Review: Healing Racial Trauma

Healing Racial Trauma, Sheila Wise Rowe (Foreword by Soong-Chan Rah). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A counseling psychologist describes the experience of racial trauma in story, drawing upon her own and other clinical experiences, and explores the resources for resilience to face continuing racial struggle.

As a White male, I’ve heard the terminology of racial trauma but have not experienced it in my own person. But I work with Black colleagues who have. One looking up to see a policeman’s gun trained on her for the “crime” of watering a neighbor’s flowers while the neighbor was away. Another and his wife stopped in front of their home after a trip to the grocery store, forced to lay on the pavement while their car was searched, for evidence from a robbery even though they offered to produce a receipt from the grocery confirming their whereabouts when the robbery happened. Their crime? “Fitting the description.” Or Asian-American friends who have faced racial slurs urging them to go “home” when this is the country of their birth and citizenship. Often Blacks and people of color can tell a litany of stories running not only through their lives but the lives of their parents and grandparents. When I see the story of a racial injustice, I may be incensed. When a person of color sees the same story, it opens old wounds and is one more in a series of assaults on their sense of dignity.

Sheila Wise Rowe, a counseling psychologist who grew up in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston helps us understand both from her own experience and those of others the deep wounds of racial trauma, wounds beneath the skin, that many Blacks and people of color struggle with. She begins with types of racism and types of racial trauma. The latter was particularly illuminating as she named:

  • Historical racial trauma: The trauma shared by a group that has faced in its past a traumatizing event such as the forced removal of First Nation tribes that continues to affect these people in the forms of alcoholism, addiction, and elevated rates of suicide.
  • Transgenerational racial trauma: The bodily effects of trauma passed from one generation to the next, possibly manifesting in diabetes, heart disease. An axiom of trauma is that “the body remembers” and this idea suggests that trauma is even remembered across generations. It also can mean the passing of trauma in the stories we tell.
  • Personal racial trauma: The personal experience of abuse for one’s race. Rowe in the book describes the verbal and physical attacks she endured when being bused to white schools.
  • Physical trauma: Attacks upon one’s body that are racially motivated. One thinks of what John Lewis and so many endured at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
  • Vicarious trauma: The wounds opened when one hears reports of violence against others of one’s race. One thinks of the example of mothers and wives who hear reports of a police involved shooting and think of their own husbands and sons.
  • Microaggressions: The small, everyday, thoughtless assaults on dignity. “You’re so articulate.” “Can I touch your hair?”
  • Racial gaslighting: The ways individuals and institutions in power try to recast reality turning an incident of racial injustice into something the victim of injustice must have done wrong and that racism is just something imagined that must be gotten over.

In the chapters that follow Rowe describes the effects of the ongoing experience of racial trauma. She describes the fatigue of racism’s relentlessness, especially pronounced for many Blacks in the summer of 2020 in the cycle of incidents with police, protests, and recriminations. Silence is the swallowing and suppressing of pain, anger, and rage, and the self-destructiveness that occurs when all this is turned inward. Rage is the bitter root that festers until unleashed in destructive acts. Fear is often used to subdue a population, as in lynching. Shame happens when the stories of racial inferiority are internalized and they become the stories that prevent one’s true story from being told. Addiction is a misguided response to relieve the pain of trauma.

Rowe addresses these with stories and charts the beginnings of the way out, starting with lament, that cries out to God, that gathers up the hurt and offers it to God. Lament tells the truth without spiritualizing or sugarcoating. She stresses the Christ-centered nature of the healing work that is needed in walking toward freedom, a work that allows Christ to enter in and walk with. It is both internal and external work. Rowe believes that this can lead to a growth in resilience. Racism isn’t going to disappear overnight. Rather, one must develop the resources in Christ who heals our wounds, who helps us practice self-care as his beloved, and calls us into creative engagement with our unique gifts and voices.

