Season 1 - Episode 3: Dr. Tabatha Jones Jolivet and Dr. Chris Collins
Dr. Chris Collins is a graduate of Pepperdine, Oklahoma Christian, and UCLA. He works at Azusa Pacific University and is a member at the Camarillo Church of Christ. His Dad is a preacher and Mom is an educator, and he has three brothers. He has been married for 12 years to Kristy, who currently works at Pepperdine and they have two kids: Mateo (6) and Adela (3.5).
Dr. Tabatha Jons Jolivet is a graduate of Pepperdine and Claremont Graduate University. She worked at Pepperdine for more than 20 years and is presently a faculty member at Azusa Pacific University. She worships with a house church community along with her parents - father, Dr. Ira Jolivet, a retired Pepperdine faculty member and preacher; and mother, Marcy Jolivet, a preschool teacher. Tabatha has two brothers; a daughter, Shelby (who also works at Pepperdine); 4 nieces and 2 nephews.
Sara Barton: Hello. My name is Sara Barton and I am the University Chaplain at Pepperdine University. Welcome to Pepperdine Spiritual Live Podcast, a podcast about how people in our community, along with our friends and guests are finding and joining God's good work in the world. Jesus said, "Seek and you shall find," and I will be talking to people who are doing just that. Let's get started.
Sara Barton: Today, my guests are Dr. Chris Collins and Dr. Tabatha Jones-Jolivet. Welcome to the podcast.
Chris Collins: Thank you.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Thank you. It's good to be here.
Sara Barton: I'm gonna call you Chris and Tabatha from here on out.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: You'll call him ... ?
Sara Barton: Dr. Tabatha, Dr. Chris. Yeah. Chris, Tabatha.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Tabatha's fine.
Sara Barton: Yeah. Good.
Sara Barton: Chris is a graduate of Pepperdine University, Oklahoma Christian University, and UCLA. He works at Azusa Pacific University and is a member of the Camarillo Church of Christ. His dad is a preacher and his mom is an educator and he has three brothers. He has been married for 12 years to Christie, and we all say, "Yay, yay, yay," when we hear Christie because she works here and we love working with Christie. She works here and they have two kids, Mateo and Adela.
Sara Barton: Tabatha is a graduate of Pepperdine and Claremont Graduate University. She worked at Pepperdine for more than 20 years and is presently a faculty member at Azusa Pacific University. She worships with a house church community along with her parents, her father, Dr. Ira Jolivet, a retired Pepperdine faculty member and preacher, and mother, Marci Jolivet, a preschool teacher. Tabatha has two brothers, a daughter Shelby, who works at Pepperdine, four nieces and four nephews.
Sara Barton: So I'm seeing some themes in these biographies. You two have a lot in common.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Yes, we do.
Sara Barton: Pepperdine, Churches of Christ, moms who are educators, dads who are preachers. Yeah.
Chris Collins: It's true. I've never thought about all that.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: That's a lot in common. I think I'm in recovery. I'm kidding.
Sara Barton: It's a lot in common. I mean, look, very, very similar things.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Yes.
Sara Barton: So thank you both for being here for this podcast. And for lunch today, we're gonna talk about your book, "White Jesus" You know, a lot of people would like to be at the lunch. We have over 60 who are coming who have read your book and will talk about it just in a little while, but a lot of people can't make it, and so this podcast helps people listen in a bit to that conversation, get to know about your book ...
Sara Barton: As people at Pepperdine, because you are our graduates, we feel proud of you for this book and the work that you're doing that is represented in the book. And so I want to just continue with just a little bit of biography first. Some of the things that aren't included in the bio that I said, in terms of your profession, Tabatha, what do you do?
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Oh, that's a good question. Professionally, of course, I'm a faculty member, but I think of myself as more of a faculty member, whether it's having served here as an administrator for many years or being in my current role as a faculty member, I see myself as a freedom fighter. I believe that education is a political and spiritual and social project, and I see myself as wanting to be about emancipation and freedom in the process of education.
Sara Barton: Thank you for that good work. Now tell me, how is that joining God's good work? Because that's what we talk about in this podcast.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: For me, as a Christian and as a black woman in the United States, I think that God initiates freedom in the world. I get this from my good brother, Raymond Carr, who is a theologian. In fact, he is one of the only black theologians in the Churches of Christ. He often talks about the freedom of God that is initiated in the world.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: And so I see all that is creation, which includes our creativity and our artistry, the project of education, et cetera, as having the impulse of God, that it's my job as someone who has a sacred duty to seek it and follow it.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: So I think education is subsumed in God's freedom and I think it also can work against the freedom of God when power and principality is at work.
Sara Barton: Thank you. "Seek and you shall find." I love how that came out, even without maybe you meaning exactly for it to. I love that.
Sara Barton: Okay, Chris, your turn. What do you do?
