*Excerpts*, VOLUME 12

Bryan Loritts – An Invitation to Life Together

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Insider Outsider:
My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism
and My Hope for Us All

Bryan Loritts

Paperback: Zondervan, 2018
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An Invitation
to Life Together

 
The slain corpse of Michael Brown has decimated the myth that we live in a post-racial society. The election of our nation’s first African-American president did not end racism. In many ways, we witnessed a fresh proliferation of conflicts between people of color and whites, the powerless and the powerful. In the aftermath of Brown’s demise, there have been riots in his hometown, as well as on social media. In the Christian community, the commentary has likewise been combustible, as one side has appealed to the “facts” of the case— Michael Brown had just stolen some cigars and could very well have been the aggressor—and the other side has spoken out of a deep well of hurt, dug for more than four hundred years with the shovels of racism and institutionalized segregation, where the value of a black life was on a par with that of a horse. So as Michael Brown’s body lay abandoned for hours on a street in Ferguson, Missouri, like some run-over possum or deer, it’s more than understandable that African Americans began to wonder, “What exactly is the value of a black life?”


If you are looking for objectivity from my hand as I write, in many ways you will not find it. I am a follower of Jesus Christ who happens to be an African American, and because of this, there is a cultural filter by which I interpret the Michael Browns, Alton Sterlings, and Trayvon Martins of the world. This is what I mean by hermeneutic—it is a way we interpret the world. I have one, and so do you.

African Americans have often been drawn to the nation of Israel, seeing in the ancient Jews parallels of hope. It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on the eve of his assassination, who in his final speech likened himself to Moses, and the African-American experience to the sojourn of Israel. On the other hand, if one is affluent and white, it will be hard for them to immediately see the need to engage in justice, since this well-to-do narrative is triumphalistic and diminishes the realities of unjust systems and structures. Many Eastern cultures pick up on the communal dimensions of Scripture, while we in the West have a hard time seeing these things, being held captive by a culture steeped in rampant individualism. We all have a way of seeing the Bible.

On one level, I have a cultural hermeneutic. Reading the stories about the death of black bodies by white police officers takes me back to the killings of Emmett Till in 1955, Medgar Evers in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, and Oscar Grant in 2009 (Fruitvale Station). These men were cut down in the prime of their lives by whites (Emmett Till was fourteen when he died). What’s more, Emmett, Medgar, Martin, and Oscar are but a few in a long history of African Americans who have been unjustly killed at the hands of our white brothers. As if that’s not enough, in many cases, their killers were never brought to justice, and if they were, it was a long time coming. So, for example, when I see Michael Brown’s corpse amid reports that he was shot by a representative of both the historic (white) and vocational (police) power structures of our country, I hope you will find it more than understandable if I cry foul. I, as a black man, find it impossible not to flinch at present circumstances, given the injustices of the past.

Over the years, I’ve been challenged by white evangelicals to just get over it. Their refusal to try to see things from my ethnically different perspective is a subtle, stinging form of racist oppression. What’s more, it hinders true Christian unity and fellowship within the beloved body of Christ.

When a man and a woman get married, two narratives and sets of experiences, along with worldviews, collide. Imagine if your wife had previously been abused in such a way that impacted your intimacy with her. I don’t think a simple “you should just get over it” approach would work.

Neither do I think that her outbursts over the Harvey Weinsteins of the world should provoke exasperation in which you exhale, “Is everything always about sexual assault with you?” Nor would it be sufficient to immediately appeal to the facts and say, “But I’m not the person who did it, so let’s move on.” If you truly loved her and wanted to journey with her to health and intimacy, you would do all you could to understand her story and journey, to try in some way to incarnate her pain and pilgrimage. This is the way forward into oneness.

We will never experience true Christian unity when one ethnicity demands of another that we keep silent about our pain and travails. The way forward is not an appeal to the facts as a first resort, but an attempt to get inside each other’s skin as best as we can to feel what they feel and to seek to understand it. Tragedies such as the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson are like MRIs that reveal the hurt that still lingers, and the chasm that exists between ethnicities can only be traversed if we move past facts and get into feelings.

The issues are not meant to be sparred over on the landscape of one’s social media page, but to be processed and engaged across ethnic lines at some dinner table. To wage a war over the veracity of my experience would represent not only the absence of progress, but also a moonwalking of sorts away from the goal. In a word, it would be heartbreaking. Insider Outsider is an invitation to listen so that we may experience what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “life together.”

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Taken from Insider Outsider by Bryan Loritts. Copyright © 2018 by Bryan Loritts. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

 






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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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