Normalization Reflection

Primary Colors Week 2 (click the link to watch if you missed it) walked us into the tensions of normalization and whiteness. Of particular note, we continued in the Book of Acts, chapter 10, where Peter, a follower of Jesus, a leader in the ancient church and a customary Jew, was approached by Gentile citizens of Rome who were in pursuit of knowing the one, true God. Sent by a Roman Centurion named Cornelius, these men came in search of Peter, whose “normal” way of life excluded Gentiles. Peter witnessed the Holy Spirit fall on the Gentiles just as he had witnessed at the day of Pentecost with the Jews.

In spite of what Peter thought was normal and good and right, God was at work doing something new in the world through the Good News of Jesus. Peter concludes:

“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:34-43

“Normal” often gets in the way of what God is doing. Our patterns, habits and familiar places grip us when God is doing something new. This seems to be true of any sinful behavior God is working out of us. We hold on tight because the uncertainty of the new way can be terrifying. Giving up my sin means giving over control to God.

That tension seems to flow through the conversation and challenge surrounding racism. The Western world (U.S., Canada, European Union countries and microstates, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand) was established with a view toward benefiting white colonizers. Many of those attitudes and establishments have continued forward into our contemporary days leading to historical conflicts in South Africa, during Apartheid, Indian independence and reestablishment after World War 2 when the Republic of India was given independence from Great Britain, and civil rights movements in the United States dating back to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Many in the contemporary Western world believe to move toward racial equity and equality means giving up and giving over power to a people of a different culture, skin color and history. This tension comes from releasing what is “normal” the way a culture views and experiences the world to what is “normative”, or the way God always intended the creation to be from the beginning. This tension calls out many new phrases such as “whiteness”, “white privilege”, and “white fragility”. Misunderstandings of these terms and misunderstand a move to “normative” further tensions in pursuit of racial righteousness. Yet, the Gospel continues to call followers of Jesus to pursue loving God and loving neighbor in spite of tensions that may be felt.

Here is a helpful tool of reflection that I came across a few months back from Dr. David Campt. Dr. Campt uses the acronym R.A.C.E. to help people process through what each is learning in the conversation:

R (reflect):
  • Read Acts 10 again. How was Peter’s view of “normal” challenged by God? What about by people?
  • How do you think this passage relates to what is happening with racial tensions today?

A (ask):
  • Have you ever observed someone from another culture (style, food, accent, name, etc.) and thought, “That seems weird”? What was “weird” about it?
  • Think about that same situation. What was “normative” about what you thought was “weird”? For example, if you thought a name was weird, realize the person still had a name. That is a recognition of normative. What else can be observed in the situation?

C (connect):
  • The Bible tells us that God is establishing a new people for Himself that is described as , “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in clean robes with palm branches in their hands” Revelation 7:9. How does this future vision speak toward racial righteousness?

E (expand):
  • What idea from this week’s message most challenges you?
  • How do you see this challenge helping you to love God better?
  • How does this challenge help you see and love other people better?

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