Song: Refiner (Part 1)
Artist: Maverick City Music
In the past few weeks, my heart has been opened, broken and is continuing to be refined (hence the song choice). The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others are unnecessary tragedies that I am outraged and deeply saddened by. I’ve realized my education at my small, southern, and predominantly white high school failed me in teaching Black history and systemic racism that continues to do harm to the Black community. I now know that I must do the work in researching injustice to educate myself, as well as listening to and lifting up Black voices. I’m also realizing that the Church failed me by creating a narrative that racism is solely an issue of the heart that Jesus can heal, and our prayers and kindness are enough. (Whew, that might be a hard pill to swallow. If you’re open, it’s something I’d love to talk with you about in-person and from a distance, of course!) Our system is broken and we need to talk about it. The Church can’t be exempt from having these tough conversations - especially our predominantly white church. How is our whiteness hurting our witness? I’m not writing this to say I have the answers - because I don’t. I am a 24 year old, cisgender, white, middle-class, Orthodox Christian woman and I am neither a theologian, nor a racial scholar - none of those traits excuse silence. I recognize my privilege of having this platform and I’m writing this to open the conversation, stir your hearts, and get you comfortable with the idea of embarking on this uncomfortable, humbling, and long journey that we have ahead to achieve justice for our neighbors and future generations. Systemic change must happen and should be at the forefront of our conversations - at our pulpits, around our dinner tables, at our schools, in our businesses, and in our art. “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.” (Isaiah 1:17, NIV) I must do better. We all must do better.
Now, take a deep breath! Before we dive into the song, I wanted to introduce you to Maverick City Music. They’re fairly new, so you may not have heard of them. I love what they are doing! To get an idea of their heart and mission, these are the opening few lines of the bio on their website: “Maverick City started with a dream to make space for folk that would otherwise live in their own separate worlds. To break the unspoken rules that exist in the CCM and Gospel World! But I think more importantly to be a mega phone for a community of creatives that have been pushed to the margins of the industry of Church Music.” Refiner is a song that I’ve had on repeat since it came out and its words have seemed prophetic for this season. If you haven’t heard it, go ahead and click here to give it a listen. Today, we’ll look at the first verse.
If the altar's where you meet us,
Take me there, take me there.
What you need is just an offering
It's right here, my life is here.
And I'll be a living sacrifice for you.
You’re a fire. The refiner. I wanna be consumed.
“As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, he said “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Matthew 9: 10-13, CEB)
I love that Jesus came for the broken, the messy, and the sinners and I love singing of that truth. But, I’ve learned that I have a hard time admitting that I am one of those people. Intellectually, I know that as a human, I’m a sinner and am in need of Jesus; but, I rarely do the gut-wrenching, emotional work of self-examining my ego. Maybe I’m more like the Pharisees than I’m willing to admit. I repent of the thoughts of denial that have gone through my mind when I think of racism in the context of my life: A racist? Me? No way. I’m passionate about equality. I work at a church and strive to do Kingdom work! I’m in an interracial relationship! I’ve now learned that my defensiveness was a product of my own white fragility and that the definition of racism is more complex than what I had been taught. Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility is a great place to start to understand this concept. She calls out white progressives specifically, saying that “to the degree that white progressives think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived.” (Sounds like the Pharisees to me.) Most of DiAngelo’s book is dedicated to unveiling the pillars of whiteness: assumptions that reinforce racist beliefs without realizing it. This includes ideologies such as individualism and objectivity. She argues how well-intentioned comments perpetuate white supremacy; comments such as saying you are “colorblind”, or in our current societal context, saying “all lives matter,” rather than specifically lifting up Black neighbors in need of equity. (Remember the parable of the lost sheep where the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one? Matthew 18:10-14)
This song starts with meeting Jesus at the altar. I think our first step - especially as white Americans - is to humbly and continuously repent of the racism our society has systemically ingrained in us. A lot of research has proven that COVID-19 is frequently spread by asymptomatic carriers. I think racism often parallels the coronavirus in this way- it can manifest in less obvious ways than name-calling and lynching. Tragically, many well-intentioned comments (or silence) contribute to the racist system we are a part of. Now is our time as Christians to ask God to unveil where our egos (our whiteness) has contributed to someone else’s loss. It may surprise you, and wreck your soul - as it has mine. Then, we must meet Jesus at the altar and continuously repent. One thing I am certain of is that I am grateful that the Cross washes my sin away, and God’s sanctifying grace leads me to be more like Jesus every day.
Next week, we’ll continue to look at Refiner. As you go about this week, I ask that you take time to turn to the altar. Ask God to open your eyes to where you have unknowingly (and knowingly) turned a blind eye to Black neighbors. Then, write your own, personal prayer of repentance.