I went to a vigil in Balch Springs for Jordan Edwards last week. It was everything you would want a vigil to be- beautiful and sad and moving and comforting. Like most, I was horrified by Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice’s deaths. I have been deeply affected before by deaths caused by police brutality, but there is something about standing in a crowd of teenagers who are mourning the loss of their friends, of driving down the streets that Jordan drove, being within driving distance of such a tragedy.
I’ve been a wreck.
I lost it at the vigil, cried all the way home, cry about it any time anyone mentions it. I’m disturbed by the way that the media is making Jordan’s death tragic because he was a straight-and-narrow kid, an A student, a star athlete. Jordan’s death isn’t tragic because he was a good kid. Jordan’s death is tragic because he’s a person and he did nothing to deserve to die.
I say this fearfully, as the mother of a brown-skinned boy who often isn’t a straight-and-narrow kid, who is almost always impulsive, often has a sass mouth, who gets obstinate and defiant when he’s scared. In the same situation, what picture would the media paint of my kid? What kind of dirt could they dig up on him to justify violence against him at the hands of the state? Why do I have to talk about this situation with my 12-year-old? Why does any parent?
I’m a wreck.
I realized just yesterday that I’ve been undergoing a paradigm shift over the past three years ago. I mean, it’s evident that my worldview has changed. I’ve become aware of systemic racism and it’s affect on those around me. What I haven’t done is take stock of how that worldview has affected my faith.
I found myself on Sunday morning sitting in the back pew of Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church down in South Dallas. I was one of two white people in a group of about 60 people. I was there because I had realized that I needed, like needed, to hear what God had to say to a hurting community. I needed to hear what God has to say about the systems and forces that caused Jordan’s death.
“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17
White evangelicalism has only given me a framework for understanding a personal relationship with Jesus. Every sermon, every Bible study, was all about how whatever the text was applied to me, personally. The only systemic issue I even remotely remember being addressed was the redemption of creation and even then, it was rare. No, my spiritual upbringing was exclusively focused on ensuring that I, personally, had a good relationship with God. Everything boiled down to the individual. Sure, we talked about going out into the world and making disciples, but even disciple-making is one individual discipling another individual. Nothing systemic there.
I’m going to call this understanding of faith my micro-framework (small picture, just Jesus and me). Or…my old wineskins.
What I’ve realized, after this three year process, is that this micro-framework isn’t cutting it any more. Truth be told, the old wineskins burst several years ago and I just didn’t realize it. I had too many new thoughts. I was too angry, too eager to see real change, to see that I was also having a crisis of faith. I had a new worldview- one that acknowledges and longs to address the deep-seeded systemic issues, one that wants to redeem whole systems instead of just individual people. I still have no idea how to integrate this new worldview (macro-framework, big picture) with my faith (micro-framework, small picture).
I have had new wine and old wineskins.
Unbeknownst to me, I’ve been keeping my new, still-fermenting wine in the most readily available container- something like a used L’Oreal bottle. I didn’t know what I was missing, you know? I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The visual in my head of what’s currently happening is that I’m rushing around with this bubbling, about-to-burst shampoo bottle of new wine, trying to find new wineskins, and all I can find are old wineskins.
“Just pray. Read your Bible. Get right with God. Talk to other Christians. Spend some quiet time. Stop being so divisive (cause what you’re saying makes me uncomfortable).”
That’s it. I’m a wreck and those are all the tools in my toolbox and they aren’t cutting it. The micro-framework doesn’t pass muster. My old wineskins aren’t working anymore.
Quite frankly, at this point, I’m so thirsty for the gospel as it applies to the macro-framework, the big picture, the systems of oppression, that I don’t want to hear one more thing about micro-framework.
I don’t want to quibble about whether yoga pants or modest or not. I want to know what God’s plan is to redeem shitty, poorly-funded educational systems are.
I don’t want to read another thinkpiece arguing that Rob Bell is not a Christian. I want to see our justice system actually be, you know, just. I want to see the end of mass incarceration and police brutality.
I cannot stomach another social media frenzy where Christians get their panties in a wad because some business supports a gay rights organization. I want to see God’s will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. I want to see oppressive systems destroyed. I want to see mountains moved, foundations shaken. I want to see God’s kingdom come.
Theology that’s just for me isn’t good enough anymore. I want to know what this biblical passage also says to marginalized people. I want to know what it says to the systems that oppress groups.
I have new wine and I need new wineskins.
So I ended up in that back pew of Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. on Sunday, baby in tow, desperate for new wineskins, needing to learn how to start faithfully building a new framework, one that incorporates the micro and the macro framework.
Reverend Waters did not disappoint. The text he discussed was John 9:1-3 and he preached about how this text applies to us as individuals and he preached about systems of oppression, the same systems that led to Jordan’s death. And I sat at the back and felt a little weight lift off my shoulders. The hope that he was preaching to his community is available to me too.
Let’s say it took me 20 years to really get a handle on my old wineskins, to really feel like I had some level of maturity and mastery in them. So, I imagine that these new wineskins will take lots of work and lots of time. I’m going to have to get outside the theology that I’m most comfortable with, mostly the theology of old, dead white guys. I need to learn to read the Bible through a different lens, one that can give me hope about God’s plan for dismantling systems.
I’m still a wreck. My new wineskins aren’t ready to hold much weight yet, but they will be some day.
I have new wine and, some day, I will have new wineskins.
(Strangely enough, someone posted this article on facebook and, I could just erase everything I’ve written here and share the link, because, woah. Yes, ma’am.)
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