Since my sophomore year of high school one of the things I have known about myself is that I prefer aquatic over terrestrial sports. Quitting football that year and replacing it with water polo was the first indication that this was the case. I took well to the water. It graciously received me. No more swollen knees. No worries about land based battles with a body that had limited agility. The water was not as harsh of an environment for my large but uncoordinated adolescent frame. My nickname on the water polo team was Shamu, and I still embrace that identity with pride.
Yet this preference for aquatic sports also means that when I see those lithe, lululemon and Under Armour togged people running effortlessly along the side of the road, I look at them with no small amount of curiosity. I see those runners and I usually ask myself “I wonder what that feels like?” They are clearly having an experience with which I cannot identify. When I try to run it feels like I am having an anxiety nightmare where I am struggling to get away from something threatening me, but hopelessly bogged down in some viscous goop that keeps my limbs from functioning normally.
We all know what we know and struggle to understand what we don’t know. Furthermore, the questions of who we are and what we know are not things we give much thought until we come into contact with folks who are different from us. For example, I never gave much thought to being white until I was the only white person in an African American history class in my junior year at UCLA. The experience of being spoken to by the professor in ways that were different from how he spoke to other members of the class, the regular experience of feeling like I was not being let in on a secret, and the fact that the lowest grade I received in four years of college was in this class, all conspired to help me understand for the first time that I was white.
As a part of the majority, and frankly, privileged, culture I have not given the question of my race much thought. In fact, I don’t think I even thought of myself as a part of a race at all. So I am still grateful for the ways that class at UCLA did far more than teach me about African American history. It exposed the profound limits of my imagination and understanding. It began to make me aware of the truth that black folks in this country have not had the luxury of not being aware of their blackness. I grew up never really thinking about the color of my skin. But African Americans have had a torturous history of being defined primarily, and sometimes solely, in terms of the color of their skin.
In light of this, I read St Paul’s words in Colossians 3 with great interest. In describing the renewal that takes place in us by the transforming power of Jesus Christ he invites us to embrace the irrelevance of race as a key aspect of our human identity:
In that renewal there is no longer Jew and Greek, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.
There is great freedom in what Paul asserts here. But there is equally an enormous question that raises its head and demands to be addressed. If in Christ race has been relegated to a place of irrelevance in determining who we are as human beings, then why is Sunday morning at 10:00 still the most segregated hour in America? I think it is important to work with this question, and that is part of what we will be doing during the season of Lent. As we explore Biblical texts that give witness to the struggle of the early church to live into their one new ethnicity in Christ, we have the opportunity to join them in that exploration and ask ourselves what it means to be “one in Christ.”
Dave Rohrer, 3/1/2017