The Garden

I imagine her at the flowerbed planting her perennial garden – peonies of white, pink and burgundy along the back. Next to these beauties, bearded iris, and in front, a vibrant orange poppy, a Shasta daisy and hot pink beebalm. And in the corner, several lily plants. Now what to fill in the empty space between? She chose a lovely spreading plant with leaves of white and green with lacy, delicate blooms. On both sides of the perennial garden, she – the lady who lived here before me – planted wildflowers – delphiniums, prairie coneflowers, catnip, and Chinese forget-me-nots.

Now the garden is mine to tend. The first spring came. I was delighted when the peonies, poppies, and irises bloomed! Oh, if these spring beauties would only last longer! The green and white plant filled in all the spaces and made the little flower garden complete. It soon crept under the border into the adjacent wildflower bed. I had to know its name: Goutweed! What a nasty name for a lovely plant! A deer munched on its leaves and made a bed in them.

The daisies and bee balm bloomed in July. The lilies never bloomed. I blamed the deer.

Now in my second year up north, I know to expect the peonies and irises to bloom in June, just before Father’s Day. This year, the poppy plant didn’t bloom and there were only a few iris blooms. I noticed a plant growing in the middle of the wildflower garden and looked it up with a plant app. Goutweed, it said, though the leaves were solid green, not the green and white I’ve come to know.

The lilies didn’t bloom so I moved them.. The bee balm plant also didn’t bloom. I couldn’t even find it in the mess of goutweed leaves.

The nice garden space filler had become an out of control weed. I told my husband how it was spreading and he said, “I’m going to spray weed killer on it.” “What about the deer,” I asked. “And the ground squirrel that’s been hiding under the peonies?” I knew that killing the leaves wouldn’t do anything to the roots. I had to dig them up. This is my garden to tend.

I hand-pulled the leaves from the goutweed, then dug up the rhizomes. The goutweed was growing between the irises so I dug the irises up too and saw that the rhizomes were intertwined.

To rid the garden of goutweed for good, I will have to be persistent about pulling up new growth and may have to cover up the flowerbed with plastic next spring to keep the plants from photosynthesizing.

While I was digging up the roots last week, a hot and sweaty task, I thought about how invasive they were. It only takes a small amount to take over a flowerbed. It only takes a small amount to crowd out the good plants.

I thought about my Father, the Gardener. This world is his garden to tend. He cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit and prunes those that do so they will be even more fruitful. I thought about how I must keep a sharp eye out for weeds in my own heart so that no one misses out on the grace of God because of me.

Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.

Hebrews 12:14-17 (The Message)

Pillars of Caste: Endogamy

Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific social group, religious denomination, caste, or ethnic group, rejecting those from others as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships.  – Wikipedia

Endogamy is the third pillar of caste as enumerated by Isabel Wilkerson in her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Wilkerson describes this pillar as “an ironclad foundation” or a “firewall.” When laws are enacted to prevent ethnic groups from marrying or having intimate relationships with each other, it enforces the concept of inequality. Endogamy has been used for centuries as a powerful legal means of keeping people of color below the dominant, white caste.

The practice of endogamy has powerful social repercussions. As Wilkerson noted, when there are no shared familial connections, people are less likely to feel empathy for the other caste. People in the dominant caste will not “have a personal stake in the happiness, fulfillment, or well-being of anyone deemed beneath them.” When endogamy is enforced, those in the dominant caste are more likely to see the lower caste as the enemy, as a threat, as not “our kind” of people.

Wilkerson wrote that Virginia became the first colony to prohibit marriage between blacks and whites in 1691. The majority of states followed suit, with some also outlawing marriage between whites and Asians or Native Americans. The Supreme Court overturned these laws in 1967 but it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the state of Alabama repealed its law against intermarriage.

I recently read about Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple whose case was decided by the Supreme Court in 1967. Mildred Loving was a black/Native American woman and Richard Loving was white. The Lovings were convicted for breaking Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, a law criminalizing interracial marriage. At their sentencing hearing, the trial judge said, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Although laws prohibiting interracial marriages have been repealed, the belief expressed by the trial judge still persists and not just among white supremacists. Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, wrote about what she calls “fear of a black planet.” She interviewed a member of the British National Party who fears that white people will become an ethnic minority in Britain. He “recommended” that she “get the hell out of this country” and go have kids somewhere else, connected to her own heritage. This fear of people of color (not just blacks) becoming more powerful is expressed as “taking back our country,” “preserving our national identity,” and in concerns about immigration.