Chris Collins: Well, I'm also a faculty member at Azusu Pacific. We teach in a unique program and so our students are all doctoral students and they live all across the country. So aside from teaching classes several weeks out of the year, we advise a lot of dissertations. And so we have students studying a variety of great things, trying to contribute to what we know about higher education.
Chris Collins: And then the third part of what I spend most of my time doing is writing and researching, trying to somehow codify or capture a synthesized idea or some kind of new way of thinking about something to create a new conversation, and also to bring myself along into new places. I'm a student every single day I wake up, I have to die to something that I believed and wake up and become conscious to something new every single day.
Sara Barton: I love that.
Chris Collins: There's a death, burial, and resurrection that happens every single day, and it starts when I wake up.
Sara Barton: I love the way you said that because some people feel like, well, once you get that PhD, you're kind of done learning.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: It's the beginning of unlearning.
Sara Barton: Yeah. It is the beginning, isn't it?
Sara Barton: Yeah. Well, here we are. This is a higher education community that we're a part of and talking to, but even among us, we might still wonder sometimes, how does a dissertation or how does academic research connect to God's good work in the world for you?
Chris Collins: Yeah. On the day to day thing, it's gonna be hard to see because many of the folks who are trying to accomplish that particular task, it's a "keep it all together," you know, take care of the home, get my job done, and work towards a degree. The long arc of what happens is something that we're often not privy to, kind of like a great piece of art that doesn't become famous until the artist is long since passed or something like that.
Chris Collins: But hopefully, what it does most is it cultivates within the researcher a commitment to "me-search." We always say "Me-search has to come before research."
Sara Barton: I've never heard that. I like it. "Me-search."
Chris Collins: Yeah. It does because it always comes out. There is a elusive and tempting veneer behind anything in the academy that something that we've done is evidence-based and objective and scientific that comes with the power and the knowledge of a PhD. And it's-
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: And objectivity.
Chris Collins: Yeah. And it's a veneer. And it's really thin because they person behind it is the instrument, is the cultivator, and is also in process at the same time. You know, the dissertation is one thing but the dissertator, the person becoming a conscious learner committed to justice and peace and whatever their value systems are, is probably as much of an outcome as the book that's bound in the library for no one to ever read in the future. I mean, some people to read.
Sara Barton: Some people.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Other disserators.
Sara Barton: A few people and your mom.
Chris Collins: Yeah. Exactly.
Sara Barton: Yeah, often. Well, you know, interestingly, my calling as a pastor, a chaplain, is unique because, while many people are called to congregations, I really feel called to faculty and to what you're describing because people are people are people, whether you've got a PhD or not, whoever you are, and there are unique spiritual and faith challenges to this life that you lead.
Sara Barton: And so I love hearing you talk about it because I feel called into these relationships with, of course, with our students here. I love serving our students and their spiritual life. Students come and go every four years. Faculty, we hope, are with us over a long term, and I love getting to be a part of those research, me-search conversations.
Sara Barton: Tabatha, I want you to tell me, and this is hard, in a few short sentences, what is your book "White Jesus?" about?
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Oh, a few short sentences? I think that the book "White Jesus?" is about the social engineering of white supremacy and the way in which it is wedded to capitalism, the way in which it's wedded to systems where knowledge is constructed and ordained, and I think that white Jesus functions to hold those projects together in ways that are hegemonic, really foster forms of oppression, whether it's marginalization or displacement or erasure and silence of whole communities of people and how they live in the world.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: So I think for me, White Jesus is a mythology that does all of those things in Jesus' name and so it's really idolatry for me as a Christian.
Sara Barton: Chris, you want to add to that? Is there anything you want to add? Did Tabatha miss some big part?
Chris Collins: My favorite thing is always read the endorsements or whatever for the book.
Sara Barton: Oh, yeah.
Chris Collins: Because some of them are actually better than the book itself, particularly the one by Richard Hughes, who is one of our favorite people.
Chris Collins: And so, just in quick summary, he says, "For years, I've puzzled over the gaping chasm that so often divides the teachings of Jesus from the practice of White American Christians on the matters of race and social justice--a chasm that led Frederick Douglass to affirm in 1845 that, 'between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference'; a chasm that prompted millions of white American Christians in the 1960s to enroll their children in 'Christian' schools to avoid attending schools with blacks; and the chasm that, in 2016, allowed some 80% of White evangelical Christians to vote for a man with a long record of racism as president of the United States. This conundrum is so bizarre. It simply makes no sense unless we admit to the truth embodied in this book--that we have painted Jesus White, God White, and salvation White. And because our religion is our ultimate concern, we have also painted White the deepest recesses of our hopes, our fears, our loves. Why then should we be surprised to discover the weeds of racism, deeply rooted and flourishing in the garden of the American church?"
Sara Barton: Wow. I love Richard Hughes.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: And can I add, Richard would self-identify as a White historian, a religious historian. And I think it's important, going back to the conversation about who's constructing the knowledge that a White, religious historian would name whiteness in that way and connecting it to this mythology of White Jesus, I think, is really important.
