Confessing Racism

The following long-read is a more plainspoken adaptation of an exercise for a seminar in Divinity School. You can find the full and footnoted version at the end of this post.

I. Nobody’s Racist, Apparently

Nobody likes to say they’re racist.

Well, I suppose that’s not necessarily true. White supremacists (sometimes called the supposedly more benign “alt-right” or “white nationalists”) will sometimes openly call themselves racists and be proud of it.

But, for most folks, they don’t want to be called racist.

We’ve effectively attached such a shame to racism that no one is willing to admit their complicity or affinity for any sort of racial prejudice. On the one hand, it’s great we think racism is so bad, right? On the other, though, we are so unwilling to recognize any sort of bad in ourselves that we try to invisiblize and hide our own tendencies toward any sort of prejudice, especially racial prejudice.

We need a way of talking about racial prejudice that’s a good deal more honest than that.

We need a way of naming our own biases and prejudices the leads us to change. As long as we continue to ignore the problems racism has created in ourselves, we will continue to perpetuate everything from racialized income inequality to police brutality to white supremacist terrorism. The stakes are high, and we need to be willing to uncomfortably name those parts of ourselves we pretend don’t exist. Continue reading “Confessing Racism”


The Ashes of Privilege

Yesterday, Durham, NC, was encrusted with a thick layer of unforgiving ice. While nowhere near as bad a situation as that of our sisters and brothers in the Northeastern United States, being unequipped to deal with such weather, Durham was not the most pleasant place to be – especially gingerly making your way down the path to the bus stop to get to class at 8:00 in the morning. As my feet almost slipped on ice every few steps, the miserable weather seemed somehow appropriate for the beginning of Lent, a season of penitence.

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I did not go to school that morning expecting much. I was frustrated by the three-inch thick sheets of ice I literally pried off my car that morning, the five mph I had to drive just to get out of the parking lot, and the broken promise of cleared walkways to the bus stops. Snow was in the forecast for later that day, so I was not planning to stay for the afternoon as a precaution. It was just a matter of getting through the day.

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I knew the midday Ash Wednesday service in the chapel would be the only opportunity I had to go to worship today as my church up the interstate was too snowed in to offer anything this year. Almost reluctantly, I found a seat in the chapel and looked over the order of worship. If you do not know anything about Duke Divinity School, you might know how “high church” we are, which is a nice term for can devolve into worshipful pretension (not always). I do not normally go to  chapel in the Divinity School because it usually feels too forced or preachy for me.

This morning, however, it was preachy that I apparently needed.

Duke_Chapel_snowAfter reading a diatribe from Isaiah where the prophet condemned the people for serving “your own interest on your fast day” (58:3, NRSV) and the discourse from Matthew on the same subject (“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” [6:1]), Chuck Campbell, one of our preaching professors, gave a heart wrenching sermon. He read the passage from Matthew again and asked, “What if we took Jesus seriously?” We all sort of laughed because it is genuinely funny that on Ash Wednesday (“when you perform the most public act of piety you will perform in your entire life”) we read Matthew saying, “Beware of practicing your piety before others.” However, Campbell pressed us, “What if we took Jesus seriously?”

The room quieted as Campbell told us as soon as we left the service to go and wipe off our ashes. The proposition was jarring at first. Why? Why remove what is most likely our own public act as Christians? Campbell continued to say that the ashed cross did not mean in Durham what it was supposed to mean. If we walked out of the Divinity School today with crosses on our foreheads, it would be a reminder to our Muslim sisters and brothers that we can worship publicly and they cannot. It would be a reminder to them that our worship is protected and our worship can proceed uninhibited or at least protected. When they saw the ash on our heads and heard the hymns chime for worship at our gargantuan chapel, they would know who had the power. They would know who was in charge. The cross on our foreheads would not be a symbol of mercy, hospitality, friendship, love, or peace. It would be a symbol of exclusion, dominance, and privilege.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others.”

Continue reading “The Ashes of Privilege”

How Star Wars Helps Me Understand the New Testament

Star Wars

This little article started as a series of conversations I have had with a fellow seminarian (now ordained reverend!) who hopes to one day teach an introduction to New Testament literature using pop culture analogies to explain its origins and functions. I do hope that course someday comes to fruition, and if you ever come across a Dr. Coyle-Carr teaching a course called “Comic Books and the Gospels” or something, I do suggest you take it. These conversations grew in my mind to bring together two of my great loves, two of the great influences on me as a person, and two of the defining forces of my childhood: the New Testament and Star Wars.
Avinash Arora made this. It’s actually a huge mosaic. Hover over the image for his website address.

I grew up many years after the words “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” appeared on screen. I grew up many more years after the words “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) dripped off the tip of a pen. I think that is a valuable insight to begin this self-indulgent discussion of mine. In both cases, with Star Wars and the New Testament, the media that has had such a profound impact on my life is not my own and it was not written to me. I am an inheritor of a tradition (as foolish as it may sound when it comes to Star Wars) that was not addressed to me. I should come to this tradition, then, as a humble outsider called to the truth within. I cannot handle that truth with my hands and possess it — it is there speaking to me. It is up to me to hear what it has to say and to choose whether to listen. That doesn’t mean the tradition cannot be subject to critique, but it does mean that I need to come to it with a bit more humility than I am accustomed to having in our world. I can’t tread the text like its mine alone and there to serve my interests. That’s probably a bit too sacred an approach to Star Wars and not nuanced enough for Scripture, but, hey, this is a novelty article.

Speaking of novelty. What the heck is this?!
Speaking of novelty. What the heck is this?!

I decided to write this piece because as Christians we are rarely familiar with the origins of our own sacred texts. We are so unfamiliar that when someone confronts us with those origins, it can send us into a spiral of panicky doubt and hysteria. Look no further than responses to Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code), Reza Aslan (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth), or Bart Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted among others). Christians respond with uninformed denial that has contributed to a cottage industry of so-called “apologetics” that have less to do with scholarship than the Star Wars movies. Christians need to know where there texts came from, at least in a general sense, and what has been done with them. It is not as threatening as it may sound depending on who is explaining it. It’s definitely not as bad as Jar Jar Binks or the musical scene added to Return of the Jedi.

If you’re interested in Star Wars or the New Testament, this article is for you. If you’re interested in both, definitely read on — hopefully this will be a fun ride. If you haven’t the slightest interest in Star Wars or the New Testament, I’m sorry. At least one of those will make your life a great deal more enjoyable. I might even make promises about both. So, without further ado, let’s start at the beginning.

Continue reading “How Star Wars Helps Me Understand the New Testament”