"Progress" is a funny concept.
In her essay Elements of Style playwright Suzan-Lori Parks discusses repetition and revision. This is, "a concept integral to the Jazz esthetic in which the composer or performer will write or play a musical phrase once and again and again; etc. - with each revisit the phrase is slightly revised. 'Rep & Rev' as I call it is a central element in my work; through its use I'm working to create a dramatic text that departs from the traditional linear narrative style to look and sound more like a musical score"
"In such plays we are not moving from A -> B but rather, for example, from A -> A -> A -> B -> A. Through such movement we refigure A. And if we continue to call this movement FORWARD PROGRESSION, which I think it is, then we refigure the idea of forward progression."
(Parks, The America Play and Other Works, pg. 8-10)
Her work is remarkable and I highly recommend you read it.
The issue is, we tend to think (we, meaning Western/American society) that progress is definitively marked by time - that we have steadily moved from A to B to C to D to E all the way to Z and possibly repeating the alphabet or transcending letters altogether. We leave the past in the past thinking we're really beyond all that, now.
Meanwhile unrest at point B lingers, echoing (amplifying) as an underscore to each wave of "progress" that follows.
Jon Hart shared about Redemptive Entrepreneurship at the 2018 Urbana Missions Conference. He illustrated a beautiful contrast between, "Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History" and yet how mental illnesses, civil wars and refugees, income disparity, mass shootings, and many other tragedies continue to multiply. I don't think I need to dig into our present crisis any more than has already been done - but likewise, when products are valued over the lives of people, something is deeply twisted about our "progress."
Likewise, when being "woke" and cancel culture became a part of our everyday lives, those with progressive views quickly took up the titles and platforms to declare their own cleanness in a world of every type of "ism" we can imagine - only to find another justice warrior who could belittle their ignorance on one topic of the debate. The social hierarchy shifts from those with money and power to those with platforms and influence.
Here is a diagram:
This diagram has changed my life.
As I was a part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at UMBC, it took me three semesters of going through the Beyond Colorblind series to finally realize my own part in this conversation.
I felt like a white American with no culture. I thought it was my place to be quiet and listen, with nothing helpful to contribute. I was ashamed of my ancestry with no clear path for how I could begin to be better.
I'll get back to how this diagram relates, after I show you another one:
This diagram is known as The Big Story or The Four Circles - it is a visual way to represent the Gospel. Circle 1 (top left) is God's good creation with people united with each other and God; Circle 2 (top right) is brokenness from God and each other, as a result of sin, choosing to go against God's original good plan; Circle 3 (bottom right) is healing brought by Jesus that gives us hope; Circle 4 (bottom left) is restoration of original goodness through Jesus and Christians as His ambassadors.
In the Beyond Colorblind series, these circles are outlined as Beauty, Brokenness, Redemption, and Restoration. You can watch the videos I linked above for more context. But the basic idea is that we need to recognize the beauty of our culture and ethnicities - uniquely created by God as good (unlike the lies of supremacy and "normal" would say). Then, we need to recognize the brokenness of our culture and ethnicities - how we've chosen against each other and God (abandoning our culture in favor of assimilation, exaggerating good cultural ideas into harmful ones, and many more). BUT that there is redemption for all of our stories, and restoration to each other and to God in our ethnic and cultural identities.
As a white person: where did I go? What could I say? We started the series in the circle of Beauty - What beauty could I identify in my ethnic and cultural background? I've since been able to answer these questions, but I needed the Cycle of Gospel Living diagram to more fully understand my place as a white person engaging in these conversations.
The entry point for the powerful is to give up power and choose the cross. To enter into death (dying to self, living sacrifice), the cross, and powerlessness. To see the brokenness circle first.
Now, an important caveat must be made - the issue was not with the Beyond Colorblind series. The entry point for the powerless is at empowerment and endurance, the empty tomb, resurrection, and power. To see the beauty circle first. The series shouldn't be centered around the experiences of white people.
But it was only once I found my entry point that I could begin my needed work as a white American. We all need to do this work - especially now.
The reason I'm writing this post is to remind ourselves that we are never finished.
The Cycle of Gospel Living is not stagnant - the moment I enter into the work of choosing death and the cross, I'm met with the empowerment and endurance of Christ and His resurrection - as I face the judgements of those around me who don't believe in privilege, and I deliberately choose to stand alongside my Black family in Christ, I also get to experience the upswing of the Gospel Living Cycle giving me the endurance to keep going.
But then, we are never finished, I may begin to experience the pride of being a justice-minded person. I may begin to look down on those who don't seem to be as far along as me. The woke cancel-culture creates a different kind of power accessible to me that I must then choose again to give up, and choose the cross.
And on and on it goes. It is the same for those who have the entry point of the powerless - we all exist in this cycle like a laundry machine, churning us out more humble and wise with each run of the cycle.
We are never finished because even if were were to successfully eradicate all racism from our own country, we would be left to again enter the Gospel Living Cycle to consider our English-speaking American sources of power.
We must do this work and we must never think that our progress is finished. We are Rep & Revving ourselves. We're cycling through a story of death to life to death to life to death to life: making outwardly manifest the truth of the Gospel of Christ.
Will we pay the price? What cost are we willing to pay? This is costly renewal.
Show your work. Though our complex racial inequalities can hardly be compared to the simplicity of a math problem - none of us are benefitting from a presentation of problem & answer. We need those who are far-along in this journey, we need those who are just beginning - and we need those in all walks to humbly show and share the work of anti-racist learning we are doing. If you aren't sharing, you are missing out on the loving confrontation you need in order to keep going. Do not think you are too inexperienced to speak. You are only ever too inexperienced to speak with authority. Speak with humility. Show your work - so that those further along than you can correct and rejoice in your improvement - and so that those who are catching up can see a clearer path to the next steps.
You don't need to share as if you are finished. We are never finished.
With thanks and love,
that the Church would boldly stand for racial justice and we would know not only the culture we are condemning but also the culture we are creating.