A Middle-Eastern Hue
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
Being born white in the central part of the United States, it is no surprise I was raised with a white Jesus. I was raised with a Caucasian, male God, too. The images came from artist’s renderings, along with an unspoken assumption that we white folks were God’s chosen people, just as the Israelites believed themselves to be God’s chosen people of old. The whiteness of God was not anything I challenged; it just was what it was. My upbringing was not anything consciously intended to hurt those of other ethnicities. It was simply a product of being raised white in a very white culture. It also laid the foundation for my racism.
While I understand, intellectually, the conscious and subconscious pain a white God causes those of other races, I cannot pretend to know how deep that pain goes. Millions of African-Americans were forced from their homes and away from everything and everyone familiar to be sold into slavery in America. The indigenous, nomadic peoples of my homeland were forced off the lands that had supported them for countless generations onto pitifully inadequate and constricting reservations where they could no longer carry on life as they knew it. My western-European ancestors claimed this land as their own. For them, America was the new Promised Land, and no sacrifice was too great to make it so, even when that sacrifice denied and destroyed the personhood of others.
It is not my intent to tear down us white folks, but we cannot appreciate the deep-seated suffering that continues to divide us along racial and cultural lines without acknowledging our history of and our participation in, if only indirectly, the gross injustices of the past. Like any deeply repressed memory, it oozes to the surface at inconvenient times, manifesting as poorly understood hatred and violence. Because there is no safe place to hide, the problem belongs to us all. One starting point for healing, in my opinion, is for people like me to acknowledge that God is not white, and Caucasian is not God’s chosen race (any more than any other race).
It is not that my ancestors were bad people. They were mostly good people acting on mistaken beliefs. They used whatever means seemed necessary to attain their end of developing a self-proclaimed, God-given Promised Land for their purposes. Unfortunately and too often, the means were violent and oppressive. The end, however, is justified by whatever means are required when we believe we are carrying out the work of God. The weight of that generations-old oppression still sits heavily on the backs of too many of our brothers and sisters, mostly beneath their conscious awareness. Those of us who are descendants of the oppressors still bear the guilt, if subconsciously, and the healing must begin with us. While I do not know what forms of healing will be required to transform this pervasive wounding, I believe the first step is acknowledgement of my indirect culpability and the benefits that have accrued directly to me because of the unjust actions of my ancestors. “White privilege” is real, and I must own it.
Jesus, God in human form, was born into what we call the Middle East. His skin color certainly reflected that of his neighbors (i.e., not white). He would have appeared with neither the dark skin typical of the African peoples to the south, nor the light skin common to the Scandinavian races to the north. Rather, Jesus would have been a blend of those colors. In addition, the Middle East was a blending of cultures. The Western cultures came to practice mostly Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The Eastern peoples tended more towards Hinduism and Buddhism. Jesus lived at the crossroads of humankind, inclusive of and accessible to all. Honestly, where else would we expect God to appear? He blended cultures and hues because his Father, our God, creates and loves them all. Thus, there is a Middle-Eastern hue to the face of God. As Paul tells the Galatians, we are united as one in Christ. Our challenge is how to honor the many and varied hues of God with the love and respect accorded them as fellow and equal children of our one God. That is where the healing will begin.
Note: this is the 23rd in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.