The prophecy of Isaiah 61 is being fulfilled right now. We are in the midst of an apocalypse – a great unveiling of the way things really are. And we who once were blind can no longer live as if we do not see. Prophets are crying out in our streets daily, #letmelive #Icantbreathe #BlackLivesMatter and freedom is on the horizon. Will the church partner with God to usher in release for the captives? Will the church embody Good News for the oppressed? How will the history books tell the story of the church in this era? The following is the transcript of S5E1, “We’re NOT Making America Great Again.”
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of the Lord,
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.
Because their shame was double,
and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
therefore they shall possess a double portion;
everlasting joy shall be theirs.
For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
Do you remember in the story of Jesus according to Luke, when Jesus goes to his hometown and goes where all the religious people are gathered and he preaches from this text? He stood in front of a crowd of people he grew up with, and he took a scroll of scripture and started preaching. He recited the first couple of verses of this section of Isaiah, the part about good news for the oppressed, and binding up the brokenhearted. The part about liberty for the captives, release for the prisoners, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.
Do you remember how the people responded? At first they were like – wait. We know this guy, don’t we? I think he grew up around the corner from me. Wow he’s really come a long way. Look at how educated he is. What a great speaker he is. This guy can preach!
They’re impressed because they think he’s affirming them. They think he’s saying what they want to hear. They *think* he’s reciting a prophecy about *their* liberation. YES! We are sick of being under Roman rule. We love being reminded of God’s promise to liberate us from foreign rule. Amen, and how long, o Lord?
And Jesus senses that they’re misunderstanding and he has to say more. He has to keep going because the fulfillment of this prophecy is not about their liberation. This good news about release from captivity and freedom from oppression – it isn’t for them. It’s about them, but they have it backwards. *They* are the oppressors.
He’s reinterpreting these words from the prophet Isaiah, and now this is a prophecy against them. Jesus says – I came to free these people you’ve been oppressing. I came to liberate people you’ve been holding captive. You, with your rules and regulations, imposing an unbearable burden on people. You, with your purity code and setting yourselves apart – your segregation. Your division. Your misguided belief that you’re better than everyone else. Your faulty belief that your ethnicity has set you apart as special and chosen and holier and better.
No. You are the oppressors. And I have come to call this out. To liberate those you have been oppressing. To proclaim good news, and to take action to bring about their freedom.
What do we do with Isaiah 61? What do we do with Jesus’ repetition of this prophecy? How might we hear these words today?
How do YOU hear these words today?
The cries of the oppressed are deafening. The brokenhearted are wailing in the streets. Sometimes we preach in metaphors and figures of speech but this is literal. The wails and cries resound throughout our cities and our nation.
“I can’t breathe.” “Let me live.” “Say their names.” “Black lives matter.”
Do you hear the cries?
This isn’t the first time these cries have gone out, but many of us have ignored them for far too long. The wails and cries have reached a decibel level that can no longer be ignored.
And yet, there is denial.
I am deeply troubled by the deaf ears and the blind eyes. By the tendency of some to say: “No. This isn’t a problem. This is made up. Fake news. Systemic racism isn’t real.”
I am equally troubled by the vitriol coming from both sides–people saying “I’m unfriending you. I’m unfollowing you. I disagree so sharply with an article or comment you shared on social media, that I’ve decided to publicly shame you by announcing my removal of you from my community.” I’ve seen this more than once in the last week and it’s gnawing at me. It’s grating like nails on a chalkboard. How did we get ourselves into this hateful mess?
We are more polarized now as a country than I’ve seen yet in my 40 years.
We are polarized and charged and fragile.
Tensions are skyrocketing. We’re shouting our opinions and beliefs through social media microphones. The powers and principalities that have always been at work in the background are now being openly observed, critiqued, and argued about. Injustices are being called out. Systemic evils are being revealed. Defenses are being raised. Individual and institutional power is being challenged and feels threatened. This is quite an apocalypse.
And in some ways, as horrifying and painful as it is, we need this apocalypse. We need the curtain to be pulled back. We need the veil to be lifted so we can see what is really real. To see the Matrix that’s always been at work behind the facade. Because racial bias and systemic racism didn’t just happen. Black people did not only *recently* begin to suffer violence at the hands of law enforcement or the criminal justice system. The seeds of racism were sown hundreds of years ago, and the weeds have been growing wild and tall ever since. The seeds have been scattered far and wide, so that none of our country appears to be untouched. And at various times when black and brown voices have spoken against this evil, the weeds have been cut back. But the roots grow ever deeper underground. The visible manifestations of racism have morphed and may appear to have improved–we don’t see so many weeds–but the root systems remain vibrant, active, and very much affecting our society.
