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.

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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

Coming to terms with my racial privilege

Please welcome Jody to the Words That Changed My World Series! I have loved reading Jody’s thoughts over the past months – she’s a deep thinker and winsome writer on some tricky issues relating to race and culture, so I am more than thrilled to have her as a guest today. And, by the way, you should stop over at her blog to read some more of her stuff when you’re done!

Photo credit:  TheRealRanjitMakkuni

Photo credit: TheRealRanjitMakkuni

I sat in her office, desperate to convince her that I cared, that these issues of race were just as important to me as they were to her, one of the few African-American woman working in a predominately white institution.

“You don’t have to think about the issue of race,” she said to me point-blank.

I was taken aback, “Yes, I do. It’s really important to me to understand,” I tried to half-convince, half-explain.

“But you don’t have to,” she persisted. “I can’t ever take my skin off. It comes with me everywhere I go. You don’t have to think about yours if you don’t want to. I don’t have a choice.”

I paused, having never before considered that the privilege of my white skin was that it allowed me simple freedoms like walking into a rural gas station without getting suspicious looks, or keeping people from placing me under media-driven stereotypes. It was a moment in time when I realized that everything I’d ever understood about ‘normal’ was far from that very notion, and that no matter how much I did actually care, I would never fully understand the experience of people of color living in a broken and racialized society like the US.

At the time, I had no idea how formative her words would be as my life-steps eventually led me to marry across racial lines, teach in a wide variety of diverse contexts, move several times among the immensely diverse cultures of the US, travel around the world and raise biracial children. In order for me to fully step into the world of understanding another’s reality, I needed to first accept that I would need to accept their worldview without a complete ability to understand it.

Come to find out, this lesson had a much broader application than I originally realized. As I walk through life, there are a whole host of people I don’t understand, and walking alongside them with an attitude that reminds me that I don’t have a clue about their story allows me to listen more gently, walk more humbly, and love more mercifully.

It’s a bit paradoxical, I admit. However, the more I matured in my understanding of all things, the more I understood both the reality and beauty of paradox. To save your life, you must lose it. The first will be last and the last will be first. Blessed are the meek. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

Admitting my own limitations in my ability to walk alongside others has given me a freedom that I never knew in the days when I thought I had all the answers. It allows me to listen without judgment, to love without critique or skepticism, to speak and anger slowly. For those of us who have only ever known the experience of being the-ones-with-the-power, these skills must be actively developed and practiced when in order to truly hear those coming from a different place. Like a diamond, they form as a result of some intense and heated pressure within, creating something beautiful only after the conflict resolves.

My journey toward a deeper racial understanding has mirrored this very process. I am forever grateful both for the discomfort my African-American friend’s words created in my life as well as for her honesty that set me on a brutal and beautiful journey toward the reconciling of broken things – myself being first on the list.

DSC_0668Jody Fernando (@Jodylouise) does a lot of living between worlds. A midwestern girl from the cornfields, she is married to a man from the Indian Ocean. Together, they raise their bicultural and biracial children, and have family on four continents. She explores the ins and outs of intercultural living on her blog Between Worlds, helps amazingly resilient immigrants learn to speak English, teaches a few university courses, and makes a mean curry. Read more about her journey toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race and faith in her book Pondering Privilege.