What Do We Mean When We Talk About Race?

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what other people mean when they talk about race. This Encounter offers a helpful way of thinking about race.

Yii-Jan Lin is Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She received her PhD in religious studies from Yale University in 2014. In her monograph, The Erotic Life of Manuscripts (Oxford University Press), she explores the relationship between NT textual criticism and the biological sciences, beginning in the 18th century. In particular, she explores how the metaphors of race, family, evolution, and genetic inheritance have shaped the goals and assumptions of the field. Other research areas include gender, especially ancient constructions of masculinity, sexuality, and literary theory.

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Breath Prayer for Racial Justice

A breathing prayer that combines contemplation and action, seeking to challenge racial injustice.

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Breath prayer is an ancient Christian practice that combines short phrases with the rhythm of your breathing. When you pick a phrase, you speak or recite half of it when you breathe in and the other half when you breathe out.

The traditional Christian breath prayer is the Jesus Prayer:

   (Breathe In) Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God (Breathe Out) have    mercy on me a sinner.

Others include:

   (Breathe In) Be still and know (Breathe Out) that I am God.
   (Breathe In) I no longer live (Breathe Out) but Christ lives in me.


Breath prayer is a way that Christians throughout time have attempted to “pray without ceasing.” In it, prayer becomes as natural as breathing.

In Buddhist tradition, meditation takes a similar form as breath prayer. But instead of just an individual activity, Buddhist breath prayer takes the form of seeking social justice. They breathe in the sins of the world and breathe out corrections. Their prayers become vehicles for transformation as they keep a person centered on the path of correct actions, thoughts, and intentions. This centered-ness allows someone to live for transformation in the world.

In this way, the breath prayer can be a tool to combine contemplation and action, promoting just living and action in the world.

As you racial injustice in our world, try reciting or creating a breath prayer that will keep you centered on the path to justice. For example:

   (Breathe In) For those hurt by racial injustice, (Breathe Out) let    them be restored.
   (Breathe In) In a world broken by racial prejudice, (Breathe Out)    let us all see others as the image of God


Try living with this breath prayer for awhile or create your own. Allow it to guide you as you determine how you want to act on the injustice and pain caused by racism. 


Adapted from and informed by Rev. Jeremy Smith on HackingChristianity.net

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Take Action

Presence, Gifts, Service, Witness

The Action offers several ways you can, in small or big ways, begin to address the issue of racial injustice.

Contributed by Ellen Knight


In the last year, we have seen the discussion of race increase in volume. Where racial struggles were ignored or whispered in private homes, they are now being shouted for all to see and hear. Many people of faith are already helping to lead and shape this conversation. If we are to imitate Jesus, we must enter the conversation ourselves. Here's some ways you can enter the conversation:

  • If you have not already, educate yourself on the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  
  • Attend a rally, a protest, or a workshop on race. Protest yourself or provide food, prayer, support, and love to those involved in the action.
  • If you are white, ensure that the voices of people of color are heard before you in a conversation. Make space for people of color to use their own voices.
  • Donate to nonprofits or organization that support housing and education for those in poverty. In today’s system, those are most often people of color.
  • Do not be afraid to use your presence and witness to demonstrate your commitment to following Jesus, Jesus who showed us that there is no place for injustice on the path to God.

As people of faith, we must join together to be a prophetic voice. We must be the church we want to see, moving forward together.


Ellen Knight is a writer and seminarian who lives in Florence, SC. She is a former teacher who now works with area nonprofits and ministries to address issues of poverty and housing in her community.

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