Since Monday, I have been in Orlando, Florida for the American Baptist Churches, USA’s conference that serves as both an opportunity for ministry renewal if one is a pastor and an orientation for persons new to the American Baptist denomination. The theme for our week of gathering together is “Go to a New Land: Journeying toward God.” The preachers and teachers have started from a variety of texts but all have come to the same conclusion: We don’t know where we are going? And we know this to be true because we are not the leader. We are following directions. We don’t have a map and if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t have a compass and can appear disoriented at times. If we did, we would (if it were possible) avoid some of the places that God takes us.
My journey with God had brought me through many “dangers, toils and snares”; but arriving at this position of power in the midst of a social structure that seeks to render me powerless is one that I could not have decided for myself, that I can live a race-less life. When I first began learning about race, I wanted to leave America. For me, it was like living in a continental cemetery. So many had died because of race and had been wounded by it. So much had been lost and buried. I didn’t feel black but I certainly wanted to wear it because there was so much to mourn. There was always something and some one to grieve and my life was becoming a lament. Like so many others who have grown up being told that they were black and therefore invisible, I wanted to move to Africa. I wanted to go back to where I belonged.
But, it really wasn’t about being accepted; it was about the word black and what to do with it since persons were telling me that it belonged to me. But, I didn’t want it and at that time, I thought that I had no other choice but to accept it. I thought that it was my heritage but in fact, it was a societal hand me down. This is why it never fit me. This is why I didn’t like the way that it felt. I had not chosen it for myself. The word was not new or tailored to fit my personality, my life’s gifts and its spiritual inclinations. I had no other choice but to return the word, to deny it. Thanks but no thanks.
Race and its progeny, colored words and their social/ cultural/ behavioral/ physical/ educational/ relational expectations didn’t belong to me and they couldn’t travel with me. It was simply too much to pack, too much baggage to carry, to much response- ability to shoulder. And I really didn’t need to move; instead, God needed to change my mind. It wasn’t about taking a step in one direction or the other. It was about allowing God to change the course of my thoughts, to get in front of society’s conclusions about me.
God didn’t need to change my location. God needed only to change my association, my life’s association, the words I associated with my being that impacted my sense of belonging. But, I understand now more clearer than I had before and I will see it clearer still in the future that I am God’s creature not apart of a category or a member of a social construct. No, I don’t know the way. No, I don’t know the end. I have not been to the promised land. But, I do know the Promise Giver and He is a Promise Keeper who has given me a word that belongs to me.