A story and a prayer about Cake

Once upon a time there was a cake. Some travelers came upon the cake, and being hungry after their long journey, they cut it into even slices and shared it between them. Where they came from, the King ate most of the cake, so this was a real treat. Not long afterwards, some local people arrived and said “hey, who ate our cake?”, and the travelers shrugged: “Finders keepers, losers weepers,” they said.

The travelers liked this land with its good ingredients for cake, and worked very, very hard to make as many cakes as they could. A strong workforce was kidnapped imported to come and make cake. But the workers were not allowed to eat any of the cake. Not at all. Every now and then the workers would try to run away, or complain that they, too, liked cake – but those workers were punished and killed for their insolent cake-wanting ways. Some of the more heroic people who quashed uppity cake-wanting workers even had statues erected in their honor. Freedom, independence and liberty to eat cake. That was worth celebrating.

Many years later, some realized that women liked cake too, and some years after that, that black people should get to eat cake as well. The self-evident truths that all men are created equal needed to include all of mankind: men and women, people of all colors. This was a huge celebration.

But, in the years that followed, some of the original cake eaters began to complain that they didn’t feel the portion size of their cake was what it had been before. “We deserve 20oz cake servings,” they said. “Make our cake great again!” When others protested saying, “your expectations that you deserve the biggest slice of cake were set by a very flawed history…”, they got upset. “Are you calling me racist?” they said?

“No,” said others. “we’re just saying that we need to acknowledge that white people have always got the biggest pieces of cake, and that wasn’t right. That’s what privilege is: expecting a piece of cake without anyone questioning your right to it. We need to recalibrate our serving size. We need to make sure that those who have never had cake before get some. We need to watch out for bullies at the table who want to snatch others’ cake away. We must oppose leaders who fail to condemn militant whites-only-cake-eating-groups.”

There’s a lot of cake. There’s more than enough to go around. We don’t need to be greedy.

//

When Nehemiah asked for news of what had been happening in his home country, people told him of “great trouble and disgrace”, of “broken walls, and gates burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3) When Nehemiah heard these things, he sat down and wept. He mourned and fasted, and prayed to the God of Heaven: “O Lord, who keeps his covenant of love, please listen. I confess the sins we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned.”  (Nehemiah 1:4-6, abridged from NIV and ESV)

I stopped still when I read these words earlier this week. Nehemiah was a generation later than those who were most directly responsible for the tragedy that had befallen Jerusalem: he wasn’t the rebel, surely? But Nehemiah knew something I—we—have been slow to learn: there can’t be any petition for help or any hope of praise until we have lamented the wrong and repented of our individual and group participation in it, both now and in history.

Even I and my father’s house have sinned. Even I have expected a bigger piece of cake. I did so because my whole life I’ve been told that I deserved cake. Work hard, and you will get cake. I worked hard, and I got cake… but I also believed that others who didn’t have cake maybe didn’t deserve cake, or didn’t work hard, or didn’t like or want cake. Their cakelessness was surely their problem, or worse yet – their fault. White people have always had cake, and we have teased and punished others for asking for a slice. We may not live in a time when it’s illegal for some to eat cake, but when we refuse to look at our portion sizes or to acknowledge that we’ve become fat from cake while others starved, then we continue to perpetuate skewed slicing.

I have been silent when people have pointed out inequalities. In my social media feed and in our churches, we have been silent, and the elephants in the room have left people trampled and bleeding.

And so, I’m lamenting and repenting.

Oh God, my failures in seeking justice have been explicit, implicit, and complicit. I have done wrong things, and I have failed to do the right things. I have benefitted from a system which gave us so much cake at others’ expense, without showing humility and gratitude and compassion to others. I have not listened to others’ stories, or I have nit-picked and found fault with them and in doing so, dismissed them when they pointed out the size of my slice. I have been ashamed to have the size of my slice noticed. We have been hoarding the cake. We have stayed silent in rebuking cake-stealers. 

Lord, you know I don’t hate people of color, but you know the ways in which our cake-hoarding has hurt people of color and I’m sorry I’ve been so slow to own that. We have been so slow, and so silent, and our passivity has perpetuated the problem. God, you have made and love all people. You own all the cake. You forgive and redeem the hardest of hearts and the worst of situations. Please teach us to share. Please give us humility. Please make us better listeners. Please teach us to lament wrongs and repent. Please dismantle our defensiveness. Please would you fill every plate and every heart and every stomach by your grace. 

 

Image credit: Pexels, common license C00

Confronting my inner racist {Laura Droege}

Laura Droege is one of my favorite online commenters: when she writes something on my blog (or on her own), I always read it. Usually twice. I’d been hoping to entice Laura to write a guest post for the Words That Changed My World series, and when I read this post on her blog a few weeks ago – knew that this was it. Enjoy 🙂

different-races-2

Where: Chaucer class.

When: Spring 2002

Who: Me, my buddy Richard, and the middle-aged classmate whose name escapes my memory.

What: Richard, always a wild card, had decided to share with us about the time he was thrown in the slammer for DUI. Not the typical intro into a graduate-level discussion of The Canterbury Tales. But somehow, between bipolar disorder and PTSD from Vietnam, his social filter had disappeared, and so we got the unfiltered version of him, somewhat like the unfiltered cigarettes he rolled during Elizabethan Poetry and Prose class.

