Be The Bridge | Reflections & Notes

Latasha MorrisonBe The Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation. Waterbrook, 2019. (240 pages) www.BeTheBridge.com.


REFLECTIONS


Filled with personal stories and liturgies you can use immediately, Morrison has woven together testimony, theology, history, and exhortation to provide a decent roadmap for the reconciliation process. You could perhaps summarize the entire process in three words: Truth, confession, and reparation. I appreciated the first and third principles as the critical elements to this work, a lack that I felt reading Brenda Salter McNeil’s Roadmap to Reconciliation. Regardless, these two books are fantastic primers and adjurations that will advance the cause of racial justice, and I’m grateful to have read them both.

However, after reading these, (in addition to John Paul Lederach), there’s a whole other level of work that I really wish more people of faith would consider engaging as found in the two examples of Deeyah Khan and Daryl Davis. (I have yet to read any of Christian Picciolini’s work, but from what I have seen, I would throw him in that same category.) There is something stirring, unsettling, and awe-inspiring about the way in which they have approached hate. In several cases you see results that are deeply and profoundly human; a disquieting kind of empathy–to feel for the person who we wish to despise. In Khan, Davis, and Picciolini, I see love as an operating principle–to listen and care deeply for the offending party, to befriend them with a common humanity, a search for a mutual understanding. I am part perplexed and part understanding that neither Morrison nor Salter McNeil spent much focus on that core tenant of Christianity given the topic of racial reconciliation, especially in the American context. However, this only raises more questions and I am curious if the Way of Jesus asks too much in certain contexts, with certain populations? Are there limits?

*Sigh.


NOTES


Foreword by Daniel Hill

1 How We Begin
A Posture of Humility

When we lack historical understanding, we lose part of our identity. We don’t know where we came from and don’t know what there is to celebrate or lament. Likewise, without knowing our history, it can be difficult to know what needs repairing, what (2) needs reconciling. (3)

Understanding Begins with the Right Posture

If you’re White, if you come from the majority culture, you’ll need to bend low in a posture of humility. You may need to talk less and listen more, opening your heart to the (7) voices of your non-White brothers and sisters. You’ll need to open your mind and study the hard truths of history without trying to explain them away. You’ll need to examine your own life and the lives of your ancestors so you can see whether you’ve participated in, perpetuated, or benefited from the systems of racism. (8)

| If you’re Black, Latinx, Asian, Native American, or part of any other non-White group, you’ll need to come with your own posture of humility, though it will look different from that of your White brothers and sisters. In humility, you might need to sit with other non-White groups and learn their stories. You might need to confess the ways you’ve perpetuated oppression of other non-White people. People of color may need to confess internalized racism and colorism. You’ll need to correct and instruct when necessary and will need to recognize the effort of those trying to cross the bridge, even if imperfectly. After all, the work of racial reconciliation is anything but perfect. (8)

PART I: The Bridge to Lament

2 History Keeps Account
Awareness of the Truth

The typology of Black people is a racial reality in America. As a Black person in a majority-White culture, I observed people looking at me, trying to determine whether I was more assimilated to White culture or whether I was too Black for their comfort. They’d prejudge me by how I spoke and dressed and whether I allowed micro-aggressions to pass without comment. If they judged me more assimilated, more controlled by the majority-culture narrative, I was more accepted. But if I pushed back with my own cultural stories, with more factual recitations of the truth, and if I wore my hair natural or enunciated words a certain way, I’d be judged according to their racial bias and prejudice. The more I embraced my ethnic identity, the greater the chance I’d be rejected by those White parents–seen as unsafe, angry, and likely to make trouble. (17)

| That there are these two perceived types of minorities–assimilated or non-assimilated–has caused so much division in communities, among other races, and within the majority culture. (17)

The Power of Truth

What is the truth? Hasn’t truth become a complicated word in these days when news is labeled “fake,” where “alternative facts” serve as the basis for a sort of virtual, choose-your-own reality? This complexity, though, isn’t as recent as many would think. Truth has always been evaluated from various perspectives, depending on whether one is the teller or the listener, the winner or the loser, the dominant party or the marginalized. When the teller has an agenda, especially if the teller holds power, lies often are told to distort the truth. Eventually, those lies permeate our culture, our very way of thinking. (21)

Truth, unvarnished and unfiltered, is essential to the work of sanctification, freedom, and reconciliation. So what is truth in the context of racial reconciliation? (22)

| The truth is that each ethnicity reflects a unique aspect of God’s image. No one tribe or group of people can adequately display the fullness of God. The truth is that it takes every tribe, tongue, and nation to reflect the image of God in his fullness. The truth is that race is a social construct, though, dismantles this way of thinking and seeks to reunite us under a common banner of love and fellowship. (22)

…we can’t fix what we don’t understand or acknowledge. (23)

Our Shared Past

The Power of Awareness

cf. Johnson v. M’Intosh, 1823

cf. Indian Removal Act, 1830

cf. Homestead Act, 1862

cf. “Oklahoma Indian Tribe Education Guide” & Indian Land Tenure Foundation

Finding Freedom Through Truth

Historical truths play an important role in our understanding of how we arrived in our current racial tension. Without looking back, without understanding the truth of our history, it’s difficult to move forward in healthy ways. And even though it might be painful to recount our history as a country, denying it leads us nowhere. Truth is the foundation of awareness, and awareness is the first step in the process of reconciliation. (32)