Sara Barton: When you read that, and he sent that in to you ... You asked for him to read the book. Did you feel like he got you? He got what the book is about?
Chris Collins: In some ways, and in other ways I feel like I got him. He was my teacher. Through his books and through my relationship with him, so it's a symbiosis. He also just published his most recent book, "Myths America Lives By," which is a revision, but it has a new subtitle, "White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning."
Sara Barton: I heard him say he had to republish to update because of recent events.
Chris Collins: Yeah.
Sara Barton: Yeah.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: And because of his own shift in thinking with that. We've talked about this, and his own shift in thinking is really what helped him to re-update that book.
Sara Barton: So tell me, for your book, did you know that this would be the title from the beginning? Or did the title arise after the writing? Which came first?
Chris Collins: Well, there's a book with one of the authors in here, myself, Alexander Jun, called "White Out," and in that book, we actually named that "White Jesus" was gonna be the followup book to "White Out."
Sara Barton: So that was settled even as you started. Yeah.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: The tag line, though, I think, had some revisions along the way.
Chris Collins: The subtitle? Yeah.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: The subtitle.
Chris Collins: Yeah. For sure.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: But the White Jesus was an imprint that has been around for a long time.
Chris Collins: That's true.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Yeah.
Sara Barton: Well, that subtitle, "The Architecture of Racism in Religion and Education," I never heard that phrase before your book, "the architecture of salvation."
Sara Barton: Chris, I'll let you go first, then I got a follow up for Tabatha. What is that? The White architecture of salvation? And if you were going to explain the White architecture of salvation to someone who's never really thought about it or heard that phrase, say, in a Sunday school class, or a freshman 301 maybe or something that we require here, ho would you explain what that is and why it matters?
Chris Collins: That's a great question and I meditated on that question this morning because it always comes down the pike. You know, what is this thing and how would you describe it, and it often doesn't help to read what you've written to bring new light to it or different perspective, so follow me here on my meditation and then, if you get tripped up on something, just stop me.
Sara Barton: Yeah. Or I'll get Tabatha to say it better.
Chris Collins: And then Tabatha will correct my mistakes because she carries around cleaning supplies to clean up my messes all the time.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: He cleans up my messes, too.
Chris Collins: So the White architecture of salvation is a combination of terms. Architecture, what does that bring to your mind? What do you see when you look at architectural plans? And then salvation. What kind of authority comes with a claim to salvation? Well, the White architecture of salvation, a combination of those things is an adversarial logic system rooted in power and colorism. So you could take that sentence and break it down in many ways, but adversarial is key because I believe in an adversary. I believe in things that are adversarial, that are fighting against essentially what Jesus came to Earth and exists to stand against.
Chris Collins: Power and colorism, these are structures rooted in shades of skin tones that have been constructed, reinforced, and repeated over and over again. The seemingly objective principles that exist in education or in our life, the rules we follow, the norms that exist in our society, are often portrayed and constructed under what is called a "sacred canopy." I don't know if you've heard of that by Peter Berger.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: I have.
Chris Collins: And what that means to me is that there's a tent that says that this is a holy tent, and anything that we shove under the tent has been blessed, right? So it's a sacred canopy. So that is a socially constructed and legitimated ideas that are protected with the authority of God. It's idolatry. It's adversarial. And it's apparent. We can see it in many places, and we see it in that it serves to benefit segmented groups of people, who, throughout history, have managed to leverage land, knowledge, education, economics, laws, other social relationships, and natural resources to reinforce dominance and supremacy, its power and principalities.
Chris Collins: Another term that will conjure up some images for folks. When you see a university, when you walk on a university campus and there's a huge motto printed on the wall of the gym or in front of a building that said, "God first," you should not assume that you know the character of that place or its priorities.
Chris Collins: The motto may actually indicate an authority that says, "This is our version of God first. Get in line or get out." Or should you assume that a 40-foot painting of a Jesus on a building indicates a deep commitment to the Jesus that you believe in, so much so as a commitment to maintaining a socially constructed model of power and then painting a version of Jesus over it so that you can claim to speak almost with the authority of God.
Chris Collins: These social constructs were designed collectively and powerfully, to be a White architecture of salvation, a logic of power and dominance with claims to eternal authority. And I love the concept because it's portable. You can take it and apply it. There's not a test that you get it right in terms of what the authors said. How can you transport that into your own context to help untangle the riddle of dominance in your cultures, in your institution, in your location.
Sara Barton: Now, did you all come up with that language, "the White architecture of salvation" or did you read it somewhere and bring it into your book?
Chris Collins: The concept is rooted in really logic systems and it's a metaphor for trying to understand what logic is. The previous metaphor that was used in the book White Out was "the White architecture of the mind." How are walls, doors, windows, passageways, barriers, all constructed that predispose us or allow us to think in certain ways? And where there is an architecture, there is a architect, right? So it's a metaphor that we came up with, but all the ideas are-
Chris Collins: Right. So it's a metaphor that we came up with. But all the ideas are represented in many other works. Right, Tabatha?