Wilkerson is absolutely correct that interracial relationships lead to empathy and caring about the happiness, fulfillment and well-being of those considered as “other” in a caste system. The mixed-race little girl in the image is my adopted niece Maddie, now a college student. I have been blessed to have a Vietnamese sister-in-law and several mixed-race nieces and nephews. Every one of them deserves the same opportunities for happiness and success as my white family members.

Mixed-race relationships are not nearly as controversial as they used to be and that is a good thing, in my opinion. People should be allowed to love other people fully, regardless of skin color. But Eddo-Lodge opened my eyes to issues that come with mixed-race relationships. The increase in mixed-race marriages and mixed-race children “brings those difficult conversations about race and whiteness and privilege closer to home (literally) than ever before.”

Eddo-Lodge spoke to a mixed-race woman she called Jessica, who grew up primarily around her mother’s white family. For most of her life, Jessica didn’t talk to her family about race because she was raised in a “color-blind” way. Jessica’s family did not prepare her for what she would face in the world as a mixed-race person. Jessica’s mother never thought race was an issue for her because there were no racial incidents. But Jessica grew up feeling different because she was the only black child in class and lived in a white town surrounded by white family. I can’t help but think of my niece Maddie who also grew up in a white town surrounded by white family.

As an adult, Jessica is more conscious of race. She is more aware of and sensitive to the racism in her own family. She wonders why her family didn’t think about her needs as a mixed-race child. She wasn’t exposed to the Jamaican side of her heritage. Jessica believes that when white people are in interracial relationships, have mixed-race children, or adopt children of another race, they should be committed to being actively anti-racist.

As interracial relationships have become more accepted, I think it behooves all of us to be actively anti-racist and to have difficult conversations about race. The Almighty God created human beings in his image and He commanded us to love one another with no conditions. Proverbs 17:5 says, “whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker…” The same thing can be said for those who show contempt for people of color.

Pillars of Caste: Heritability

In Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson wrote about the pillars of caste systems – beliefs that uphold a system of hierarchy. In a caste system, those in the upper caste(s) believe that those in the lower caste(s) are naturally inferior and were born to play a subordinate role in society. Wilkerson called the second pillar of caste heritability. Heritability is a measure of how well differences in genes account for differences in traits. When a trait can be passed on through genetics, it is heritable.

Wilkerson wrote that unlike social class, caste is a fixed measure of a person’s standing. A person can move from a lower to a higher class through ingenuity, education, and/or hard work. “If you can act your way out of it, then it is class, not caste.” In a caste system, even upper class people are subjected to “humiliating attempts to put them in their place.” In a caste system, people are labeled based on the way they look on the outside and that label determines what they can and cannot do in society. Sadly, the label is often out of sync with the person inside.

Even the most accomplished people of color are disrespected by whites. Wilkerson told a personal story about going to a retail store in Chicago to interview the store manager for a news article. She arrived early for her appointment. When the manager arrived, she went up to him to introduce herself. The manager told her he couldn’t speak to her because he was running late for an appointment. When she told him that she worked for The New York Times and was there to interview him, he didn’t believe her, even when she showed him her ID.

Wilkerson noted that all human beings are 99.9% identical in their genetic makeup, a fact confirmed by the Human Genome Project. The differences we see result from a tiny fraction of our DNA. Skin color, hair texture, and facial features are heritable, but physical traits are arbitrary ways of discriminating between human beings.

Wilkerson wrote about a school teacher who, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., decided to teach her students what it is like to be judged on the basis of an arbitrary trait. She divided the students into two groups based on eye color. She told the kids that people with brown eyes are not as good as people with blue eyes. She told them that brown-eyed people are slower and not as smart as blue-eyed people. The students with brown eyes were not allowed to drink from the water fountain and were not allowed to go to recess with the blue-eyed students. The teacher noticed an immediate change in the students’ behavior. Those in the disfavored group under-performed in their schoolwork.

