I realize from my short 25 years that I have a lifetime of undoing ahead of me. More than a lifetime if I am true to my humanity. All of my efforts to arrive and be good have actually taken me farther away. All of my delusions I could be my own god and create myself have distanced me from the only source of life and belonging. I am engaged in this struggle of tug-of-war within, where a little undone can seemingly mean more exertion to undo again. The fear of what this may cost breeds ignorance and strokes the desire for comfort.
But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. [James 1:14-15]
This, indeed, is the grueling task of undoing. Our eyes are not often opened by lust. Rather we treat it as an acquaintance. Or someone we know we ought not to be friends with but find it easier to be friendly than honest. Friendliness with our lustful selves becomes a blindfold, so we no longer can notice the difference between lust and life. Death is our starting point. Even our blindfolded eyes can get a glimpse of death. And if not, it is unmistakingly felt. Death shows up, and there is no talking around or making nice. How poor and prideful creatures we are for almost only being moved by something so blunt and insulting. If we do move, it is then either by fear or love. Fear of death being our own fate or love that death is but a passageway to new life. It can be transformative, desired even.
If death opens our eyes, finally, there is much to be undone from here. It is not easy or comfortable learning the ways lust carries us away, fostering sin and death. Reckoning with the depths of our humanity reveals much more than we would like to know, let alone bear. I am unsure Ta-Nehisi Coates means it in this way in Between the World and Me, when he talks of people trying to be white, but I believe this may be a piece of it. As “Dreamers,” or “people trying to be white,” we delude ourselves into self-righteousness. As hearers of the truth and not doers, we delude ourselves into tepidness. [James 1:22]
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. [James 3:14]
Trying to be white means lying against the truth. Indulging self-righteousness and arrogance. “But the wisdom from above is first pure…unwavering, without hypocrisy” [James 3:17]. Wisdom is abiding in the truth that my skin may be white, but I am not white. The outside of the dish may appear clean, but the inside is dirty.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. [Matthew 23:27]
Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” [Acts 23:1-3]
The Jews were accustomed to whitewash the entrances to their sepulchres, as a warning against defilement by touching them [biblehub.com]. “Whitewash” from the Greek word “konia” means “dust, by analogy, lime. To cover with lime, plaster to whiten” [biblehub.com].
We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bundits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement; to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world. [Between the World and Me]
Thus, I am not white, though I like to pretend I am. I fall to hypocrisy. Too often being a hearer and not a doer. I plaster myself white in fear of the truth. I cannot reconcile how I am broken and beloved. Falling to hypocrisy is a sort of death. Fear robs us of life. But it is my responsibility to sort out how I got here. “And the Dreamers are quoting Martin Luther King and exulting nonviolence for the weak and the biggest guns for the strong” [Between the World and Me].
How has lust carried away belief to unbelief? What must be undone in the depths of my heart?
Undoing of the manufactured self I have been feeding with dreams of being white is what I take dying to self to mean when Jesus tells His disciples this is what they must do to follow Him. We must be undone. Undone to be given something better. Something new and fulfilling. Something unwavering, pure, peaceable, reasonable and full of mercy. His life. He so desperately wants to give us His heart. Undone by His love.
As Dreamers, we have built for ourselves a tradition of using lives cheaply, specifically those of us white-skinned in America. “The Dreamers accept this as the cost of doing business, accept our bodies as currency, because it is their tradition. As slaves, we were this country’s first windfall, the down payment on its freedom…today, when eight percent of the world’s prisoners are black men, our bodies have refinanced the Dream of being white. Black life is cheap, but in America black bodies are a natural recourse of incomparable value” [Between the World and Me].
We are being false to ourselves. Taking the truth of humanity for our own pleasures.
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know friendship with the world is hostility toward God? [James 4:1-4]
I forget the deception and delusion of lust when I let it be the only voice I hear, when the world is what I am gazing at for direction, expecting what is right in front of me to be true always, to not lead me astray. The world can be beautiful because it harbors Beauty; the world can be lovely because it harbors Love. The world is not meant to be the Thing itself. To reveal the fullness of such things. It cannot. Using the world as my mirror leaves me as an adulteress in my own skin, most importantly, to my own self. For I see my face, look away and forget what kind of person I am.
But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. [James 1:23-25]
As I gaze at the truth and do not fear all that I am, I can abide in love, if only just for a second, before I cannot bear the distaste and discomfort. “The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all” [Between the World and Me]. The more I study the source of beauty and love and life, I will endure. I will not forget the truth. This I have just learned. Maybe just remembered. The ease of looking to the world and being blindfolded by lust seduces us to forget who we are. Thus, forgetting who are neighbors are. Broken and beloved.
The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free…To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans…it is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans. [Between the World and Me]
The wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. The law of liberty speaks to me of the Gospel truth. In the fullness of my humanity, God pitches His tent to dwell with me, only through the shedding of innocent blood, so I may be wiped clean.
PS- In my undoing, I must have courage to know the depths of who I am. I must be determined to remember, and when I look away at the world and forget, to go on and remember again. I have been afforded 25 years and this day to know I am a vulnerable, fallible, breakable being, in need of Love outside of myself, greater than humanity and in love with it. We have been afforded 400 years and this day to do the same as white-skinned people, but we have not. Instead, we have intentionally forgotten our kinship and feasted on the lives of those who look different than us. Justifying ourselves by a lie and cloaking ourselves in arrogance disguised as purity. To be chosen never meant to be better. To be white never meant to be pure. It meant to be plastered over. The only way to be white is to be plastered over in the Truth. To be dust. The disciples, at one point in the Gospel, were busy discussing who among them is greatest, and Jesus says to them the kingdom of God is not for the greatest but for the least. The most vulnerable, fallible, and breakable beings who know it, and yet, go out again to know it more thoroughly. We have said the opposite. We have indulged arrogance that white is superior. The Jews know well to be God’s chosen people means to suffer tremendously. Complete undoing. And this comes from an untamable Love. We dilute this Love to appease our appetite for comfort. We trade it for ease and allow lust to take the space in our hearts where Love ought to be. 400 years of this, and we are still starting with death to finally open our eyes to the task of immense undoing before us. Deconstructing unbelief to be true belief once again that no one is white but by the blood of Christ.
Let this be a reminder that all of us bear the image of the Lord uniquely and graciously. All colors of skin reflect the manifold beauty of the Creator. As a white-skinned person, I am a traitor to myself only in what I allow my white skin to mean and thus, what non-white skin means. God created me just how He designed, but I have determined something different. God created others just how He designed, but I, again, have determined something different. This is the undoing I am responsible for, not indulging guilt but rather seeing all people as they are. Broken and beautiful.