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Sure. Oh yeah. For sure.
Sara Barton: Yeah do you want to clarify any of that? Then I've got another question for you.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: No clarity. I mean I'm in sync with everything that Chris said and that kind of logic system then, explains the everyday violence that we see, which is not just historic. But violence that occurs epistemically, in knowledge systems that we produce, knowledge systems that we exclude, from how we think about what truth is for example. What is beautiful for example. How we explain inequalities for example. These logic systems are always at work, and they are often unnoticeable to the people who engineered them but not to the folks who are subjugated by them, and I think that's an important clarification.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: So when we're talking in universalized kinds of ways, I think it's important to name our own proportionalities in these conversations. They're times in which I can think about my own dominance as a black woman, particularly at Pepperdine, having had an affiliation with Churches of Christ, it brings a certain kind of dominance for me. While at the same time, my blackness and my woman-ness, can be often excluded and subjugated in those very systems.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: So I think it's important to also think about who's doing the engineering, what is my own relationship to that engineering and often times, I'm both at the same time, included and excluded, subjugated and subjugating.
Sara Barton: Is that when you talk about intersectionality?
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Absolutely.
Sara Barton: Yeah I heard you speak about that.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Yeah and of course intersectionality is way of thinking, not simply about the multiple identities that we carry. That's how people tend to think about it. But it's really more the ways in which we carry multiple identities that encounter systems, systems of oppression, systems of dominance and also systems where we are victimized. So that's an example of what intersectionality is.
Sara Barton: And my follow up is what inspired you, caused you to want to write a book on this topic? I know that you have so many important things you could devote your time and research and why this book and this topic now?
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Yeah I mean I think that it builds on the work that's been done before us. So there's a sense in which I have felt that we've been summoned to do this work. That's others have made it possible for us to be in this particular socio, political cultural moment and you'll see at the beginning of the book, I'm actually reflecting during a season of mass, ash Wednesday, at an ash Wednesday service and I'm literally looking up at a church, seeing the image of white Jesus and then reflecting back on my own formation as a Christian in the world.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: As a little girl, I remember my grandmother kneeling with me, with my pale pink rosary beads as a little two year old and me trying to encounter God in that process. So in many ways it is me-search, as much as it is work that speaks to the moment that we're experiencing, where we see so much white supremacist violence in our speech, in policy and in practice. I think it's a desire to explain what we're experiencing and to explain what I'm observing and what I've participated in by the way.
Sara Barton: Yeah. I like that you, I always like the humility that you bring to these conversations and learn so much from you. You mentioned that, do you remember your first thoughts of Jesus and was he black, brown or white in your mind?
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: He was definitely white.
Sara Barton: ... In your mind.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: In my mind, because I saw him everywhere. I mean, so I grew up initially, in an all black catholic church. The priest's were white, but everybody else was black, the congregants, etc. I remember images, being told, "This is Jesus," whether I was told that audibly or just told by virtue of encountering these icons. So I believed that Jesus was white and yet I didn't always see white people. Jesus was something that was other than what I saw everyday because I grew up in an all black community, all black churches, etc. Of course when my family moved to the churches of Christ, there were never any images of Jesus. This is a tradition where there's not a lot of iconography and yet white Jesus was everywhere and how I felt about Jesus.
Chris Collins: Images are not, pictures are not-
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: White Jesus was always present in this logic, which is part of what I've reflected on in the book.
Sara Barton: Chris do you remember first pictures or images in your mind of Jesus and was Jesus white?
Chris Collins: Yeah just on the surface level. It was definitely white and because Jesus is God's son and God's white hand touched Adam's white hand on famous paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which are also in textbooks and public schools. So anyway, just very surface level from fans and the back of pews and old churches in Alabama with white Jesus on it. There's always been that white image there.
Sara Barton: Do you remember the first time that got interrupted for you? I know that you may not remember a one moment or a moment when you thought, "Wait a minute." It's always hard to ask people for a memory of something that maybe develops over time for us.
Chris Collins: Sticking with kind of the surface level thing, I remember being in a bookstore and seeing a Bible, with Jesus talking to a group of kids and they were all black and I thought well what is that? What is this about? I flipped through it and it was clearly a theme. I said, "Well this is something to appeal to people who are black." That might've been the first time, the image, the surface level and I was probably in high school or something like that.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: I can't remember a moment. But I would say that I began just questioning, as I encountered other narratives of faith that did not come from my tradition and in particular, when I think about the African Methodist Episcopal Church, if you go to one of the most extraordinary churches in the country, just right here in Los Angeles, Fame. You go in and you see all these black people on the mural, representing holiness. I remember actually going in college to Fame and feeling like, "Wow, there's a chasm. There's a huge divide between what I've been socialized to think and what I'm seeing in traditions that are rooted in blackness and rooted in African ways of seeing and understanding the world, that I haven't always been privyed to, because I've been secluded in a tradition that was all black. But again layered with a dominant whiteness, that felt palpable in many ways.
