What exactly broke the world? Reflections on Fortune by Lisa Sharon Harper

Hi friends,

Something I love about Lisa Sharon Harper’s recent-ish book Fortune is that it raises—and then unpacks—this question: What exactly broke our world?

I think this is a crucial question. But it’s not always one that we talk about—at least not with nearly enough specificity.

In my experience in Christian circles, in particular, people are often quick to say that our world is broken. We understand that something is wrong. We are far from Edenic paradise, and we know it. 

But if asked what exactly went wrong? We might talk about sin. We might tell an ancient story: Eve ate the forbidden fruit and gave it to Adam. Adam ate too. (And then, when confronted about it, blamed Eve.) 

The very first humans turned away from God and from everything right and good, choosing to go their own wicked ways instead. And here we are, reaping the, well, fruit of that rebellion.

It’s a fine story. But it puts us way, way, way in the past. And it doesn’t have much to say about the particular choices by which different people and groups of people have turned away from goodness at different particular times in history. 

What does the ancient story mean, exactly, for us today? Can we dig a little deeper into how our world got broken, not just the fact that it is broken? Which ways, exactly, are wicked, and which ways are good? Is it really about eating a piece of fruit? 

(I’ve got Flamy Grant’s words from Esther, Ruth, and Rahab running through my head, here: “Eve said ‘f*** the system, I am chasing after wisdom.’” Kind of funny that the song got Flamy’s album kicked out of the Christian music category at the Grammys not for questioning the whole dominant Christian interpretation of the Adam and Eve story but for dropping an F-bomb.)

Anyway. Christians often pray for God to bring healing to the brokenness of our world. But sometimes it’s less often that we take the time and effort to understand what exactly broke—and how. 

There’s no real healing if we aren’t willing to do the harder work of digging into the causes, not just the symptoms—and the harder work still of making an effort to address these causes. 

So, what broke our world? What still breaks it today? I think this quote from Fortune, reflecting on the history of colonization and its impact, hits a lot of the nails on the head:

“Discovery does not break the world. Claiming discovery of lands long inhabited by indigenous peoples breaks the world. Lies break the world. Leveraging those lies to lay legal claim to land and treasure not beholden to your laws breaks the world. Belief in the myth of Western supremacy breaks the world. To gaze upon the men and women who greeted your ship and, in that moment, claim terra nullius (‘empty land’) in order to lay legal claim breaks the world. Looking in the faces of Brown men and women who dress and build and dance and eat and speak differently from you and telling them they are uncivilized—and therefore hold no legal claim to the land they had cultivated for thousands of years before you ‘discovered’ it—that breaks the world. These original sins laid the legal, social, moral, and theological foundations for the genocide, rape, theft, exploitation, dehumanization, domination, family separation, and death that followed for the next five hundred years” (pp. 209-10).

I appreciate this. Perhaps “original sin” isn’t just about Eve and Adam and the fruit tree. Perhaps there are specific “original sins” of different people groups, different communities, different times and places in history. 

For white folks like me who are living in Western-colonized lands, Harper names some of our people’s original sins: Belief in Western supremacy. Claiming empty land when people were there already. Considering non-white people uncivilized. Refusing to acknowledge non-white people’s claims to their land. 

I think this sounds about right—and I think it’s really important to name. The point is not for us white folks to feel guilty, but to see more clearly what has gone so very wrong—so that we might have some chance of making it right again. So that we all might have some chance of repair. Some chance of collective healing.

And, if we understand that white people looking at people of color and seeing them as “less than” broke the world a few hundred years ago, we might also understand that it still breaks the world today. We might understand that communal healing isn’t just a vague prayer; it’s dependent on learning to see one another as equals in the midst of racist systems that are not set up that way. 

We have to understand what exactly is broken, in order to have a chance of fixing it. I love that Fortune, at its heart, tells hard stories and hard truths in order that we might find repair. 

Thoughts? What do you appreciate about this perspective? What would you add? What’s near to your heart that has broken and continues to break our world? 

Peace and collective repair to you and your communities this week,


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