As a student of the American public education system, I learned about the American history of slavery, emancipation, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. I learned about all of this in broad strokes, and told from the perspective of white people. I think that the history books led me, and perhaps you, to believe that all of this was in the past. That the racial struggle in America was long over. And in particular, in November 2008 I remember crying with relief and happiness that Barack Obama was elected our first Black President. I foolishly believed that our struggle to eradicate racism was nearly over. Not only did I fail to realize that it had largely just shifted underground. I also was unaware of the sheer size of the population who did not *want* to eradicate racism.
Moreover, I did not realize racism wasn’t the only problem. It was not enough to simply consider oneself “not racist,” because you don’t engage in any overtly racist practices or speech. trying to deny the racial biases that exist in all of us. I have to actively work to become anti-racist. It requires some painful confessions. How much have the media’s portrayals of Black and brown criminals being pursued by white heroes infiltrated my subconscious? Is it easier for my sympathy to be stirred over violence against a white body than a Black body? Is my instinct to be surprised–even if pleasantly–when Black and brown people advance to the highest levels of education or authority? I have to interrogate these biases, and root out the evil that lives within me.
I’m of course indebted to the good work of Ibram X. Kendi for introducing me to the idea of anti-racism, and the reality that racism is an evil that must be actively and continuously resisted, pushed against, working to dig out those biases and beliefs that have long and deeply been internalized over a lifetime. I’m also indebted to the work of Austin Channing Brown in “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.” She is not the first to alert me to some of the experiences of Black people – ranging from mildly irritating to outright horrifying. But she is the most recent.
And I confess that although I first heard the term “white privilege” as a freshman in college, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it. I had a professor who talked about how band-aids were made to match the skin tones of white people, and how you could buy a crayon or nylons in the shade of “nude” or “flesh” and that was by default, the color of a white person’s body. It was then that I was introduced to the idea that I inhabited a world made for whiteness. But I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I let it fade into the recesses of my mind.
As a white American woman, I live most of my days blind to my privilege.
I have been blind to how the color of my skin gives rise to the trust and kindness of strangers, rather than suspicion.
How the color of my skin affords me the freedom to walk, run, drive, or shop without fear of being watched, suspected, or arrested.
How I’ve never once thought about talking to my kids about the color of their skin. About how people will treat them because of the color of their skin, or how to avoid trouble with the police.
How I’ve never wondered if I might not get the job because of my skin.
How I’ve never worried I might not be able to rent an apartment because of the color of my skin.
How many years have I spent privileging and prioritizing white voices as authorities?
How much of my knowledge of America’s history has only come from listening to the white-male-colonial-manifest-destiny-bootstrap-theory narrative?
How many years have I spent imagining light skin and blue eyes when I hear the name Jesus?
How many years have I existed, never consciously considering that I inhabit a world made for whiteness, and how this world might be experienced so differently by people with different colors of skin?
It’s not intentional. It’s not malicious. It’s not cause for defensiveness.
That’s not to say there isn’t malicious intent out there, because there absolutely is. Although I once thought we were done with that, there is overt white supremacy and racism in this country. And that must be dealt with as well. But what I’m talking about is blindness. The ways in which white supremacy has slipped under the radar, covertly infecting our systems and institutions, and planting seeds of racial bias.
The ways in which people who have skin color like mine have benefited from this system without even realizing it.
But there are prophets among us who are helping the blind to recover their sight. Who are helping us see the biases that are built into the very fabric of our culture and woven into the recesses of our hearts and minds. The biases that privilege those who like me, are wrapped in white skin, and biases that disenfranchise, oppress, and give rise to violence against those who are wrapped in brown and black skin.
And because those prophets have spoken, we can no longer live in our blindness and say we didn’t know any better. That we didn’t know there was a problem. We can’t pretend to not know any better.