Sara Barton: But what do we really know about Jesus? I mean you're book goes into that some? What'd he look like?
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Well we know that he's a Palestinian Jew. I mean you should think of it a very basic level, contemporary Palestine is where Jesus was born. Not a Eurocentric place. I think that's the first thing.
Chris Collins: I don't engage that question very much anymore. There's amazing websites that show the history of the images, how the lightening process took place over centuries. I mean those are fun to engage in. But frankly, my interest is in much more of the social construction process and how the image has become an imprint and that imprint represents something much deeper than, "Did we get it right?"
Chris Collins: Even when the shroud of Turin came out and they tried to image Jesus's face, this quest for what did Jesus look like. I'm not really into that. Maybe it's because I grew up with Churches of Christ. But even when they came up with that, the image they came up with, he was still white. How did you get whiteness off of the Shroud of Turin? You know what I mean? It's like an obsession. But I'm not really into that obsession. I'm more interested in the imprint.
Sara Barton: That brings me to think about the cover of the book. So tell me the story, the people on the podcast can't see it. So Tab, tell us about the cover of the book and how you ended up with this cover, how you decided on this. I mean, we have the title, we have this cover, what's the story behind it?
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Yeah and maybe we could tell the story together?
Sara Barton: That'd be great.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Because I think that's an important part of our work together. On the left side of the book is a very familiar image that if you were to Google Jesus, it might come up actually.
Sara Barton: I've seen it in many houses.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: It's everywhere. Jesus's pale skin, his flowing long blonde hair, blue eyes, holding out hands, ready to receive.
Sara Barton: A very well kept beard.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: A well kept beard. His lips are perched and beautiful. It's not even gothic, it feels more renaissance if you might think about the-
Sara Barton: ... Very white.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: European, Renaissance. Yeah. There he is welcoming you and it's an image that I think many of us might have pop in our minds when we image Jesus. Then there's a rendering on the right side of the book. It's a sketch and I'll let Chris talk about that sketch a little bit.
Chris Collins: A young white man dropped out of school and became engaged with white supremacist logic and behaviors and activity and in 2015, on June 17th, this young man walked into a church in South Carolina, Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Sara Barton: The kind of church Tabatha just described.
Tabatha Jones-Jolivet: Right, we have to stop for a second. You can't see this on the recording. But Chris's eyes are welling up with tears because it's painful to talk about this.
Sara Barton: So painful.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: But I want to name what happened. Because I think it's important to do so. This man who's name we will not call, murdered those with whom he was worshiping and they were all black.
Sara Barton: And they showed hospitality to him.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: They received him. Which is what the gospel calls us to do and in return, he massacred them in this sacred space and their names are Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, the Reverend Clementa Pinkney, Tywanza Sanders, the Reverend Daniel Simmons, the Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson. We say their names. Because it is in their names and then the names of all those who've been stolen from us, that we struggle. So when we talk about education and religion and mythology, the consequences are grave. We obviously need to be concerned about individuals who massacre others. But I agree with the Reverend William Barber who says, "We must look, as well, to the systems that engineered them." And that to me is the mythology of white Jesus and the institutions-
Sara Barton: And the white architecture of salvation.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: And the white architecture of salvation, religious institutions and in particular religious institutions that call on the name of Jesus, bear responsibility for that logic.
Chris Collins: So he massacred those people and he left one person there, with a message. "We're going to take our country back," which was repeated not more than a month later, by a presidential candidate in the same region. He was captured after he ran from the massacre and was captured and a bullet proof vest was put on him and he was taken to a fast food restaurant to get one meal before he got taken to jail and when he was in jail he kept a journal and in that journal, he talked about being a warrior of religion. He talked about not sure whether or not he could call himself a Christian anymore. But that he wanted people to know the importance of Jesus to white culture and he drew the image of a white Jesus. I doubt it was on the wall. I doubt the prison just has pictures of Jesus around. So that image was imprinted on him.
Sara Barton: He remembered.
Chris Collins: He remembered it.
Sara Barton: He remember his picture.
Chris Collins: So in that action, in his violence, you see the conversion of image and imprint. So all this joking around about what did Jesus really look like or, is he black or brown or Meghan Kelly on Fox news talking about Santa white, I'm not joking around. I'm talking about this violence is an intersection of the imprint and the image and it's been manifested over and over and over again, so that when all this comes out, how do we depict this young man? Mentally ill. He's a bad apple.