For people of color, this may be (and has been from accounts of colleagues) a book that both names what is often felt without words and offers hope and healing. It is an important book for Whites to read as well. It begins with naming the forms of trauma. Then, Rowe’s descriptions of herself as a little girl being bused invited me to imagine what it was like to be on the bus, the walk the gantlet of hateful crowds to enter her school. The other stories, including Nick, her husband’s, invite the same imagining, not as a substitute for what no one should experience, but as at least a very beginning of understanding viscerally as well as cognitively, something of racial trauma. To learn to just sit with and listen to these experiences may open the door to being an ally in Christ’s healing process.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Miracle Work

Miracle Work

Miracle Work, Jordan Seng. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Summary: A description of how God wants to work through us to do things in the world, including supernatural things like healing, delivering people from demons, prophesying, or intercessory prayer.

Jordan Seng contends that the whole work of Christian ministry is God partnering with us to get things done in the world. In all of those things, God is the one empowering, and we are the ones doing–preaching, serving, calling people to faith. His contention is that this extends to the things we might call “supernatural”. God wants to partner with us in healing people, delivering them from the demonic, or speaking prophetically into people’s lives. He argues that God wants to work in these ways in a very “hands on” fashion literally–one person with another. It can be amazing, and it can be messy.

If you don’t come from a church where these things happen, this could be uncomfortable reading because it seems kind of wild, a bit out of control, or as Seng says, “weird.” But if we are convinced that God still wants to partner with his people in miraculous ways, as in other ways, then he suggests life could get pretty interesting.

One of the things about Seng’s book, as alluded to in the subtitle, is the “down to earthness” of his instruction. For example he describes his model of healing as follows:

  1. Locate a sick person.
  2. Place a hand on the person’s shoulder and say, “In the name of Jesus, be healed.”

That’s pretty much it.

I also appreciate his wisdom when healing does not occur to not look for a problem or lack of faith in the person prayed for, but to encourage people to return for prayer.

It’s similar in his instructions about the demonic, when one discerns the demonic(and he gives instruction on discerning), he simply says, “Demon, Jesus is Lord, and it is time for you to go. Now!” What I like here is that it is not elaborate rituals or formulas but the simple word of command in the name of Christ. This seems to conform most closely with biblical practice.

It is the case this does involve preparation in the life of the person ministering in these ways. All of this has to do with partnering with the God who is powerful so that his power grows in our lives. He proposes an equation that may seem over-simplistic to some, but that he unpacks in ways that make sense:

Authority + Gifting + Faith + Consecration = Power

Authority grows as a fruit of obedience to Jesus. While we can minister without gifting, gifting amplifies our ability to pursue that ministry. Faith grows as we believe (and invite others in our context to join us) God genuinely wants to do these good things, or rather wants us to do them in his power. Consecration involves separating from worldly practice and setting oneself apart by prayer and fasting. I had a mixed reaction to this “formula.” I absolutely affirm these elements. But he seems to speak in an almost quantitative way of amounts of each of these elements adding up to the amount of power and that lacks in one area can be made up for by plenty in other areas. I think I would simply want to pursue more of each, and nothing that hindered God’s work.

He also teaches in this book on ministries of prophecy and intercession. Each of the major teaching sections is inter-leaved with personal narrative. The book concludes with a discussion of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, marked in many instances but not all by speaking in tongues or some outward manifestation. This may be the most controversial for some, including myself, who would affirm that conversion and Spirit baptism go together. Yet I do think there is an important point in what he teaches. In many of our churches, we are effectively binatarians and do not instruct people in the presence and power of God’s Spirit in their lives, nor affirm the value of laying on of hands and praying for the fullness of the Spirit’s work in our lives. We would agree that this empowering presence is meant for all of the people of God.

I know of places where such things as Seng describes happen regularly. They believe God can work in power and they act in light of this knowledge. I wonder if what may hinder us in the places where this is not so is a combination of a very naturalistic outlook, and maybe more than a hint of fear that we really don’t want God to be that real. Maybe we fear abuses or excesses, but it always has seemed to me that the remedy for abuse is not disuse but proper use. What most persuaded me though was that God’s partnership with us in miraculous works is really no different from his partnership in the things we would deem more ordinary, and yet would seek to do in the power of God.

