As this year comes to a close, I can’t help but look back and marvel at all the miracles. In my personal life and in our world, there is much to celebrate but I also do not want to forget those whose lives were lost so tragically and unnecessarily this year.
This Christmas I grieve with those families. I mourn with the mothers and grandmothers who have watched their babies gunned down, beat down and tortured on the streets of our country because of the color of their skin.
In a very different context, I have lived a year of firsts after the death of my beloved, and I know how it stings. I know how perfectly magical holiday moments can turn so quickly into a memory that pierces the heart like an unexpected arrow.
My soul cries with the parents, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles who will taste the bittersweet of this season without the presence of that loved one. I have no desire to get in some debate today about police brutality or posturing presidential candidates. All I really want to do is bring dignity to these families by remembering their loss. This Christmas I want to invite you to join me in a holy lament.
When We Are Still Fighting For Reconciliation
I’ll be honest I’m downright incredulous that we are still fighting for civil rights and dignity for people in our country who have a browner skin tone. It’s 2015. I thought – or dreamed – we would be farther along by the time my babies were entering their school years. I long for justice, and I long for reconciliation.
I still remember my mama telling me about those marches for civil rights in the ’60s.
I still remember memorizing poignant lines of poetry by Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou when I was in grade school in the ’80s.
I still remember the day in the early ’90s when a bunch of white girls from my south side of Chicago neighborhood told me they couldn’t play with my best friend and me because we were brown girls.
I still remember writing that Voice of Democracy speech my senior year about how we need to embrace diversity and strive for unity as a nation.
I still remember pouring over speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was in college, searching for seeds of hope and grappling with my own racial identity.
These moments, these memories shape me.
Sadly, the racial atmosphere in our country remains electrically charged, and I find myself asking, “What can I say? How can I be a part of the healing? What are we as the Christian church going to do about it?”
When Colorblind Is An Excuse For Complacency
Here’s the reality: It’s so much easier to say we are colorblind and to march on with our carefully-crafted Christmas celebrations while families around us still suffer. Our silence on this issue of racism in the church is a sad testimony. We share a post on Facebook. We applaud others who speak out, but we don’t want to get too messy or controversial doing it ourselves.
Throughout my life, I have had people tell me they are colorblind. I have a hard time believing it. When are we going to acknowledge that colorblindness is in itself a function of white privilege? It’s a privilege to say, “I don’t see your skin color.” Implicit in that statement are the words: “I don’t have to see you for how you were created.”
You see, as a multi-racial woman cultural nuances are always on my radar. I can play cool and blend in but I still notice. Every time I walk into a women’s conference, I notice when I’m the minority in the room with more melanin in my skin. Every time I sit down with leaders from the church, I am well aware when the diversity around the table wanes. Every time I take my daughters to school or church or the park, I wonder what kind of racism (subtle or overt) they might encounter.
It’s time to stop being complacent in our fears and leverage white privilege or economic privilege for good to lift up the marginalized. In other words, people with lighter skin or from a higher economic background are often offered unspoken privileges in our society. It might be easier for them to get a job, a position on a committee, rent an apartment, etc. If that’s your background, you don’t need to be ashamed but you and I can use that privilege to speak up for others who do not enjoy the same privileges.
We can make the first move and reach out to those who are grieving and ask them to share their stories. We can bridge the gap by acknowledging our own biases and starting a conversation with someone different from ourselves. We can invite the foreigner, the refugee to our table. We can ask someone from a different culture to teach us how to cook, how to eat, how to worship in a new way.
Every time a Black sister graces the stage with her preaching or her singing, I celebrate. Every time a Korean pastor publishes a book or produces a podcast, I cheer. Every time my Salvadoran mama friend serves up pupusas and shares her passion for diversity in her son’s class, I well up with pride because this is the beginning of celebrating our true colors. It’s time we acknowledge our ethnicities and celebrate them together. I believe this is the pathway to healing our racial divide.
When a White Christmas Is More Than a Carol
I also want to challenge you to think about the Christmas story you are telling your kids and the decorations you are hanging in your homes.
Even in our Christmas décor we are communicating our prejudices. Nativity sets that boast a blond baby Jesus are unrealistic. Baby Jesus was a Jew. Dark hair and brown skin were a lot more likely. We are perpetuating a culture that is white-washed and inaccurate. When we overlook the cultural component of the Christmas story, we miss out on the rich and full understanding of the gospel.
I am returning to the example my mama set when I was growing up. She was not willing to settle for the porcelain white, blond-haired Jesus figurines they are still selling in the mall in 2015. She wanted Christmas to celebrate all cultures. She carefully arranged her collection of nativity sets from places she or her children visited around the world.
Now my daughters make the rounds at Nana’s house the same way I used to as a kid. Their eyes light up when they see the nativity made from a coconut shell carved in Haiti, or the Costa Rican creche formed by with homemade clay and hand-mixed paints, or the hand-crocheted nativity in vibrant colors from the Philippines.
When we read the story of Jesus birth on Christmas Eve, we have the opportunity to share about the child who crossed cultures to redeem us. We can invite a conversation about the kings from different nations who came to worship him. This is a perfect picture of unity in diversity.
When We Act Like Christmas People
I believe Christmas is a time to celebrate. That night when a baby made his way down that virgin mother’s birth canal something scandalous happened – Hope was born. God crossed into the human world, sending his Son through an oppressed, minority culture as a peace child. A war was raging between races, religions, classes and kings – much like war rages in our country and world today. Jesus came to end that war. He came to reconcile us to God and to each other.
It’s time for those in the church to be the example. It’s time for us to declare that we will not accept a colorblind Christmas anymore. It’s time for us Christians to live and breathe and speak and act like we are Christmas people. We need to believe in the Hope brought by our Christ-King and fight for it. We need to see people for who they are – unique, colorful, beautiful, chosen, adopted, and created in God’s image for His glory.
I believe God is calling us to be agents of healing in a broken world. We need to do the hardest work and lead the way in reconciliation. After all, that’s what the baby – the Christ – came to do when he was born in that dirty manger.
Image Credit: Daniel Bunker, Associate Pastor