Chris Collins: What is a bad apple mean? It means, everyone else is good. This is just the one that didn't make it, that went a little cooky. But I'm sorry, even those apples are connected to the root system and we got to get the roots and fruits issue worked out and not just look at violence like that as disconnected from the root system that we're producing. What's in the soil? What are the nutrients? Who's feeding and watering it? There's a lot of work to be done to unpack all that. But that image, that journal, that he drew this picture in, is a powerful collision of some of these ideas and the violence that they manifest.
Sara Barton: It's a powerful, powerful image. I hope people will Google and take a look at, to Google your book, White Jesus, Tabatha Jones-Jolivet, Christopher Collins, Alexander June, Alison Ash and take a look at what we've just described and order the book and read that description. It's really, really powerful. I notice the people on the podcast maybe can feel it, maybe they can't, the emotion that's here with us right now. We've never needed tissues for our podcast before. What is that like for your academic work and emotion to exist together? Because a lot of people think academics stay in a certain region of the brain and some have been known for that and it does require some of that. What is it like for those parts of you to be joined holistically in this work?
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: I guess I'll start by saying that, I can't do academic work that is disconnected from my being. So this idea of having to put something together that's fragmented so that it can be made whole again is foreign to me. And in fact it represents, often the schooling systems that I've encountered. The objectivity that we're told we need to create distance from what we think about and write and who we are as people.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: For me as an academic, it's the complete opposite. It emerges from my center of being and my lived experience. And I often, as James Baldwin often will say, "Live with rage," so I wasn't crying by the way, when we were talking. Because I live with rage everyday and my work doesn't only flow from my rage, it flows from a deep sense of agency that I believe the gospel and the spirit of God infuses in and through me.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: All of that is at work. When I write, when I speak, when I teach, when I disrupt, all of it's at work. So emotion is at the center and when I feel any sense of a lack of emotion, it's because I have become somehow adjusted to the status quo, that is producing violence, that is harming in particular, my people. So I don't have the luxury of being emotionless. I think that academics who are out of touch with their emotions, can harm themselves irreparably and they can also harm their students.
Sara Barton: Seems like writing a book with people from different backgrounds. We haven't mentioned the other authors. There are much, there are other authors. What was that like in your relationships, as you wrote this book together, I'm imagining you stepped on each other's toes occasionally or you said something that you would prefer was said differently? Even as I prepared our questions, I wondered, "Will I ask a question that could be ... And of course you two know me, I welcome correction. I should've said that early. But what was that like in those relationships to wrestle with the wording or the and maybe tell me a little bit about the others who wrote this book with you?
Chris Collins: I'll start by talking about our two co authors Alex Jun. Alex is just wonderful. He's a colleague as well, at Azusa Pacific University and he self identifies as a Korean American. He's actually the moderator of PCA, which I always have to look that up. Because being connected to the Churches of Christ, I don't know all the acronyms of other traditions. But it's a Presbyterian tradition. He's just phenomenal.
Chris Collins: He's been a great colleague to work with and then the other person is a colleague Alison Ash who self identifies as a white women and then an evangelical. So you can imagine that a couple of us from Churches of Christ, who've experienced the Church of Christ very differently as two different people. But also people who occupy different kinds of positionality.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: ... people, but also people who occupy different kinds of positionalities. I think it was just really interesting and that actually there wasn't a lot of disagreement or stepping on toes that I can recall. I think sometimes in wordsmithing we say things differently. Trying to kind of align voice among four people is always a challenge.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: But, I think there was a real like-mindedness to focus on the work of anti-racism. Right? From the difference vantage points that we occupy. Right? That's why we, at the beginning of the book, talk a little bit about us. We wanted to make ourselves visible in the book because that was an important way for people to understand that we're bringing multiple perspectives to the conversation.
Sara Barton: Thank you.
Chris Collins: That's not sugar coating, either. I think the four of us believe radically different things.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Yeah. For sure. Yeah.
Chris Collins: The fact that we can write on a topic like this, in a unified voice to some degree, I think is also telling.
Sara Barton: And you took on a topic, that for you was very person. White families with brown children.
Chris Collins: Yeah, absolutely.
Sara Barton: I was curious about that as I read ... I'd encourage everybody to go read that section. I was curious what that felt like for you.
Chris Collins: That was tough. Being in an adopted family is tough in general, we don't have another hour or days to get into it. Wow. Yeah. There's a lot to say, which chapter is that? I could just-
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: I think it's-
Chris Collins: Refer people to a chapter-
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: It's in the middle.
Chris Collins: ... called chapter five. White saviors proselytizing "pagans". Missionaries, boarding schools, and adoption. These are three seemingly disconnected-
Sara Barton: Talking to a missionary here, so yeah.
Chris Collins: These are three seemingly disconnected kinds of areas. It was difficult to write some of my families story without telling stories of my children that are not mine to tell. That was a really delicate balance. Christy, my wife, read it again last night. She said, "I don't think I've read this for about a year." She read through it, and she was like, "This is tricky. But, I think it conveys some of the complexities of our family."
