Disclaimer: I’m a dude. I do theology. But I want to listen.
|Kurt Willems||Jun 6, 2017|
• 4 Minute Read
Alternatively titled: “In which I state the obvious, because sometimes the obvious must be said.”
I do White, North American, Male theology. It only seems fair to let you know. If others are told, or feel that they need to put a qualifier in front of the word theology (e.g. Feminist, Womanist, Liberation), I should do that too.
I don’t just do “theology.” I am situated in a certain place and time, with a particular skin colour and economic status. As I look back I am reminded that my experience at Fresno Pacific University was very different than that of my Latino friends. My interactions with people in stores and on the street were shaped simply by the way I look. So. I don’t just do theology. I do White, North American, Male Theology… I just wish we could come up with a sweet name for it…. Maybe we can just call it W.D. (White Dude) Theology from now on? Better ideas anyone?
I wanted to put this disclaimer out here because I had written another article, and I want to share it with you some time, but I had an experience that made me realize it reeks of where I come from. When I think of a topic like discipleship, for example, it has different applications and implication for my life than it does for others..
I was reminded of all of this the other week listening to Kurt’s fantastic interview with Dr. Angela Parker on the Paulcast about Race, Suffering, and the Empire. My experience is not Dr. Parker’s. She has a whole different way of seeing and relating to the world than I do, and I learned so much from listening to her.
It also reminded me of ways in which I interact with the world differently. Here’s an example.
The other day my 6 year old son wanted to take a toy handgun to school (He was supposed to take something that he had gotten as a present, and had gotten a cap gun from his grandparents a few weeks ago). My reaction? I enjoyed the naivety of my son. I smiled and said, “That’s not a really good choice.” I had a brief moment of laughing to myself, thinking about what kind of phone call I might receive from his teacher. Worst case scenario? The principle calls and tells me to be more careful with what I let my son come to school with.
This is not the experience for thousands (or hundreds of thousands?) of parents. If I replay that moment when my son suggested he take the gun to school, I can only imagine my chest seizing up, the fear that this could have been the time my son didn’t come home. That some police officer may have seen my little boy showing his friends the present he got from his grandparents, and now he is lying in a morgue. His naivety could very well have cost him his life. Exaggeration? Nope.
Just ask Tamir Rice’s family.
I don’t deal with these realities on a daily basis. I am subconsciously aware that it happens. But I don’t get catcalled when I go for a run down the street. I have never even been pulled over by a police officer driving a car. I really just don’t know what it’s like to be a minority or powerless in this world.
One winter day I was working with a mission organization and we were doing a walking learning tour around the city of Saskatoon. The idea is to walk around the downtown and see what it is like to be poor in our city while also learning about some of the organizations that are working to help. It just happened that the day we were doing this was cold. I don’t just mean a little cold. I mean like like creeping close to -40 (F) cold.
I was leading a group of teenage girls and we decided to cut through a shopping mall to stay warm while we walked to our next destination. So there we are, a group a white people slowly walking through the mall trying to get the feeling back into our fingers and toes, and I noticed a small group of Indigenous people walking around as well. The difference you ask? They had mall security following them everywhere they went. I can go into a mall and warm up and not receive a second glance. That’s my experience. Their experience? Suspected, followed, watched.
It takes a lot of work for me to remember that my experience is not universal. I just want you to know that I know this. I want you to know that when I write about spiritual growth, about things I see in scripture, about how to be more formed in Christ, that I write from my experience. And that experience is one of great privilege, and that makes me blind to a lot of other things in the Bible.
Rob Bell in his new book has a chapter brilliantly titled, “Why Americans Often Miss the Major Themes of the Bible.” The reason (spoiler alert)? Because the Bible is written by those who have suffered under the might of the economic and military superpowers of their day.
“The writers of the Bible were from a tribe that had been on the receiving end of an untold amount of suffering and hardship at the hands of powerful, dominant nations. And so they write with particular vehemence toward those who abuse their power and take advantage of people weaker than they are”(1).
I have to confess, I am part of todays dominant super power (2).
I am a part of a system that is shaped by capitalism, freedom, democracy, corporations, consumerism, and the pursuit of more. Furthermore, in the grand scheme of things, by virtue of being born male and white I find myself at the top of this evil empire. So it’s going to take me more work to put myself in a place where I can listen to other voices well.
I am sorry when I speak from my position of power without hearing your voice.
I am sorry when I make assumptions about what it means to be a Christian that are not your experience.
I hope that you will help me learn.
You have no obligation to teach me—that burden is mine to carry, not my marginalized sisters and brothers!—but I will do all I can to grow and listen.
That together we will grow in being Christ-like together, that together we will learn to read the Bible. I will keep writing, and hopefully people can point out when I have missed the plot. I do hope that things I write are helpful for where you are at. But at least this is out on the table; I do W.D Theology, take what helps and toss away the rest.
Rob Bell, “What is the Bible” pg. 212
Though, I am Canadian, not American… So I’m not QUITE as bad as say… Kurt
[Kurt edit: it is true!
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