Resilience, Race, and Resistance: Plenary Highlights, Part 1

Editor’s Note: Last week, Missio Alliance hosted an online event—Resilience, Race, & Resistance—featuring an incredible roster of thought leaders, theologians, and practitioners to tackle the challenging question of how the church should respond to our country’s ongoing racial divisions. This week, we will feature excerpts from the four plenary talks; the first set of excerpts are from the talks given by The Rev. Christine Lee, priest in charge at St. Peter’s Chelsea in New York City, and Tod Bolsinger, author of Tempered Resilience and associate professor of leadership formation at Fuller Seminary. On Friday, we’ll showcase excerpts from David Swanson and Enid Almanzar. If you would like to access the full replay of the event, it is available for purchase for a limited time, until February 10th.

Embracing My Outsider Status

by Christine Lee

I had always been an outsider, always didn’t fit in: one of the only minority kids in my predominantly white school, one of the only women in my evangelical seminary, one of the only Korean Christians in this predominantly white Episcopal church that I found myself in. And I’d always seen being an outsider as a negative thing. I don’t want to be an outsider, I don’t like being outsider; I want to belong to the point of diminishing myself and silencing my own voice so that I could be acceptable to the powers that be, whether those powers were little white girls from the suburbs or white male Reformed seminary professors, or a white mainline Protestant denomination: a square peg, trying to force myself into a round hole. And for the first time, I began to see God’s calling to me in that outsider status that I’d experienced my entire life.

Isn’t that what Jesus was, as John writes, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?” He came to that which was his own, and yet his own did not receive him. He was part of this oppressed minority. And if I want to be close to Jesus, it will always, always be at the center of the margins. The trick is, the key is, I need to be present with Jesus as me, who God has created and called me to be, Christine Kim Lee, a second-generation, Korean American woman who is soft-spoken, intuitive, and tends to listen first before speaking, loves contemplative spirituality, is a consensus-driven leader, and an Enneagram 9, for those of you who are into the Enneagram. I am not a white, alpha male. So why am I trying so desperately to be one? Why consciously or subconsciously is that the standard that I’m trying to aspire to in my mind, in my discipleship, and in my leadership?

The seminary education I was given taught me, this is what it looks like to be a good pastor. And the American evangelical church that I was formed in that taught me, this is what it looks like to be a good Christian, was created by white men, for white men; Enlightenment-defined, corporate culture-driven. And the longer that I am in it, in this journey of following Jesus, the more acutely that I feel this deep and growing dissonance in my spirit. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things that I just mentioned, being white, being male, being  enlightened, corporate culture. There are both gifts and temptations that are embedded in all of them as there is in anything.


I appreciate the way that my brother Rich Villodas puts it. He says:

It’s when whiteness and maleness in the context of Christian discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus becomes the primary, preferred, and enforced way of being a Christian, being a Christian leader, being the church. That’s when we’ve lost our way. When one part of that body that isn’t the head that is Christ dominates the rest of the life of the body, that’s not a body, that’s a monstrosity. And we don’t often even see it, like fish that don’t know that they’re wet. And what I’m waking up to at this point in my life is that you don’t have to be a white supremacist wearing Viking horns and carrying the Confederate flag to have bought into the lie of white supremacy. When one part of that body that isn't the head that is Christ dominates the rest of the life of the body, that's not a body, that's a monstrosity. Click To Tweet

As a woman of color, I have bought into that lie my whole life. Since I first encountered it as an eight-year-old in Maryland, I’ve believed it. And if I’m honest with myself, there’s a deep subconscious part of me that still believes that to some extent. But I don’t want to believe that lie anymore. And I don’t want to be part of perpetuating that lie anymore and enabling a system of lies that keeps people in bondage, including myself. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” And that freedom in Christ starts with my own repentance, metanoia, the change of mind that leads to a change of life.

What Resilience Actually Looks Like

by Tod Bolsinger

On August 28th, 1963, 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was introduced as the moral leader of our country. He got to the middle of the speech, he paused for a second, and then heard behind him Mahalia Jackson, who screamed out to him, “Tell them about the dream. Martin, tell them about the dream.” And he launched into that incredible explication of Isaiah chapter 40, of the day in which someday all of creation will be made well. “I have a dream that one day, every valley shall be exalted. Every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made a plain and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. And all the flesh shall see it together.”

Imagine that moment, to say this to a bunch of people, many of whom had come from the South, who had come from the jails and the hoses and the dogs and the conflicts. And then he says, “With this faith, we will able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope with this faith will that we’ll be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” I have spent the better part of the last five years looking at that one verb, “hew.” The notion that when staring in front of a 400-year-old mountain of despair, he sees the possibility for transformation, for hewing; not blowing up, not bludgeoning with a sledgehammer, not cowering in front of, but hewing, transforming; it’s breathtaking. How do you become a tool that can hew? How can you be used by God to bring transformation? What kind of requirement will it need? What kind of formation will it need? And especially for a person like me, is it even possible? How can you be used by God to bring transformation? What kind of requirement will it need? What kind of formation will it need? And especially for a person like me, is it even possible? Click To Tweet

This led me to think through the whole notion of tempered tools, tools that are both stronger than their original material and more flexible. A tempered tool is one that has the capacity to chisel and form and transform and carve and create. And a tempered tool is a resilient tool because it is strong, but it’s not just strong to the place of being bludgeoning, but strong in a very particular way. A tempered resilience is about a grounded identity and resilient character that has shaped reflection, relationships, and a rule of life in a rhythm of leading and not leading.

Recently, I went to the Lorraine Motel, to the Civil Rights Museum. And once again, I confronted the letter from the Birmingham jail. When I read the letter that Dr. King wrote to a group of clergy, including Presbyterian clergy, I remember looking at my wife and saying, “You know, I think that with all of my background, I would have been one of those clergy who would have written the letter protesting saying, ‘Oh, that we agree with your goals, but we can not agree with your methods.'” And I felt that deep sense of conviction about the fact that the way that I had been trained, that the world that I had come from, had not prepared me for this moment, and that this indeed requires a different kind of training.

The truth of the matter is, especially for those who’ve come out of more dominant spaces, we have a have bought into a belief that we are to be people who do this by ourselves with our expertise and that any insecurity is a sign of our weakness—when the truth of the matter is, it is our resistance to our insecurity that leads us to all kinds of problems. There are a different set of spiritual practices that are needed to develop resilience.

For access to the full replay of both Christine and Tod’s plenaries, visit this link to order. The replay will only be available until February 10th, so don’t delay!

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