All men must have been created equal; most certainly they are not all alike. The idea of equality derives from ethics; similarity and dissimilarity are observable facts. Human equality is not predicated on biological identity, not even on identity of ability. People need not be identical twins to be equal before the law, or to be entitled to an equality of opportunity.

Theodosius Dobzhansky

Even when presented with living proof that people in the lower caste are intelligent, talented, equal human beings, the upper caste persists in denying the lower caste the full benefits of their humanity. As the geneticist Dobzhansky said, human equality is not predicated on biological identity. Human equality is based on our identity as beings created in the image of God.

Whatever black people can do, white people can do. Let me repeat that. Whatever black people can do, white people can do. If this sounds strange, it is because we are so accustomed to pretending that white people set the standard for human achievement. This is not true.

Let’s tear down this pillar of the American caste system.

*****

Unequal by nature: a geneticist’s perspective on human differences

How Heritability Misleads about Race

Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash

Loving the enemy

My church is doing an in-depth study of the gospel of Luke. One of the most challenging spiritual lessons, on loving your enemies, is found in Luke chapter six, verses 27-36.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Luke 6:27

Jesus explains why we should love our enemies – because God is kind to the wicked and to the ungrateful. Anyone can love their friends. God expects more of us. We are to be merciful to others just as He is merciful to us.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.

Luke 6:32-33

Scot McKnight wrote about loving the enemy is his book, Living the Jesus Creed. He says that the enemy Jesus has in mind is the person who has wronged or wounded us. McKnight says that loving the enemy often begins in the mind and the memory. When you remember that you have been wronged, you can either “enjoy a feast of condemnation, the feast that never satisfies” and thereby let the enemy define you or you can let Jesus define you through grace.

Your enemy may be a person who hurts you. Your enemy may be a person who rubs you the wrong way or pushes your buttons. It may be a person whose interests are diametrically opposed to yours.

It has been fifteen years and I have not forgotten how wounded I was by a conflict with a coworker. We were so different! I have always been hardworking, conscientious, and dependable. The younger coworker was a slacker who always had an excuse for not doing his job. I was put in charge of training him. I couldn’t ignore his negligence of his job responsibilities. Large bills were not getting paid. I complained to the boss. The boss listened to my concerns but never held the coworker accountable. Instead, he acted like an indulgent parent and accused me of being contentious.

This conflict went on for months. I tried to deal with it on my own. I read self-help books. I spoke to a counselor. And yes, I indulged in a feast of condemnation that did not satisfy. I knew that I was becoming the kind of person God does not want me to be. I became critical and unkind to the coworker. I gossiped about him to friends. The conflict brought me to my knees. I resigned from my job but not before wounding my boss by telling him what I honestly thought of him.

McKnight reminds us that in the face of the enemy, we see an eikon of God – a person made in God’s image. Instead of “shrinking the other person to the size of our personal villain,” we should see them as someone whom God loves. To love the enemy is to see their humanity.

With time and lots of prayer, I learned to see the humanity of my enemies. I saw that the younger coworker was not a villain but the product of his upbringing. I saw that the boss was a good man with a personality unlike my own. I knew that I was not above reproach and that God has forgiven me for my role in the conflict. It didn’t define who I am.

Loving your enemy doesn’t mean that you forget that you were wronged. You can still condemn the wrong. But you should remember that God forgave you despite your own wrongdoing. With the grace of God, we can turn the memory of wounds into grace. We can pay God’s grace forward by offering it to others.

Jesus said to pray for those who mistreat you. McKnight suggests praying that God will make the enemy into the person God wants them to be. Lord, as I remember the hurts of the past, I remember how merciful you were to me. Thank you for using that difficult experience to teach me. I pray that you will make A and B into the people you want them to be.

****

Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

I will not be silent

I will not be silent
in the face of injustice.
I will stand up 
for the oppressed,
for people of color –
children of God.

I will stand up against
the lie of white supremacy
the sin that begat slavery
the sin that begat lynchings
the sin that begets inequality
the sin that begets injustice.

In this land where
liberty and justice
are not for all
I will protest freely
I will act justly
I will love mercy.

I will be an instrument
of Your peace.
Where there is hatred
I will sow love.
Where there is darkness
I will be light.
I will not be silent.