Choosing not to vote connects me to the incorruptible power of God versus social movements and politicians who use the “power of the people” as a weapon to overcome their enemies. Voting takes my mind off God and puts it on human influence. Human decisions matter a great deal to God, but she isn’t caught off guard by them and can easily make a way–even if it seems hopeless–maybe especially at our weakest moments.
In complete freedom, God defends the weak and afflicted in our world; no political compromises or voting is necessary for her power to move forward. Truth and trust are the key components for us in humanity. Without these gifts of the Spirit, no one remains faithful to one another when it really matters. It’s so easy to scapegoat the vulnerable and anyone, in society’s view, deemed expendable. So I stand with Jesus who cried out as he was executed by the state, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” I open myself to the consequences of telling the awful truth and putting my life into God’s hands.
Choosing not to vote places me outside of the influence-making realm, which is good, if simply because I’ll be standing with the ones who are most vulnerable to the consequences of democracy’s terrible choices. I may not presently share in all the consequences *yet*, but that can’t be my excuse to seek out more powerful tools to get the job done. Just like I don’t want to gain monetary wealth in order to achieve a greater community good, I wouldn’t want political power to achieve the goals of human flourishing. Instead, I’m willing to remain politically poor in order to challenge artificial boundaries and witness to power from the margins. Obviously, no one does this perfectly but it still seems like a beautiful way to challenge the present status quo.
“No one is born white. There is no white biology…White agency and subjectivity–whiteness–forms as people imagine themselves being transformed and moving toward maturity in three fundamental ways: 1) moving from being owned to being an owner, 2) from being a stranger to a citizen, and 3) from being identified with darkness to being seen as white.” (35:57-37:46)
I like so many quotes from this interview, but here’s one that stood out to me right now:
“It’s an absolutely urgent matter for us as a church to help liberate our people from all forms of oppression and I can hardly think of any form of oppression more devastating than white supremacy…It’s difficult to follow Jesus into a life of poverty, for instance, if all that you’ve been taught is that poverty is a curse. And that poverty goes against your birthright as a white person. Or your birthright as an immigrant that’s trying to live the American Dream, which again is just a euphemism for white supremacy. So liberating Christians from that kind of imperial ideology–this false ideology–into the naturalness [of] what Jesus teaches about the fluidity of community and our connection to the natural world, I think has nothing short of a revolutionary effect on people who begin to understand this.”
The sin of Whiteness is not really about skin tone, but about hubris and domination. The sin of Patriarchy is not really about birth assignment, but about greed and violence. Both sins are endlessly entangled in our modern idolatry of White Men.
Flame in the Night is a YA novel based on a real-life French community in the throes of Nazi occupation. It fictionalizes the community members who helped organize an elaborate (and illegal) network to hide WWII refugees (mostly Jewish children). This is Heather Munn’s third installment in her series about the village and people of Chambon-sur-Lignon. I’ve read the first two novels as well and really liked all of them, but this third book is especially haunting.
If you’ve ever prayed for peace and at the same time wondered how you would respond if your loved one or your community was under threat, these stories will reveal something to you. Not just about violence and war, but also about internal conflicts that arise in humans who face their own fear and yet continue to feel vulnerable. You’ll find characters whose motives run the gamut. Some want revenge. Some want to stop the evil, even if they can’t heal it. Some simply want to care for the ones they love. All throughout, many more quietly help in whatever way they can. They risk arrest and deportation. Some face their own death. They know the threats are real.
Author, Heather Munn, treats these courageous and hard-won stories with a kindness that allows her character’s to speak for themselves. She opens up space for conversation beyond the simple scripts and, in that way, sets this book apart among young adult fiction. She is especially good when witnessing to how young people hold onto meaningful choices in the midst of their pain, something all of us desperately need to believe is possible. For instance, take one of the story’s heroines, a young Jewish woman by the name of Elisa Schulmann. Munn writes, “She drew the sharp knife down the stone, praying again for mercy, for justice, for no more death.” Even as Elisa contemplates their untenable life in hiding, her brief prayer is wholehearted and complex.
Without being preachy or trite, this story invites the reader to take action and to do so in a way that is uncompromising. These characters believe that ordinary people, in all of their complicated mess, can stand with and shelter the vulnerable. That when there’s sin and darkness–and even a president who is deporting citizens of the world into places of danger and violence–we can all do something about it. (By the way, the actual French town depicted in the book continues to take in displaced families today. The Smithsonian Magazine recently did a wonderful job reporting on it.) Flame in the Night is a bright witness to grace in these dark moments of our history.