Chris Collins: I've shared it with a few people who are thinking about adoption, they said this changed. Just that short passage, changed their thinking a lot. They sent back to me a message that said, "These are my favorite quotes." One is, adoption then is neither good nor bad, but it's a tool. It's a lot about the way that you use the tool because it's been done in both directions. As a missionary you know the same thing.
Chris Collins: At the end we say, "We're not anti-adoption. We're an adoptive family! We're not anti-missionary, Alex is on the missionary board. And was a missionary. We're not anti-education, we're educators. But, we're writing from where we come from in a way that, in that particular case, is personal."
Sara Barton: Yeah. We have a practice, we really liked doing this podcast, which is
to read scripture together. We believe that God didn't stop working at the end of
the bible, and is still working powerfully. That the bible is a resource for us as
we continue to discern how to seek enjoying God's good work in the world.
Sara Barton: We're trying to practice, just with each guest who comes taking a few minutes to look at the bible together, and through your lens and the topics that you bring to us, to engage. I'm going to read, just a short section from Isaiah 58. I just want to hear from each of you after I read it, how does this passage speak to us in relation to racism and religion, and education? Does it, maybe? Does it not?
Sara Barton: So, here's what it says in Isaiah 58, starting in verse 9. "If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil. If you offer your food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted then your light shall rise in the darkness. And your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong. You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt, you shall raise up the foundations of many generations, you shall be called the repairer of the breech. The restorer of the streets to live in."
Sara Barton: How does this, or does this passage speak to us in relation to racism, and religion, and education?
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: When I listen to that passage, I can't help but think about who I've come to help to understand Jesus to be, and the work of God in the world. It's setting about to make the crooked things, straight. This idea of shalom, which is to restore flourishing of peoples and all the earth. All of creation, in fact, is included in this process of restoring flourishing.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Then I feel this deep sense of call, particularly as one who sees herself as having received the pouring out of Jesus's holy spirit of power. Right? To be about the work of setting the captives free, and it starts with myself. It starts with my own sense of freedom, unlearning the ways in which I've been told and taught to be unfree. Being about the business of joining others in solidarity, to engage in this work called freedom.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: That's what comes to mind when I hear that passage, yeah.
Sara Barton: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you, Tabatha.
Chris Collins: I love metaphor, and particularly agricultural metaphors. So, Psalms one, the idea of being planted near streams of water to me says a place where there's something ever changing, interdependent. The water and the root systems. If there's a reflection here, in being like a spring whose waters never fail, being like a well watered garden. That says to me we always have something that is dying, and being resurrected, and living again.
Chris Collins: To me, that is the story of the gospel. That is the story of finding the adversarial parts of us that need to be called out, or recognized, to die away. To find our sources of nutrients. To find the limbs that need to be pruned, then to grow fresh in the spring time again.
Chris Collins: Those metaphors resonate with me, my own journey. And hopefully the work of, you know, what colleagues and friends like Tabatha and I are up to. And our teaching, and our scholarship, and also our service.
Sara Barton: It hearkens back to where we started, with you describing this ... What academia can be.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Yeah. There's a good word for that. Cornel West actually talks about this quite a bit, and he did this when he came to Pepperdine in 2009, you can find a video. Where he talks about education, deep education, as [inaudible 00:43:22]. This process of dying to self, and arising anew, and being people with a blue sensibility. That seeks to find the funk in the world, and to be in solidarity with those who are living in it so that we can bring something new to the world.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: I'd recommend folks go back and watch that video.
Sara Barton: Yeah.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: An evening with Cornel West, where he talks about deep education-
Sara Barton: It was great. We can maybe include a link when we post this.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Yeah.
Sara Barton: I know that people are paying attention to these kinds of conversations in our world. But, a lot of people just aren't really sure what to do. Maybe they're drawn to the experiences of others, they have empathy. They want to understand better, they want to do more. What advice could you give to somebody who is listening to this conversation about how they could engage with your message?
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: One thing that comes to mind is something that I actually have heard Bryan Stevenson say. You'll be familiar, perhaps, that he is responsible for the equal justice initiative. He talks, in his book, Just Mercy, about the concept of proximity. It's very-
Sara Barton: [crosstalk 00:44:40] proximate.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Yeah! It's-
Sara Barton: Proximate. I like that.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: ... very difficult to empathize with those that you are not proximate too. Right? I think this is ... Jesus knows this wisdom. Right? We look at Matthew 25. Did you feed me? Did you visit me in prison? Did you set the captives free? I'm paraphrasing, of course.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: I think you must be in proximation to those with whom you need to cultivate some empathy. I think it's simple things like that we need to begin with. Notice who you share a meal with on a regular basis.
Sara Barton: Who's at the table?