3 An Invitation to Empathize
Acknowledgment and Lamet

The Process of Acknowledgment and Lament

Awareness of the truth is useless without acknowledgment of our complicity or its effects on us. (39)

We can’t shy away from the conversations just because they’re uncomfortable or awkward or unpleasant. We can’t change the subject because issues of racism make us feel bad. Instead, we have to have the hard conversations so we can move to a place of deep lament. (39)

Lamenting something horrific that has taken place allows a deep connection to form between the person lamenting and the harm that was done, and that emotional connection is the first step in creating a pathway for healing and hope. We have to sit in the sorrow, avoid trying to fix it right away, avoid our attempts to make it all okay. Only then is the pain useful. Only then can it lead us into healing and wisdom. (39)

What is the purpose of lament? It allows us to connect with and grieve the reality of our sin and suffering. It draws us to repentant connection with God in that suffering. Lament also serves as an effort to change God’s mind, to ask him to turn things around in our favor. Lament seeks God as comforter, healer, restorer, and redeemer. Somehow the act of lament reconnects us with God and leads us to hope and redemption. (41)

 

There is no great value to lament. Lament must never be cut off before it has run it scourse, but lament needs a response. That response comes from the Father above, but could it also require something from us? –  Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times, by Soong-Chan Rah

It’s Never Too Late to Acknowledge and Lament

cf. The Greenwood Massacre

A Liturgy of Lament

The Power of Acknowledgment and Lament

Part II: The Bridge to Confession and Forgiveness

4 Removing Roadblocks to Reconciliation
Free from Shame and Guilt

The Power of Shame and Guilt

Shame and guilt are powerful motivators. In the context of racial reconciliation, shame and guilt often compel majority culture to cover up and whitewash sins. A sense of shame may prompt non-White groups to hide generational humiliation too (a feeling all minorities I speak with understand). But to build bridges of racial reconciliation, we’ll need to confront the guilt and shame of our collective past. We’ll need to see those responses to the uncomfortable truth as tools that help lead us further into repentance. (67)

In the Bible, guilt and shame are often communal and point to the need for corporate repentance. (68)

Pushing Through Guilt and Shame into Acknowledgment and Lament

cf. The Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana

The Whitney Plantation: A Witness to the Church

I’m here to say it clearly: let’s not hide from the communal shame and guilt of racism; let’s acknowledge it and step from its shadow and into the light. Own whatever history you or your church may have with racism, painful as it might be. And if you’re a person of color, please don’t be ashamed or feel guilty for the color of your skin, for the ways your ancestors were subjugated or for the ways you’ve been treated by the systems of power. There’s no shame in wanting to be treated equally, no guilt in using your voice to shine a light on the history of racism. You can step out of the shadows. You can speak truth to power. (77)

Swimming in the Shame of Our History

5 Where Healing Begins
Confession

The Healing Power of Confession

Confession requires awareness of our sin, acknowledgment of it, and the desire to move past the shame and guilt, but those aren’t the only conditions for confession. Confession also requires great humility and deep vulnerability. While this might feel risky, consider the risk of not confessing our sins. (88)

…to experience reconciliation with God and others, I confess how I’ve allowed the sin system of white supremacy to have a foothold in my life, how I’ve hated the darkness of my own skin and rejected the image of God in which I’ve been created. (90)

| Confession of our entanglement in racism and systemic privilege is essential for complete healing and restoration. And none of us is off the hook. Not the African American community either. (90)

Plessy and the White Application of Colorism

Garvey, Du Bois, and the Black Application of Colorism

cf. “The Superiority of the Mulatto,” Edward Byron Reuter, 1917

The feud between these two revealed the deep impact of white (93) supremacy on people of color. It showed how systems of privilege based on color can become systems of oppression. It showed how easily the sin of the oppressor can trickle down and become the sin of the oppressed. (94)

The answer to white supremacy isn’t black supremacy. The answer to colorism within the majority systems is not corresponding colorism among non-White groups. Any supremacy, any colorism, should be acknowledged and confessed if we’re to find (94) hope of healing. In fact, all forms of racism and bigotry–using racist slang, laughing at racist jokes, entertaining the privileges of color–must be confessed before we can move together toward lasting reconciliation. (95)

The Confession of Bridge Builders

In the context of racial reconciliation, confession requires owning our part in racism and racist structures, the ways we’ve benefited from systems of oppression. But it also requires each of us to admit our own private racist or colorist beliefs, beliefs we know aren’t right and that we may not want others to know about. Confessing those privately held beliefs presents a roadblock for many. But confession can be so freeing. (95)

Have you ever looked down on others because of their ethnicity, their race? Have you ever thought less of them because of the way they looked? Have you ever played zero-sum games as it relates to those of other ethnicities, believing their opportunities came at the cost of yours? Have you ever been afraid of someone just because of the color of his or her skin? If you have, whether you’re White, Black, or Brown, you have confession work to do. And if you don’t do this work of confession, you’ll shortchange your healing and the healing of others. You’ll undercut the work of racial reconciliation. (97)

