman. A stranger from another planet who fights for truth, justice and the American way. This video explains it all…(and brings back memories!)

What Willimon stirred in me was the fact that it is our job as preachers to look past our North American way of life and into the Word of God, a global God, a “I built the whole earth, not just your part” God. To do so means preaching from the perspective of the scripture, not the listener. Or else we might just end up transforming a Jesus into a mild mannered Superman.