I began to realize the enormity of my addiction to whiteness when I spent the summer in Lubbock, Texas. I was 20 years-old and still getting used to my new west Texas surroundings. My older brother ran a sales office in town and offered to train me in the business. As I walked from my car into the office that day, I noticed a disheveled and gray-haired black man shuffling toward a pickup truck in the parking lot. He reached into the bed and grabbed a leaf blower. It probably only took half a second for me to see this happen and then decide that this man looked suspicious. I’m not usually one to intervene in potentially risky situations, but this thought persisted. In any case, I walked over and asked him if that leaf blower was his. The man simply replied, “Yes,” and then he kept moving things around in the back of the pickup. At that point I looked around and asked, “Is this your truck?”
The man must have ignored me because from there I can only remember going into my brother’s office. I told my brother about this “homeless-looking guy” who might be stealing yard equipment out of a truck in the parking lot. Even before I finished explaining it to him, I saw his face kind of contort, staring at me in this pained way. He then quietly said that this man probably owned that truck and was likely working at his job. He instructed me not to go outside anymore and to leave that man alone.
Hearing my brother cast doubt on my assumptions was enough for me to feel pretty moronic and, given a little time, deeply ashamed. I can now see how whiteness made it quite easy to act on a racial stereotype about a man who had done nothing wrong and then made it easy for me to just move on after my racist assumptions without even an apology. This new awareness of my own prejudice came through loud and clear, yet I still had trouble fitting it in with the image of myself as a nice and helpful person. Perhaps my history inside whiteness encouraged me to take action in the first place, to imagine myself as a noble and courageous citizen rather than a young and light-skinned visitor with racial prejudice. Awareness about this poisonous air that we breathe seems to develop in people over time. At least that’s been the case for me. My own awareness grew little by little.
This story is precisely why, even today, I need a spiritual recovery program similar to the motif of the 12 steps. I need to reclaim my own best intentions, to find a community of people who have learned to overcome whiteness, and to recognize every day seeds of beloved community in our midst. Without God’s grace and my growing awareness about the lies I once believed, whiteness would only continue to inflict more and more damage.
So here I am making another attempt at translating my grandfather’s little A.A. book into a message of hope for people like me who have too much privilege and want real liberation:
FEB. 27–A.A. Thought for the Day
When we came into recovery, the first thing we did was to admit that we couldn’t do anything about our whiteness. We admitted that this racist system had us licked and that we were helpless against it. We never could decide whether or not to accept its privilege. We always took the advantages conferred. And since we couldn’t do anything about it ourselves, we put our whole whiteness problem into the hands of God. We turned the whole thing over to that Power greater than ourselves. And we have nothing more to do about it, except to trust God to take care of the problem for us. Have I done this honestly and fully?
March 9 –A.A. Thought for the Day
If we had absolute faith in the power of God to keep us from the lies of whiteness and if we turned our privilege problem entirely over to God without reservations, we wouldn’t have to do anything more about it. We’d be free from privilege once and for all. But since our faith is apt to be weak, we have to strengthen and build up this faith. We do this in several ways. One way is by going to meetings and listening to others tell how they have found all the strength they need to overcome their addiction to whiteness. Is my faith being strengthened by this personal witness of people addicted to whiteness?
Now the rest of the story is up to each of us to tell. We can’t very well move forward without first taking personal inventory of all the damage we’ve done in our addiction. We need to help others feel that there is a real way out. What story is yours to offer?
Privilege is our weakness. We suffer from mental conflicts from which we look for escape by drowning our problems in excess. We try through feelings of superiority to push away from the realities of life. But privilege does not feed, privilege does not build, it only borrows from the future and it ultimately destroys. We try to drown our feelings in order to escape life’s realities, little realizing or caring that in continued accumulation we are only multiplying our problems. Have I got control over my unstable emotions?
This “Thought for the Day” from my grandfather’s little A.A. book was originally written about the weakness of alcohol. Like my previous post, I changed a few words to get at its meaning for us who live in privilege. I hope the original content shines through in spite of my editing, as it has proven to be spiritual gold for folks all over the place.
The next day’s entry (June 25th) goes on to say, “One of the most encouraging facts of life is that your weakness can become your greatest asset.” So true! If only we had this program and its resources for those of us who feel licked by an addiction to social advantages. Maybe it’s time to start one…