6 The Healing Balm
Seeking and Extending Forgiveness

The Power of Forgiveness

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. – C.S. Lewis

In other words, we forgive because we ourselves have been forgiven. Forgiving others is the most Christ-like act we can carry out. It is costly and painful, transformative and life giving. (107)

Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude. – MLK

The Forgiveness of Mother Emanuel

Extending and Receiving Bridge-Building Forgiveness

A Liturgy of Confession and Forgiveness

PART III: The Bridge to Restorative Reconciliation

7 Facing the Oppressed, Facing God
Repentance

When Repentance Requires Elevating the Voices of Others

cf. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” MLK

Repentance: A Change of Direction

True reconciliation requires that we change our behavior, that we set a new trajectory. (134)

The Prophets Isaiah and Frederick

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. – cf. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. – Isaiah 1:15

I should find it impossible to draw a more graphic picture of the state of the Churches in the United States than is drawn in these lines from the holy prophet Isaiah. In the single line ‘your hands are full of blood’ we have the character of the American Churches aptly described. – cf. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

How Bridge Builders Repent

cf. White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White, Daniel Hill

8 Righting the Wrong
Making Amends

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. – Thomas Jefferson, (Part of the original Declaration of Independence)

The Gospel of Reparations

The next step is the costly one, especially to those in positions of power and privilege. What is it? Making wrongs right or, in more contemporary terms, making amends or reparations. (154)

The abuse and marginalization that permeate our history have created wounds, triggered mistrust, given rise to anger, and prompted whitewashing that has perpetuate more and more abuse. It’s time we stop pretending that the past doesn’t shape our present and start making reparations for this abuse and marginalization. After all, reparations aren’t a modern construct. Repairing what’s broken is a distinctly biblical concept, which is why as people of faith we should be leading the way into redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. (154)

So reparations and repentance are inextricably intertwined, and those who’ve inherited the power and benefits of past wrongs should work to make it right for those who’ve inherited the burdens and oppression of the past. (155)

cf. Numbers 5:7

Systems of injustice in society and in the church exact a heavy cost on those outside the centers of power and effectively block reconciliation. … Declaring that we are equal without repairing the wrongs of the past is cheap reconcilaition. – Curtiss DeYoung

It’s important to remember that in our practice of restorative justice, reparation is not punitive. Reparation is not about punishing anyone. It’s nota bout paying a fine for a wrong committed or assuaging a guilty conscience. Instead, reparation acknowledges that through historical injustice, some communities were denied (or had deliberately stolen from them) opportunities, possessions, property, wealth, and safety so that other communities could obtain more of those things. Reparation is about repaying or returning those things so as to restore equity. (158)

The American Imagination for Reparations

cf. December 7, 1941

So What About the Native Americans?

Being a Bridge for Reparations

What does it look like to make reparations? The answer is different for each individual. … You can intentionally put yourself in the way of diversity by taking a job where you know you’ll be in the minority. You can bring people of color into your home. You can place yourself under the authority of their organizations and learn from them. You can sacrifice your upward mobility and use your power for the good of others. (167)

| You don’t have to do it all, of course. But you can identify racial wrongs in the world around you and take one step toward making them right. That’s the work of reparation. That’s the work of the gospel. (167)

9 Relationships Restored
Reconciliation and Restoration

Bridge builders grow; they mature. And if they’re growing in the right direction, if they’re committed to the work, they’ll eventually learn the way to restoration of healthy relationships. It won’t be easy, but it’s the work of the gospel. (177)

The Road to Reconciliation That Restores

Jesus didn’t just come to restore individual people; he came to break down systems of oppression, to provide a way for his kingdom to appear on earth as it is in heaven. He came so that we, his followers, could partner with him in restoring integrity and justice to broken systems, broken governments, and ulti-(180)mately, broken relationships. (181)

Restorative Reconciliation and the Georgetown Alumnus

Crossing the Bridge to Restoration

We don’t necessarily need to have the answer when we’re engaged in the process of bridge building. We don’t always need to know how every wrong will be righted and every system fixed. In fact, we’ll often find that the process goes more smoothly when we confess we don’t have the answers but are willing to seek them together. We begin with a willingness to do the hard work of reconciliation, the work Jesus modeled. We begin by making space for one another, making space for restoration. And if we do it right, we do it all in love. (187)

10 Building More Bridges
Reproduction

Reproduction Is Not Optional

God didn’t draw us through the process of reconciliation for our own sake. He reconciled us so we could bring reconciliation to others in his name. … He made us bridge builders so we could draw others into bridge building in his name. How do I know? Because Jesus said as much in both the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission. (197)

A Word on Reproducing Your Own Bridge Group

The Journey of the First Be the Bridge Group

A Liturgy of Restoration and Reproduction

Afterword by Jennie Allen

Bridges are built not with passivity or avoidance but with the deep, hard work of seeking to understand. The deep, hard work of fighting for justice for all. Love is always a fight worth taking on. (220)

About VIA

www.kevinneuner.com

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