When America herself was a land stolen from her first inhabitants whose very blood was shed for resisting European Colonialism? How can we “make america great again” when America herself was built on the backs of slaves stolen from their homeland? How can we make America great again when her white male founders did not believe in the full value and dignity of every human being? How can we make America great again when the white supremacy that ran through her veins at birth was never squeezed out but just shape shifted from slavery to segregation and Jim Crow to the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration and racial profiling? How can we make America great again when her noble goals and good intentions were overshadowed by her dehumanizing, paternalizing, colonizing, stealing, kidnapping, enslaving, and killing?
We don’t need to make America great again. There is no former glory or perfection that we need to return to. No, we need to turn away from much of our past. We need to recognize it, discuss it, confess and apologize and make amends and offer reparations. We need to repent. We need to heal. And then we need to head in a new direction. We don’t need to make America great again. We need a rebirth.
America has led the way for the church in some important respects. And sometimes the church has taken the lead. But America is not the shining beacon on the hill that she has claimed to be. In fact, she never will be. She is mighty, yes. She has done good in the world, yes. But for those of us who follow the way of Jesus, America is not the beacon on the hill. The church is called to occupy that space. And the church has failed miserably in this respect. I see precious little difference in the state of race relations in the country and the church. We both have a long way to go.
No, right now, neither the church nor America is the shining beacon on the hill. But the world is watching. And what is the world seeing? It’s seeing a country that’s tearing itself apart. People who are screaming past each other, neither one hearing the other. Private citizens and police alike arming themselves with bullets and tear gas to oppose people who are protesting peacefully. A society that’s arguing between fact and opinion. That’s struggling with not “how” but “whether” to grapple with an ugly history that’s well-known but consciously ignored. America and the church – we both have a long way to go.
I’m not naive enough to think this will happen quickly. When it’s in the air we breathe, it’ll take years of hard labor to clear out the pollution. Especially when we don’t all recognize it as pollution. When some among us are happy with the way things are. But this is a place where the church can lead. Where the church can be the light shining on the hill that she was always intended to be. Embodying hope and the ways of Jesus as only she can do.
We have to start the difficult work of dismantling. It’s going to be painful. Especially for those of us who have long benefited from the systems of oppression. Those of us who have enjoyed privileges based on the color of our skin, even if we didn’t know it. It’s going to be hard and painful, but it’s necessary.
There were generations of people enslaved in this country, people whose own grandparents were slaves, and whose grandchildren also became slaves. People whose ancestry in both directions only knew shackles.
It took generations to pull that system apart and we went to war and died for it. But even war couldn’t undo the evil. Our current war, though, is not against other citizens of our nation. Our current war is not against our friends or family who disagree. Our current war is an internal one–in each of our hearts. Our struggle is to open our eyes.
It’s not shouting into submission the Facebook friend who has a different opinion. It’s not screaming “facts” and responding “blind opinions!” The pain we have to go through now is looking back and recognizing privilege, blindness, confessing our ignorance. Admitting the biases that exist deep down, the ones we wish weren’t there but they are. And letting the defenses around those armies fall. Our war is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities. The powers that have planted seeds of prejudice–whether we helped to plant them or we inherited them–we have to pull out the roots. Our war now is to dig them up, root them out, make sure they never grow there again.
Listening is a good start. Learning is critical. But we also have to take action. Because the Year of the Lord’s Favor has been proclaimed. Release for the captives, liberation for those oppressed. Good news for the poor and recovery of sight for the blind. The year of the lord’s favor is here – it has been ushered in and it’s not going away.
The prophets have spoken and are indeed continuing to speak. Church, how will we respond? How will the history books tell this story? Where is your place in it? May the scales fall from your eyes, you who are blind. May you who are in captivity walk in freedom. May we together engage in the long, hard work of dismantling the racism and white supremacy that are infecting our country and the church.
May it be so.
S5E1: “We’re NOT Making America Great Again” with Dr. Jen Hale Christy
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
PreacHer: Dr. Jen Hale Christy
Summary: The prophecy of Isaiah 61 is being fulfilled right now. We are in the midst of an apocalypse – a great unveiling of the way things really are. And we who once were blind can no longer live as if we do not see. Prophets are crying out in our streets daily, #letmelive #Icantbreathe #BlackLivesMatter and freedom is on the horizon. Will the church partner with God to usher in release for the captives? Will the church embody Good News for the oppressed? How will the history books tell the story of the church in this era?
Resources + Social Media Handles:
- All of Jen Hale Christy’s Links
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