“Miss Kalie, what color is God’s skin?” This question has been a frequent wondering of our scholars lately. We’re in a unit learning about some of our favorite heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Jacob Lawrence, and Ruby Bridges. These particular heroes all have beautiful brown skin (as we like to say at UCA) and we celebrate that. We talk about how they chose to love like Jesus and how they showed people what God is like. Which brings up a lot of questions about what God is actually like. Here are some of the things we’ve heard the past few weeks as the UCA scholars have tried to process all of this:
"God is white because that’s what color the church robes and stuff are and we say that Jesus washed us white as snow and black is for the devil cause it’s evil so God must be white and the devil is black."
"God doesn’t like black people cause they are too loud. God just likes pianos and guitars and so do white people, so God must be white."
"Does God dance? No way. The devil dances and so do black people, that’s why white people don’t dance."
"I’ve seen Jesus before in the pictures and He is always white with a white robe and a colorful thing on his shoulder and since Jesus is God’s son, God is white too."
"I wish I was white so I could grow up to be like God."
If you’re anything like me, you read those words and are disappointed in the world, angry even. But it’s pretty easy to say, “I’m not racist and I sure haven’t done anything to contribute to the problem.” I’ve said that line a million times. In fact I’ve felt like quite the hero for moving into a neighborhood where I’m a minority…surely that gives me a lot of credibility to say that this isn’t my issue. Not that long ago though, I was standing in line at the grocery store and the lady in front of me had beautiful brown skin and a cart piled full of food. I assumed her food stamps had just arrived and she was stocking up. However, when she went to pay the over $200 total she pulled out her debit card and it was the same as mine. I felt the heat of shame flood my checks. I had made the assumption that all black people were poor and the only time their cart could be overflowing is when their food stamps had just arrived. I assumed that my bank was for people like me and she surely didn’t have access to it. It is technically true that there has never been an intentional moment in my life where I chose to rob someone of their freedom or dignity based on race, but racism is like smog and we’re all breathing it in. Maybe I didn’t build the factory that is polluting the air, but I’ve benefited from the products it’s producing. This smog of racism is affecting everyone of us whether we’re aware of it or not. And this smog is slowly but surely robbing us of life to the fullest. And maybe you sit on the white side of the fence and your skin color has never really been something you’ve thought about, know that that is a unique privilege. A real good friend of UCA, and one of my favorite humans, Lexi read this blog to edit it before we sent it out. She has brown skin, cool hair, grew up in the urban core and (thinks she) can beatbox. She is a powerful woman who God has relentlessly held in His grasp, yet after reading the kids’ quotes she responded by saying she needed to cry because she grew up believing those same ideas. This smog isn’t just saying who can live where or bank where or drink out of what drinking fountain…it’s residual effect is robbing people of a right understanding of the beauty of their creator. A creator whose fingerprints are heavy in all cultures, not just the white community.
Listening to the UCA scholars (who are all under the age of 7) as they attempt to understand God has left me feeling all the feels. I’m endlessly proud of them for asking hard questions about God and being gritty enough to search for answers. Yet at the same time I feel heartbroken that their view of God is so distorted. At first I started to play the blame game and point the finger at the church and at the white community and at myself. And while there are countless factors creating the problem we decided that our best plan of action wouldn’t be to sit and talk about the problems but to just get right to the root of it all. Jesus. He stands tall in the midst of the questions and the chaos and the mess. Maybe He’s a rainbow, that is a popular theory going around the bus these days, or maybe He’s like a bazzilion-sided diamond and each of us reflects a little piece of who He is. I don’t have to convince others to be more like me or push a cultural view of God onto anyone, instead I get to explore a part of God’s endless nature through others. We deeply believe that God is both wildly expressive and quietly reserved, that He dances with reckless abandon (and probably can do the whip like none other) and stands somberly, that He loves loud rap and soft guitar, and that He is crazy about His people’s hearts turning back to Him…all of His people.
We are learning that we need each other to see the fullness of Jesus, and we need each other to expose the UCA scholars to the fullness of Jesus. There is a fire in our bones to make things right, to celebrate Jesus not in a one-dimensional way but in His wildly beautiful diamond-esque ways, to mobilize others to jump on board and do the same. It’s heavy stuff and the solutions don’t always seem so clear. But this is where we are starting. As adults we are committed to learning and engaging in conversation with people from different backgrounds about the hope the Gospel. There are brilliant minority leaders who are producing great work to help us see a more full picture of Jesus. Find a book, a podcast, a blog or some content written by some one from a different background than you. You just might learn something new. Here are some books we recommend:
Anything written by John M Perkins
Anything written by KC native D.A. Horton
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Generous Justice by Tim Keller
We’d love to dialogue with you as you explore. Let us know what you’re reading, learning, and talking about.