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Notice who's at the table, and notice who is absent consistently. Notice who you text every day, notice which communities are present, and who is absent, right? Re-orient your life. It takes courage to do that. But, in doing so, I have discovered that as Chris has said, and Cornel West said, "Something in me dies every time." Right? Every time.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: I think very differently about the houseless community, because I am in relationship politically and organization with houseless folks in Los Angeles. Skid row is not a fetish for me, it's not abstract anymore. It's something that I encounter on a weekly basis, because I organize with houseless communities. Not so that I can serve them, but because they are my peers. It has changed me.
Sara Barton: It teaches you to say houseless instead of homeless.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Instead of homeless.
Sara Barton: Yeah.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Because many of them actually have homes, many of them live in encampments that are removed by the city so that people like me, middle class folks who drive in and out of Los
Angeles all the time don't ever have to see them.
Sara Barton: I would say when people want to grow spiritually, sometimes they have a tendency ... Sometimes we have a tendency to surround ourselves with like-minded people. But, usually that doesn't lead to that spiritual growth we're seeking. It's expansion of our experiences.
Sara Barton: I mean, is it awkward for you at all when you enter new spaces like you're describing. Is it exciting?
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: I think it's awkward, I think it's complicated. I think I feel embarrassed when I do something that I know is harmful to someone, and I didn't mean it. I have to go back and say, "Hey, do you know what I just did? I need to apologize for that." Right? Because I have to do that too. This is not just white peoples work, I want to name that.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: I think we, again, have multiple identities and multiple relationships. I, for example, have never been imprisoned. When I'm working with people who have been incarcerated, and are trying to be returned to society as full citizens, right? Not formally incarcerated people, but citizens, what do I need to learn to be in relationship as peers? Is the work that I know I have to engage in.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: You can't do that if you're not encountering, and living, and struggling with people. I think reading books is a good place to start, you know? But, I think you got to get out of your pew, you got to get off your seat, and you got to be in community. And most of our churches don't facilitate that. I know that's a very broad sweeping generalization, but I dare you to convince me how our churches are working to facilitate that type of intersectional community life.
Sara Barton: Thank you. That is such a good challenge, for us. Very practical. Chris, do you have anything practical to give us concerning what do we do when we're convinced by reading the book that we need to do something differently? What do we do?
Chris Collins: Well, let me bracket what I'm saying by, if you feel inspired and motivated by something you've heard then capture that in your being in your soul. Especially as Tabatha talks about the work that she does. One thing that I don't like is when something real inspirational, or positive happens. Then somebody throws a wet blanket on it, with an overly critical kind of attitude.
Chris Collins: But, I am the wet blanket sometimes. For me, sometimes the call to action has to be tempered by meditation before trying to make the action a tool to make myself feel better. I love the concept, it's a book. Also, When Helping Hurts. But, the concept of when helping hurts is taking action and trying to manufacture the desired effects. That's what CS Lewis, the words he used in screw tape letters when he has the demon ... You know, talking to his nephew demon.
Chris Collins: When they're trying to engage in charity, help them. Lead them to really just trying to manufacture feelings of being charitable, not actually engaging in justice work. That kind of stuff.
Sara Barton: Yeah. It takes that reflection-
Chris Collins: For me, I take empathy. I take the call to action sometimes, and use that to further excavate and interrogate. Now, that should also not be used as an excuse to not do something. That's why I began what I was saying with temperament. But, for me, that is a challenge. Sometimes my actions are really embedded in another attempt to feel okay, to feel like I did what was right.
Chris Collins: That's sort of the construct of whiteness, is always being in the right. Even in writing a book like this, I gained more privilege, I don't lose something. It's like a virus that just keeps on going. For me, sometimes my feelings of empathy, I have to continue to interrogate.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: Then the last thing I would say is, it's an African proverb. When you pray, maybe you even say when you meditate to add, move your feet. Move! Get out of the dogmatic slumber, and move. I think that's important. The question is, to whom are you moving toward? It better be yourself, and it better be people who are nothing like you.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: If you're not doing that, I think you're far away from the gospel. We should be boarder crossers, not wall builders.
Sara Barton: That holy spirit is to lead us across those boundaries, I think. For me, that's the role of the holy spirit. Is this leading us across boundaries and acts, you just see it. One boundary after another, the holy spirit keeps leading.
Sara Barton: Thank you for teaching me about this language of architecture of salvation because I notice the word foundation. That stood out to me in a way that it never has before because of the importance of raising up the foundations of many generations requires solid architecture. It starts there. It stood out for me, these ancient ruins being rebuilt. Never noticed ... Never put that together before, until our conversation.
Sara Barton: I really just want to thank you for doing this with us today, for being here to have this conversation on the podcast. For having the lunch, for writing the book, and really showing what Pepperdine graduates are doing after they leave here in Pepperdine. You've both been employees, employees that we love and cherish, and we're grateful for you.
Sara Barton: Thank you, your time is important. We're really grateful for who you are, and how you represent Pepperdine out there in that big wide world. Thank you.
Tabatha Jones Jolivet: It's an honor to be with you, thank you.
Sara Barton: Amen.