I sat down for lunch with a young woman from my church the other day. She’s a Sociology major with a growing heart for justice. As she shared with me about her classes this quarter she articulated a frustration that I think many feel. She had been learning about racial inequality, systemic injustice and ethnic brokenness and it was breaking her heart. But she did not know what to do about it.
Finding a Way Forward
As a white women and a follower of Jesus, she felt that the best thing she could do was assume a posture of listening in the classroom. All the assigned reading uncovered the problem without providing any real solutions or even messy paths forward. “I just wish I knew how to engage these hard questions or had some kind of tool to help me move forward,” she said. To which I responded, “I think I might have a tool to help you.” That’s when I reached into my purse and pulled out Sarah Shin’s book, Beyond Colorblind; this wasn’t the first time I had done that. In fact, I should probably buy multiple copies so I can give it away.
For those who have felt stuck in perpetual naval gazing or discouragement as a result of conversations about race and ethnicity, this book might be a helpful tool for you as well. Let me tell you why: As a white woman I have often felt like I had nothing to bring to the table in conversations about race except a sense of grief and/or guilt. This book is incredibly hospitable to people of every ethnicity, race and culture. Sarah Shin invites every reader to identify with their own ethnic story and then to celebrate the beauty and lament the brokenness of that story. Then she challenges the reader to seek healing and restoration; even seek to embody the Gospel through one’s ethnicity.
“Stewarding your ethnic identity means owning your people, and acting as a reconciling representative of your people in extending Shalom.”
Instead of being paralyzed by the enormity of the brokenness or the dwelling in grief, Shin challenges us to lift up our eyes, look in the mirror, engage our own ethnic story. All this in order that the Gospel will be more fully embodied and demonstrated. Shin paints a beautiful, redemptive vision that captures our imagination. This is in stark contrast to much of the discussion around race and ethnicity.
This book paints a beautiful theological picture of the redemption and restoration of all things, including all of who we are as His created beings. Shin’s undergirding assumption is that God intends to use our ethnicity as a key component to bring about the flourishing of all people. That as a diverse people seek to love those like them and those not like them, it is a powerful apologetic for the transformative Gospel of Jesus.
Many church planters, myself included, long to see a multi-ethnic Gospel community formed to demonstrate the diversity and beauty of God and His Kingdom. But, what Shin clearly articulates, is the need to shift away from pursuing ethnic diversity as an end in and of itself. Albeit subtle, it can be easy to substitute the means for an end as if having multi-ethnic, multi-cultural faith communities is the fulfillment (end) of the Revelation vision. Instead, it is through the diversity of community that God is working out His Kingdom vision as people attempt to live out the Gospel in ways that confront idols, ethnic barriers, racial scars, and systemic injustice. This kind of community becomes a compelling witness to the power of the Gospel. Shin says, “Ethnicity no longer serves as the confines of mission. It becomes the vehicle, the sacred vessel in which God’s story comes to light.”Ethnicity is the sacred vessel for God's mission Click To Tweet
As we approach Easter we remember again the surprising power and victory of the cross and resurrection to remove barriers and reconcile the world through a physical body—a middle-eastern one at that! God took on flesh and blood. Jesus, the sent One, embodied the reconciling Gospel to redeem and restore. The Gospel was more than an idea; more than even a really good idea – it was a person.
Sarah Shin’s book reads as both a compelling theological vision and practical toolkit. Replete with stories of real people working through the mess and confusion of conversations about ethnicity, she provides tangible best practices in examining one’s own ethnic identity and living and loving out of a redeemed self. She also provides tools for building cross-cultural relational trust. They are steps that anyone in any context can employ to better their cross-cultural skills.
If the conversations about race and ethnicity feel overwhelming and you do not know where to start, this is a great place to begin. I am going to keep carrying around copies of this book in my purse and handing them out to people. You might just want to do the same.
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