How then shall we live (this theology)?

Painting of Jesus at New Hope

A painting at New Hope–a historically multiethnic church–picturing “doubting” Thomas moving towards Jesus’ wounds


As I’m writing this, this day marks the one-week anniversary of a tragedy in the world’s history. On June 17, 2015, in an act of domestic terrorism, a white supremacist entered into God’s house in Charleston and brutally killed nine of our sisters and brothers. Judas communed in the house of the Lord, Christ was betrayed, Christ was lynched, and Christ was crucified yet again.

How long, O Lord?

In a time of crisis, mourning, anger, and confusion, New Hope Church began its Sunday service creating time and space for us to lament the murders in Charleston–another injustice against our black brothers and sisters. As the leader spoke the liturgy, she began to softly weep.

We cry out to you, oh Lord 
Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, heads spinning 
The violence in our streets has come into your house 
The hatred in our cities has crept into your sanctuary 
The brokenness in our lives has broken into your temple 
The dividing wall of hostility has crushed our brothers and sisters 
We cry out to you, May your Kingdom come, may it be on earth as it is in heaven”

(Read the full liturgy here.)

For the first time in my life, I was prompted in a church, along with the rest of the congregation, to repent of white supremacy, the greedy capitalistic nature of America, and our harmful silence. We cried, we asked why; it was a sacred place of mourning. In those moments some of my long held cynicisms of the church melted away as I caught a glimpse of what church could be.

Millennials like me are not aching for a “relevant” church that has a hipster worship band, a pastor who talks about who won the Super Bowl, and a cool fair-trade coffee shop. Saturated in consumerism from the womb, we quickly become suspicious when we think people are trying to sell us something. Many are aching for a real church that doesn’t pretend to have all of the answers, that rather has a pastor who is bold enough to call on us to boycott the Super Bowl because it was declared by the Texas attorney general the largest human trafficking event in America. We crave a church that will call us not just to right thinking (orthodoxy) but will also to right action (orthopraxy) so we may live out our theology.

Now that we have read all of the articles posted to Facebook and are officially “orthodox” in our nuanced arguments, how do we live out our theology in the wake of Charleston? In a “race, gender, and class” small group in Oakland we mourned, we shook with anger, we stood in awe of the families who forgave, and yet we had zero conception of what we could actually do. We cannot forget; that is all we know. We are afraid to forgive because we are afraid to forget.

I was a student at U.Va. last year when fellow student and friend Hannah Graham was murdered. Shortly after, a (heinous and later retracted) Rolling Stone article gruesomely detailed a gang rape at a frat house. The year ended with a white ABC officer brutalizing a black student. We moved from dialogue and action around issues of violence, to issues of violence against women, to issues of race and…well, finals happened and we had tests to take. I’ve experienced how easy it is to cognitively disassociate in light of emotional overload. I know how easy it is to be distracted by the next breaking news story because we just can’t deal with what is in front of us.

This is what is in front of us and we cannot forget it. The church cannot let us forget it: a “post-racial, color-blind society” is not only deeply offensive and impossible, it is dangerous. Our racism has been deeply embedded in our subconscious and is the economic and social backbone of our structures. We have slyly transitioned from, in the words of John Powell, “malevolent actions to benevolent oppressive structures.” To my horror, I learned that millennials are no less racist than previous generations. Yet our racism is more subversive because we have an implicit bias that generally goes unrecognized. Even though I’m a liberal Californian college student, I must consider myself the rule, not the exception of millennials. If everyone considers themselves to be the exception, nothing will change.

I must be confronted with my own racial prejudices.

I must first listen to Paul and take captive my thoughts every day. Every day. I must acknowledge my social capital, constructed from 200 years of white supremacy. I must repent of my thoughts, conscious and subconscious. I must then take up the cross through rejecting the privilege I have been given at the expense of my sisters and brothers (or learning how to use it to benefit all).

I don’t want to cognitively disassociate, especially when others don’t have that privilege. I really don’t know the alternative, but I think it might look something like: lamenting, prayer, navel gazing, conversation, messing up, flipping tables Jesus-style, more lamenting, working with integrity in corrupt structures, running from my echo chamber where everyone is just like me, grace for those I want to hate, shouting in protests, ethically consuming, failing again, visiting the incarcerated, lamenting, daily repenting of my sexism and racism and classism, corporate prayer, being a bold killjoy when a sexist joke is made, anxiety, marching to remove the confederate flag while knowing that marching is not enough, recognizing that only God can bring justice yet I have been ordained to do it, doubting, and finally, falling at God’s feet in humility. 

We cannot stop trying even though we are going to fail. For to stop trying is to deny our sisters and brothers, and to deny them is to deny God.

I learned something valuable in the body of Christ this past morning in church. I learned the necessity of being confronted with my own racial prejudices particularly within a multiethnic church. I participated in lived theology as a church, a living chaotic body that mysteriously communes together with the Lord. As a structure we were able to acknowledge our broken world, our broken bodies, collectively repent, accept grace, and begin to turn away from our sin. That is the goodness of the church; it has power as a corporate body, given life through individuals, to enact radical change in ourselves and as a body.

The Church has this power. Every week. Far too often we are too cynical, hardhearted, disenchanted, (insert adjective here) to imagine the possibility of genuine individual and structural change. So we half-ass our confessions and repentances, and as a result we cannot help but half-ass working towards the kingdom of God. And people wonder why millennials are leaving the church for humanitarian agencies.

The liturgy ended with a fierce proclamation of love:

We declare together, oh Lord 
With hearts breaking, eyes weeping and souls stirring 
We will continue to stand and cry and weep with our brothers and sisters 
We will continue to make a place of peace for even the enemies at our table 
We will continue to open our doors and our hearts to those who enter them 
We will continue to seek to forgive as we have been forgiven 
We will continue to love in Jesus’ name because you taught us that love conquers all.

We declare our love for you, our Sisters 
We declare our love for you, our Brothers 
We declare our love for you, their families 
We declare our love as one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism 
We declare they do not grieve alone today.