The tale was in full swing, complete with Richard’s descriptions of being drunk and his jail cell. I sharpened my elbows, prepared to jab Richard’s ribs if he got too out of control. (This happened frequently.)

Our classmate was a serious man. He dressed in suits, behaved properly, and was as completely unlike a criminal as I could imagine. He shook his head slowly. “I hope I am never jailed,” he said soberly. “I pray I never have to go through that.”

He said it as if jailtime was a distinct possibility. Why, I wondered, would he worry about that?

A series of realizations tumbled through my mind:

He’s black.

He’s afraid he’ll go to jail, even if he’s innocent.

I know nothing about being non-white in America. Nothing.

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My own ignorance hadn’t gone unnoticed. Two years before, I had had a similar revelation while reading The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I read Douglass’s description of a whipping and had a physical reaction: my body hurt.

I flinched, paused to take in my surroundings—blue sky outside, glass window beside me, cold to the touch—before I forced myself to continue reading.

A second awakening happened at Walmart. As I walked in, I looked around and noticed the skin color of almost everyone else here wasn’t the same as mine. I’m the only white person here, I thought, and felt apprehension fill me. Then I was shocked. Why would I be apprehensive about being the only white at the entrance of Walmart?

A second question: Was this how many African-Americans felt when they were the only black in a room of white people?

Then a third question: Was I racist if I felt uncomfortable around people of a different race?

The answer made me ache.

Racism had torn apart my extended family when I was young. I remember sitting on the kitchen floor, crying, because I knew that it was wrong for anyone to hate another person for their skin color, wrong for family to be split in this way, wrong because God loves all people.

“Jesus loves the little children,” my little girl self sang in Sunday school, “all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight . . .”

Was it possible that a deep-rooted prejudice against minorities was planted in my own heart?

—————————————————————

All of us are capable of prejudice.

When this ugly beast raises its head in my heart, it’s shocking and repulsive because it tells me how hateful I am capable of being. It is tempting to look away from this uncomfortable truth (like looking in a mirror and then forgetting my appearance when the reflection disappears from view.)

But it’s also an opportunity.

  1. First, it’s a chance to admit the depth of my sin and my need for Christ.
  2. Second, it’s a chance to struggle against this sin. Learning more about the people I am prejudiced against is a good start. (It’s not a guaranteed way of dispelling racism; it’s possible to hate someone even when we know them well.)

I signed up for African-American literature that fall. Maybe this wasn’t the most effective method, but I respond to literature, and this class seemed as good a start as any.

For the first time, I saw my own behavior as a white American reflected back at me from a non-white perspective. Some of my thought patters were racist, even when I didn’t intend them to be. It would be hard not to see that while I read books like Native Son or Their Eyes Were Watching God. It would be hard not to be uncomfortable in my white skin while I read the poetry of Nikki Giovanni, Imanu Amiri Baraka, or Countee Cullen.

Even when I meant well, I still might be doing something wrong. I might be trying to “speak” for the black community. (As if I understood the experience of being non-white—which I didn’t—and as if no one else could speak for him/herself—which wasn’t true.)

For example, during this time I went to a church (predominately white) where I knew several people who were racist. Some made remarks that blatantly misunderstood the African-American community. The remarks made me cringe; the appropriation of Bible verses to defend their stances against interracial marriage made me angry.

I wanted to say something because I didn’t want silence to be seen as agreement. But how could I correct the racist statements without trying to speak “for” other people who weren’t present? Also, these church people were my only “friends”; I desperately wanted them to accept me, and I was afraid that if I disagreed, they would reject me.

Sadly, I let my fear of rejection stop up my mouth. I let my fear of saying the wrong thing keep me from saying anything. I was afraid. I was silent.

My silence hurt me as much as anyone else. I lost the chance to confront the ugliness in my own heart—of racism and fear—and lost the chance to be honest with my fellow believers about the sin in their lives, too. I don’t have contact with any of them now.

If I did and if that conversation occurred again, I hope I would say:

You’re wrong. Look at the Bible. Look at how Jesus treats others. Do your attitudes reflect Jesus? Do mine?

I can’t speak for other people. I can’t pretend to understand what it’s like to have a different skin color.

But I can tell you this: Jesus loves us. He loves people of every race. He loves us when we’re racist and prejudiced and hateful.

But he loves us too much to let us to remain comfortable in that prejudice. He gives us the power to change so we learn to love others the way he does.

That’s what he’s teaching me. I hope that’s what he’s teaching you, too.  

71ac72bc4dce29e471f15efe1c931e1eLaura Droege is a wife of a rocket scientist, a mama of two daughters, and a novelist with three manuscripts in search of a good publishing home. She holds a graduate degree in literature and taught English as a second language for four years. Now she stays home with her kids and writes. Actually, scratch that: she drives the SUV to various kid activities and writes at bagel shops and in the carpool line at school and in her study, which is close enough to the laundry room to induce guilt, but far enough from the kitchen to (almost) ignore the siren-call of the M&M’s she shouldn’t have bought last week. She blogs at lauradroege.wordpress.com.

Photo Credit: morguefile.com