 

 

Our National Wound

"At the bus station," Durham, North Carolina, May 1940. Photo by Jack Delano. Public domain.

“At the bus station,” Durham, North Carolina, May 1940. Photo by Jack Delano. Public domain.

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”  —Jeremiah 6:14 (English Standard Version)

If the Bible is to be believed, it is possible for a people, a nation to have unhealed wounds. I would propose this is so for my nation, the United States. I believe that wound is a wound involving racial injustice and hatred. We said in our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And yet we have systematically and brutally restricted these rights for a number of our people.

We did so for the native peoples who held our land when we arrived, breaking every treaty we made, and at times engaging in acts of genocide, and in the end confining the remaining to “reservations”. Was this Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

In our Constitution we called the African-American slave “three-fifths” of a person and codified a system of oppression. We spent hundreds of thousands of lives over this issue, and while slaves were emancipated and supposedly given many rights, the hatred of African-Americans by both north and south continued from the time of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow laws that followed down to the present. We say we’ve made progress, and indeed we have when we elect a President of partial African-American descent. And certainly racial attitudes have changed for many. But hatred remains, and anger, and we are faced with the dilemma of realizing that no laws or policies can change the human heart.

Despite all we have spent in money, and blood, and in our legal system, I would propose that we have healed the wounds of our nation lightly. While more might be done institutionally, and probably should be, unless we face our woundedness as a people, these are only bandages on festering sores–concealing the wound but not really cleansing it.

What is involved in facing our woundedness? First of all, I think it means to acknowledge that it is there in all its uglinessness and fetidness. We often want to believe the best of ourselves and our national ideals and so it is hard to face that we are caught up in a legacy of oppression, hatred, and deeds of violence. It is hard to just sit with this–we want to move on, change the topic of conversation, change the channel. And we go on healing wounds lightly.

Sitting with this leads to grief. I grieve that my only fear in driving is being cited for speeding. I never think that I might be stopped, and my vehicle searched, because I fit a racial profile. Some of my friends live with this fear every time they get in their car. I live between two rivers with Indian names, yet the history of my own state is one of driving native peoples out and taking their land. Now in my state only 25,000 claim native heritage out of 11.5 million. Who have we lost, and what have we lost?

Sitting with our woundedness may lead to repentance. Repentance is coming to the place of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. Repentance is honestly facing our wounds and wanting healing, whatever it takes. In this case, it is saying we can no longer live with an atmosphere of hatred, of systemic injustices and the demeaning of others to preserve our sense of self.

As a person of faith, repentance takes me to a place of acknowledging that I need God, and others to heal my wounds. This so goes against American solutionism that thinks we can fix anything with a few more laws, more money, more research. Could it be the case that we are faced with something that runs so deep in our national nature that we need the help of God, and even those we might consider our enemies or those we fear or resent to help us?

The language of repentance and faith is language that makes many of us uncomfortable. We think, maybe if we just try a little harder, do a little more, elect the right people, things will get better. The question remains, have we just covered a festering wound?

Henri Nouwen speaks about how wounds brought to God can become “sacred wounds.” This makes me wonder if the honest facing of our woundedness could lead not only to healing, but something better, the experience of the “beloved community” our founders envisioned where the opportunity of each to pursue life, liberty, and happiness immeasurably enriched us all. I think in fact that the degree to which we have done this as a nation is the degree to which we are rich.

I must close, and would simply ask a question Jesus sometimes asked before healing, is, “do we want to be well?”

“Our Healing is in our Obedience”

Pieter Aertsen 1507/08 – 1575 The Healing of the Cripple of Bethesda

Pieter Aertsen 1507/08 – 1575
The Healing of the Cripple of Bethesda

“Our healing is in our obedience.”

I’ve been musing on this phrase ever since Rich [Hagopian, for those of you who don’t know my pastor] said this during this past Sunday’s message on the healing of the invalid at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:1-15.

