It’s Guerrilla Wordfare. PG-13 edition. Don’t let Alexa read near 8 year olds. I’m going to quote the President. This is the beginning of a feeble response to the recent careless and racist commentary toward the people of Haiti, El Salvador and Africa.
There is no defense in the Biblical worldview. None. There is no room for racism in the heart of God. None.
(What follows is more of a bible study on race reconciliation than rant, but still. I’ll post and then clean up as a feel. Guerrilla Wordfare is messy business.)
I’ve been reading and re-reading the letter to the Ephesians through the lens of reconciliation: one ethnicity to another and all ethnicities to God. When I do my readings I always have this quiver of highlighters. Yes, I really do call the nerdy plastic highlighter case a quiver. It’s much more Hawkeye that way.
The passages I come across that are centrally concerned with racial reconciliation, I highlight in green
So here’s what I’ve learned. When you highlight Ephesians through the lens of reconciliation, it’s all green.
What’s Missing from the Conversation
Pick your platform and the headline today is about racism.
And that’s nothing new.
The church in Ephesus was having a serious problem with racism and if we don’t address that first, then Ephesians becomes just more Biblese that leans toward politely correcting general Christian behavior and inoffensively increasing pietistic individualism.
“But, wait, Chris! I’ve read Ephesians a lot of times and I’ve totally learned how to be a better Christian each time. Oh…I see your point.”
“But, wait! The whole thing is about community, how great a community my church would be if we actually lived this stuff the way I interpret the…oh, yeah, touché again.”
There is significant context missing if we start with Ephesians 4 and jump right in to the APEST personalities without addressing this first.
In his letter to the Galatians [3:26-29], Paul writes, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
That’s about race. It’s all about race. Yes, there are the political, gender and economic layers, but at the root of it is a segregationist mindset that we can somehow be in Christ and stay safe in our separate comfort ghettos – politically, gender-ly, economically and ethnically.
One way to look at Ephesians is that it is an exegesis, a midrash, on those Galatians verses; Paul taking the time to explain what he meant in the other.
Did he say “Shithole,” or “Shithouse”?
Pardon, my blatant American cursing, but something here bears examination. While we juggle rhetoric balls, is it more offensive to say “shithole” or denegrate those who live in a place so described?
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul states for the record, “Do not let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.”
As I have, in previous readings, allowed Ephesians to inform me, this verse has troubled me greatly. What happens if I stub my toe on the kitchen island and say, “shit”? Am I out? Or when a bang my knee on the invisible ninja post on our bed and scream out worse, do I have to turning my pastor card? How can I lead a people when I break the Bible code every time I do accidental violence to myself? Or get angry, or frustrated? Or repeat a Mitch Hedberg joke?
That’s what I was talking about earlier, making Ephesians a treatise on personal development and pietistic individualism: 6 Chapters To A Mostly Better, More Godly Christian Me.
Reading Ephesians, through the green, a whole other interpretation became clear to me: What if God doesn’t care what you yell when you stub your toe? What if this passage about foul words is about something sinister and evil? Something racist…
There Are The Jews, Then There Is Everyone Else
Paul writes this letter to Gentiles, not Jews. Let me ‘blogsplain…In Paul’s world, there were Jews (the dominant and chosen by God religious culture) and then there were Gentiles (every one else who wasn’t a Jew, everywhere from every majority part of the whole Earth).
Jews were, oh, I don’t know, let’s call them White for the purpose of this post.
Gentiles were every person of color in existence: natives and immigrants, citizens and sojourners.
The whites were the normal culture. They were the gatekeepers of “real” religion, proper relationship with God. They got to choose who was in and who was out and their first choice was people who were, well…white like them.
But Jesus changed all that. Jesus made both Jews and Gentiles, whites and every person of color, into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided them [Eph 2:14; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11 – These are all very important statements that revolutionize the way that society works].
All of the sudden, through Christ, Jews were a part of the same tribes as Gentiles, whites as people of color. Jesus had demolished the wall of hostility that divided them.
The roll of the Church is to keep the dividing wall of hostility demolished. While it is our fallen nature to rebuild it, it is Christian nature to remove the wall and be built as God’s people. When someone denigrates a whole people because of race or socio-economics or whatever, they are laying bricks on the ground Jesus died to make level.The roll of the Church is to keep the dividing wall of hostility demolished. While it is our fallen nature to rebuild it, it is Christian nature to remove the wall and be built as God’s people. Click To Tweet
Is it a Shithole, or a Shithouse? Part Deux
My point? My point.
The whole of Ephesians is green. It’s all about reconciliation. It’s all about what Jesus has done to bring Jews and Gentiles into one family. That’s the whole of Chapters 1-3. So when we get to 4-5, where Paul describes the character of the children of God, the point is to become mature so that unity is natural where it comes to ethnicity. And then chapter 6, the Defense Against The Dark Arts portion of the letter because racial reconciliation is going to come under intense spiritual attack.
Ephesians is about making two groups one. The Jews and the Gentiles into a new humanity; whites and people of color the same.
A green Ephesians is about healing the human tendency to homogenize and call it ‘church’. A Kingdom perspective shows a multi-ethnic people who call themselves ‘one’ and it is going to take some serious firepower to fend off tribalism along ethnic lines. It’s Hunting Season and Satan is hiding in bluff.
So, to wrap up:
What if Ephesians 4:29 isn’t about personal diction and proper etiquette? What if it is about what the rest of the letter is about? The building up of a multi-ethnic people who are one in Christ? How might we define ‘foul words’ then?
It seems clear to me that while the heavens may sigh when I drop the F-Bomb after carving the Turkey and a hunk of my thumb at the same time, but they projectile vomit when a dignitary calls two countries and an entire continent a ‘shithole.’ Or a ‘shithouse’ – it really doesn’t matter, other than one you can parady a Commodore’s song.
Paul is describing foul words that degrade and de-humanize, words that steal the dignity from one people because the other simply don’t give a shit. We are on the blade now, aren’t we? Paul is concerned with how we use words to define and describe the ‘other’. And so is Christ. Look at how he brings in the Samaritan woman (the El Salvadoran), how he admires the Spyro-Phoenician woman (the Haitian), how he died for all the people in the whole of the world (this includes Africa).
The letter is an appeal not call a people a shithole; but instead only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.
Those closest to you.
Those you have an impact on.
Those who look to you
Those who have no choice but to depend upon you.
Ephesians is a letter encouraging all people to speak about all people in a way that lifts, builds, strengthens them and honors God.
The remarks last week do not accomplish that, but Paul’s words here will for all eternity.
Let us pay attention to them. Learn them. Live them. Love them.
PS: I don’t know if it’s youre thing, but for a Sci-fi take on this, watch Will Smith’s BRIGHT on Netflix. And get ready for some foul words.