Natasha to Trillia: This section (Chapters 4-6) is packed with so much pertinent information that I do not know where to begin. Piper traces American history to explain why he gives prominence to black-white relationships in the book. That history reveals, “The black faces are used to make the white people a pile of money by making blacks look foolish (65).” What troubles me is this same formula is still being used to oppress black people today, and sometimes we are our own worse culprits. I’m thinking of everything from reality television, the destruction of black people through hip hop, the negative impact of much of BET’s programming, and the images displayed through movies and the internet. As Christians in this cultural environment, how can we redeem these images?
I wrote a research paper in college where I looked through various magazines and traced the images of African Americans. I calculated the number of times I saw a black man or woman and what activity they were doing, portraying or being featured for. It was telling. If my memory serves me correctly, the images portrayed were that of an athlete, musician, and actor. Those are the images being sold to a watching and listening audience. But I want to address your second point, “we are our own worse culprits.”
When I read your question my first response was to pray “Lord, we don’t need a better image, we need a better object of worship.” All of those cultural things you mention are worldly. James has a strong message for those involved in the world: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God, (James 4:4 ESV).” The world and all it offers can be an object of worship.
The images on television and the music that degrades Black people made by some Black artists are packed with lies. Lies that say this is the better way. Lies that tell our hearts and the hearts of young black kids, this is the life. I recently read Trip Lee’s new book The Good Life. His book addresses the issue of the world’s lies and how it can entice us. I’m thankful for hip hop artists like Lee who are packing out stadiums filled with young people eager to rap along to grace-filled, theologically rich music.
There is a stark difference between these men (Trip Lee, Lecrae) and the men and women being paraded in the media. Trip Lee, Lecrae, and many artists like them are crossing barriers into mainstream. Their images will begin to change the face, so to speak, of the stereotyped African-American. But more importantly, they are spreading the fame and renown of Christ!
And it is only when our hearts are captivated by Christ that we are truly bearing the right image. Until then it doesn’t matter what it is in the media—it doesn’t matter what type of reputation we have as a people. What we need is a revival. We need a revival in the hearts of people everywhere. We need a revival in the Black church. Let’s pray for revival so that we will know Christ and that his image would spread.
Trillia to Natasha: Dr. Piper writes “Racial tensions are rife with pride—the pride of white supremacy, the pride of black power, the pride of intellectual analysis, the pride of anti-intellectual scorn, the pride of loud verbal attack, and the pride of despising silence, the pride that feels secure, and the pride that masks fear (Location 1266 Kindle Edition).”
What do you think he was addressing or more personally, what do you think would be the pride that feels secure and the pride that masks fears? How do we grow in humility and fight this pride?
Fundamentally, I agree that pride is the root of racial tension and racism. Actually, pride was at the root of all sin. I should begin there with the confession that we are all guilty and “yes” we do need a revival. At the end of the day, pride is about my wanting to take God’s place and the arrogance of believing that I know more than God. I just finished reading Stuart Scott’s resource, “From Pride to Humility: A Biblical Perspective.” In it he writes, “Prideful people believe that they are or should be the source of what is good, right and worthy of praise. They also believe that they, by themselves, are (or should be) the accomplisher of anything that is worthwhile to accomplish, and that they should certainly be the benefactor of all things. In essence, they are believing that all things should be from them, through them, and to them or for them: Pride is competitive towards others, and especially towards God (5).” Who among us is not guilty of this sin? Is anybody casting stones? I don’t share this to let us all off the hook; I share this to face the reality of how far we have fallen.
Fallen images need redeeming, and it is a good thing whenever we can redeem those images. Ultimately, we know that Christ is the only redeemer and he alone changes people from the inside out. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17 [NIV])!” And we also know that we are all humans made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), which means there is some good in even the worst of us, which I why I don’t simply divide the conversation into a scared or secular context.
As we face the reality of tensions between living in the now (those who have been saved and redeemed by Christ’s perfect redemptive work on the cross) and the not yet (as we still faithfully await his return), we understand that as Christians, we live as strangers in this world. As long as we remain on earth, we have responsibilities to store up our treasures in Heaven and we have responsibilities while here on earth. I believe part of our earthly responsibilities as redeemed image bearers of God is to replace false and fallen images with images that reveal God’s light, goodness, and truth (Matt. 5:13-16).
Dr. Piper references Carl Ellis’s book Free at Last: The Gospel in the African-American Experience highlighting, “Black is truly beautiful, but not beautiful as a good. As a god it is too small.” Such is the case with pride—we take something good and turn it into a supreme thing, an idol. We should guard our hearts against such things and we should not automatically assume that such statements are always a source of pride to feel secure or mask fears. We can acknowledge that throughout American history, the image of black people by-in-large has been fallen and negative, and replacing those fallen images with images that are beautiful, honoring to black people and the God who created them as such, is a good thing.
When I make a statement like, “I love being a Black woman,” it is not an indication that I dislike any other ethnic group. It is simply my embracing the truth that I am God’s image bearer and he has allowed me to experience this reality as an African American woman. When I honor God with my words, choices, and actions, I do so as an African American woman. Before people know my faith or theological positions, they see me as an African American woman. The reality is, based on interactions with me, people will and do project “my” image onto other African American women. That’s why it’s important for me to discuss the images depicted. Bearing God’s image well requires that we look for, and dare I say create images that honor God and his diverse creation of all people.
Growing from pride to humility is a process, at least for me. I don’t have all the answers for that question. I will say, I studied the topic of humbly earlier in the year and there is a sharp contrast between those who humbled themselves before the Lord and those the Lord humbled. I don’t want to be humbled by God. I want to regularly humble myself before the Lord and trust that he will lift me up (James 4:10). Humbling myself sometimes means closing my mouth. It certainly includes prayer and sometimes fasting. Concerning the topic of racial reconciliation, I believe growing in humility requires grace to ask questions, grace to live unassuming, grace to intently listen to other people without feeling the need to support or defend, and grace for a safe place of non-judgmental honesty about those areas of fear and insecurity. It requires confession and the willingness to try, and fail, and try again when seeking racial reconciliation.
Concerning racial reconciliation, what are your thoughts on reclaiming fallen images, pride and humility?
© Trillia Newbell and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012 #RacialRec