The basic story is that Jesus comes upon this man who he has learned has been in this condition for 38 years. It was believed that if you could get into the water when it was stirred, you could be healed.

Jesus asks him, “do you want to be well?” The man never answers this searching question. Yet it had to be asked–you can get accustomed to being sick, having others care for you and so forth, to the point that healthy life is the scary thing.

Instead, the man gives the many reasons why he could not get into the pool before others. This provokes all kinds of questions and one wonders if this is a pretty lame excuse.

Jesus neither questions the answer or re-asks his original question. Jesus doesn’t blame or judge him. Instead, Jesus simply tells him to get up and take his mat with him. The man does what Jesus says, and in so doing, in the moment of obedience, finds himself healed. His healing is in his obedience. In doing what Jesus says, he finds he is able to walk.

It seems to me that this speaks to those critical moments where we face the choice to trust and follow Jesus in some critical area of obedience, or not. On the one hand, we often can come up with many reasons why we haven’t been able to follow up until now. On the other hand, we sometimes want all kinds of assurances and proofs that Jesus will heal us, help us, be with us, before we follow.

And like this incident, there will be times where none of it matters.

The only thing in those moments is, will we trust that Jesus knows what he is doing enough to do what he says? Sometimes, that is all he will give us and we can only find whether he is true by obeying him.

Probably in my own life, the area where I’ve most been challenged by this is in the matter of giving. It seems crazy, mathematically at least, to set aside a portion of my salary each month for kingdom purposes and to somehow believe that what remains (especially after Uncle Sam gets his chunk!) will be enough. There is no way to know that will be the case before you do it! Yet the crazy paradox is that it is the times when I’ve not been faithful in giving where I’ve felt the most financially stressed. Leaning into giving and generosity, as crazy as it seems, has been the thing that has helped heal me from being obsessed about having “enough.” My healing in the areas of worry about money has been in obedience.

And God has taken care of us through 36-plus years of marriage, and sometimes miraculously, such as the time when we were facing $2000 in unreimbursed medical bills, and the same day we added this up we received a gift of $2000 from someone who said God had told them to send us a check.

I continue to face these moments where I simply have to decide, will I trust Jesus enough to do what he says, laying aside my excuses and not asking for any proofs (which really don’t make obedience easier).

What about you? It might be that the place where you find it hard to trust and obey is the very place where Jesus can bring healing as you obey. What does “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” look like for you?

This blog also appears on Smoky Row Brethren Church’s Going Deeper blog.

Review: Christianity With Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural

Christianity With Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural
Christianity With Power: Your Worldview and Your Experience of the Supernatural by Charles H. Kraft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why do we read of Jesus healings and other works of power yet see so little of this in the church that acts with his name? This is the question that increasingly nagged at Charles Kraft, first during missions work in Africa where other healers claimed spiritual power, and then later as he sat in on John Wimber’s signs and wonders course at Fuller Seminary.

Kraft argues that there is no good case for the cessation of these works following the era of scripture, any more than there is a case for the cessation of preaching that announces the kingdom. These two go hand in hand. Rather he argues that our “powerless” Christianity is a consequence of our embrace of a Western worldview that partitions God and the supernatural from involvement in the physical world, contrary to the testimony of scripture and the experience of Christians in the two-thirds world.

Kraft narrates his own change of perspective and his beginning attempts to minister to people in the power of Christ. He compelling speaks of his realization that this is not a power trip (a pitfall in these kinds of ministries) but power wrapped in love and attentive to God. He speaks of learning this ministry and encourages people to engage in prayer ministry for healing 50 times unsuccessfully before giving up! He speaks with wisdom about not promising a healing but rather going together to the Lord to see what he wants to do. He gives practical instruction for a seven step process in this ministry. He also cautions against emotionalism while paying attention to the emotions that manifest during prayer.

This seems a biblically sound and pastorally sensitive approach. Reading this challenges me to be more open to what God might do when I’m asked to pray for the sick or for those facing other emotional or spiritual challenges.

View all my reviews