Monday, July 20, 2009

What Does the Bible Say About Racism?

Marcus "Goody" Goodloe is an excellent stand-in for Erwin McManus when Erwin isn't speaking. Goody continues Mosaic's series entitled "Diversity".

A couple of months ago, the President of USC gave a talk saying that LA is the capital of the Pacific Rim and there was no other city like it. Creativity, according to the president, is the backbone of the "City of Angels". "If creativity is the number one export of LA, then diversity has to be number 2" says Goody. Los Angeles is diverse is every aspect It is the 18th largest economy in the world. It has 10.5 million people with a third of them born outside of the city. There are 600 different religious groups, 120 different cultures, 96 different cradle languages and 49 press and media outlets. Outside of their own homeland, more people from Seoul, Korea and from Mexico live as citizens in LA than any other city in the world.

Normally when we hear about diversity, our thoughts go to the issue race and some people fear the subject because of racism. Diversity can lead to tensions of race. Most of us were not born during the 1965 riots that took place in LA, but many were here in 1992 when the Rodney King verdict came out and riots erupted. Only 2 years ago, we saw an epic riot between Latinos and African Americans in the public schools. There are tension even in the LA prisons between races. It is a sort of burden in the city. So, if La is the hub of the Pacific Rim, isn't there a big opportunity to have an impact in this area?

Goody went to a golf club recently for a pickup game. There was a 74 yr. old Korean, 2 Anglos and then a Polynesian kind of guy. You can pick up a game pretty easily in golf, but there are rules of etiquette. "Have you ever been in a conversation where someone is violating social educate so much that you feel embarrassed for them?" Well, Goody bumped into one on the course. "My man (was)in full conversation Def Com 5 mode... There are people in the other fairway hitting the ball ... and one man shouts, 'will you keep it down?'" Then his new friend started telling him a story about the issue of keeping it down. He was at the Chester Washington golf course where he was playing golf with Jim Brown, a retired 60's activist and football player. "He was telling the story in a loud voice. Jim looked up and said keep it down and his buddies were talking and said "Edward, ________, just hit the ball." Goody pauses during his story like something was very wrong. "Hold on...I want to do this right...Violation - Illegal use of the 'N' word by a white man. We don't roll like that. You'll get your nose busted up like that."

We've made some progress on the issue of race, but we have a long way to go. It can be argued in the new testament that 2/3rds of Paul's writings are conversations about tensions between people of different cultures. In Numbers, Miriam and Aaron got upset with Moses because of the wife he married who was of a different race. Jesus engages with a Samaritan woman where the conversation immediately goes to how Samaritans have no dealings with Jews. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul confronts Peter because he was acting one way in front of his Jewish friends and then acting another way in front of Gentiles. "It was all about a clash of cultures and race."

"But I want to call your attention to another passage of scripture that, up until recently, I had never viewed from the lens of diversity, but it is appropriate for tonight" In the book of Jonah, Jonah is a spokesperson for God and he has been called to speak on God's behalf in Nineveh. The people there do not honor God. They are a violent people. God gives the people and opportunity to turn from their ways by sending Jonah.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish." Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, "Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?" He answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land."

The story goes on from there, but like Jonah, we often run when the issue of race arises. If L.A. is to be the city that embraces diversity, "we have to be willing to have the tough conversations." We can have these conversations for a greater reason. The men on the boat found that Jonah had moved in the opposite direction of God when God had directed Jonah to Nineveh. "We are gong to have to be courageous. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the absence of self."

"Often when I was growng up I would hear the story of Jonah and hear the story as a story of Judgement. The scripture gives Jonah a do-over. The Lord came to Jonah for a second time.

On the very first day, Jonah went before the people and, right away, they believed. The people had been given an ultimatum by God to change or their city would be destroyed and they listened! This was why it was so important for Jonah to go in the first place. But Jonah was actually displeased when the people listened! He became angry and prayed to the Lord. He knew that God was slow to anger and that God would exercise grace, so he tells God that he basically doesn't want God to bless these people. The Ninevites where dark complected and their noses were wide. They were from a different culture.

We have to be honest in our own views of different cultures and of our own perceptions. I've been married for 12 years and I was in San Francisco when I met my wife. Goody booked a flight to approach her father for a traditional request of him to have the hand of his daughter. Goody waited an hour and a half, but it was a no-show. A voicemail was on his future wife's cellphone which was her father refusing to meet Goody. So Goody was really down about the whole thing. Trying to honor her parents, he just says that the relationship has been difficult to accept. One time, Goody went by the house upon his wife's request. "I just had the inability to walk in...It was hard to step into a place where I knew I wasn't welcome." He and her father went out on the back deck that overlooked his estate. Her father, in so many words, said he thought races should be kept separate. Goody could accept the fact that this man didn't care for him, but what Goody found hard to accept was his lack of authenticity; his lack of owning up to who he was. Goody had paid $180 to fly out to see this man and there was virtually no resolve at all.

"So we need to have courage. We need to have authenticity and we need to have grace Whether you are the oppressor or the oppressed...we have to have grace." In verse 4, the Lord asks if Jonah has any right to be angry. In Psalms 139, "Should not my grace extend to them as well?"

"In life, as in a dance, grace guides our blistered feet. Our worst is never so bad that we are beyond God's grace even if it's racism or sexism. And neither is our best so good that we are beyond the need of grace." Author unnamed

"Up until now, diversity has been a noun...I want to make it a verb..I need twenty people up on stage right now...If you identify yourself as Anglo, Caucasian or White, come over here. If you are an African American or Black, stand over here. If you are Latino, Mexican, over here...Alright, this is how we try to engage the conversation of diversity. We begin to define by race, so already we are at a deficit. But what if...diversity hinged on pendulums; our passions and our pains. If you've lost someone recently, come to the center here. If you are addicted to a behavior, come over here. If you are passionate about ending human slavery, come over here....At the very essence, we are all human. This is where Jesus continued the conversation. In fact, Jesus' inaugural message from Luke 4 begin with pain and passions.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Maybe the world is looking to us in LA to teach the world about diversity.

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