Tag Archives: aracial

A Word That Belongs To Me

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.

When A Name Is Forbidden

“When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and knew that they had been with Jesus. And since they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in response. After they had ordered them to leave the Sanhedrin, they conferred among themselves, saying, ‘What should we do with these men? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them and we cannot deny it! But so this does not spread any futher among the people, let’s threaten them against speaking in this name again.’ So they called for them and ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them further, they released them. They found no way to punish them, because the people were giving glory to God over what had been done; for the man was over 40 years old on whom this sign of healing had been performed.”

The Acts of the Apostles 4.13-22

This morning, I am encouraged by this story of the early disciples and their boldness to serve in the ministry and name of Jesus Christ. They were not seminary trained and had no special certification for performing the miraculous. But, they had been with Jesus. They had sat at the Master Teacher’s feet and this was all the education and experience that they needed.

Having performed an obvious sign of healing before many people, the religious leadership scrambled for a way to silence them. Peter and John were not doctors; consequently, they could not imply that this was their practice or profession. So, the religious authorities searched for a way to perform a miracle of their own: to deny what the people had seen with their own eyes. But, this was improbable. The people were already praising God. They then resolved that all that could be done was to threaten them and to order Peter and John not to do it again: do not “preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”  But they said that they couldn’t stop; what they have seen and heard while serving with Jesus had made such an impression on them that they they lacked the ability to stop. They just couldn’t keep it to themselves. 

I feel the same way about the message that I have been entrusted with. The freedom found in a race-less life is too good to keep to myself. I have to tell it! Still, I am often confronted by those who want me to stop teaching. They tell me that this is the way things have been and this is the way they must be. “God wants it this way.” But, like the disciples, I’ll leave that to them to judge.

They do not believe that this miracle is possible. And for them, talking about a life apart from race should not even be considered. Any name other than those ascribed to us by race should be forbidden. It is treated as heresy. Still, I wait for a new name to emerge.

Living as a colored human being is socially approved and calling ourselves white/ black/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige is socially acceptable. But, I am often leery of what society allows and even encourages us to say about ourselves and others. The words we choose to speak shape our reality and the ideas that I propose in living a life a part from race is altogether different. We have not lived this way before.

But our lives and the way that we are to live them are not set in stone. I am convinced that once one experiences freedom from the labels of race, being neither Jew nor Greek, neither black nor white nor red, yellow, brown or beige and walks in the newness of life found in Jesus Christ, that there will be no turning back. There will be a notable difference in our interactions and the miraculous will be undeniable. And all that persons will be able to do is attempt to repress it.

 

It’s a Stretch (II)

I see my belief in and practice of the race-less life as a demonstration of social non-comformity. Race is too constrictive for my personality, my goals and aspirations.  It gets in the way of any forward movement. Besides, I simply don’t fit into a race and wouldn’t want to if I could. The only things that I like that come in boxes are shoes and diamonds. I don’t like the boxes of race because I don’t believe that all of who I am can be expressed by the social coloring of my skin or even my culture. The box does not inform persons of my love of books, the special relationship that I shared with my grandmother, Eva Mae and my great grandmother, Josephine or the faith that they raised me on.

Like Noah who built an ark though there had never been rain (Genesis 6-7), I speak day after day of a time when race will not be even though race is all that we have ever known.  We may have never lived in a society where race has been stripped of its meaning and authority but that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible and so I write.  Or, like David, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who promised to look better than those who ate the king’s meat (Daniel 1) or the three Hebrew boys who refused to bow down to the golden image (Daniel 3), I refuse to submit to race and believe that my life will look better, be more clearly defined than those who employ racialized terms.

We’ve never seen our lives any other way.  We’ve always been defined as colored people: black/white/red/yellow/ brown/beige.  But, what has “going along to get along” done for us?  We cannot go along and run with Jesus Christ.  I know it’s a stretch but it will assist us in running the race that Christ has set before us (Hebrews 12.1).

Are You A Nomad, A Chameleon Or A Pilgrim?

“To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.”

~Mark Nepo, The Exquisite Risk

The inward journey.  No one can run with you.  There is no crowd to cheer you on.  There is no one there to pat you on the back, to dab your brow or to offer a cool drink of water.  No one is there keeping time or setting the pace.  There is no finish line in sight, no pre-measured distance to run.  It is not a relay race and consequently, there is no one to pass the baton to. Instead, we must run this race alone and in our own strength. The distance that we travel is ours alone to decide.  Christ stands at the end of the road, reminding us that He has traveled this path and that He is waiting for us. There are no immediate and physical rewards for this race.  And much of the territory that you cover, putting hurt, bitterness, rejection and anger behind you, you won’t desire to share with others. So, why continue?

We continue this journey because of who we are on our way to being. This pilgrimage is to the new self found only in Jesus Christ. Some of us only have a hope, a promise.  Others have received a vision, a glimpse of a freedom that we need to receive, a truth that we must embody, a relationship that we need to possess. Our model is Jesus Christ and we have received a message.  And it is this word that cheers us on, that dabs our brow, that refreshes us.

But, if we allow the road to become the goal, if we become satisfied with movement alone, then we become nothing more than nomads.  We take a trip to Africa or to a urban area and expect it to change us. But, a change in physical location will not bring about inward change.  The place is no substitute for the process.  Yes, the children of Israel wandered but God was bringing about a change and no step though repeated, no place though revisited was without purpose.

Secondly, if we let the appearance of change become our goal, if we would rather look like we love and accept all cultural groups, then we are mere chameleons.  Changing according the environment is an exterior change.  When we change our clothing and speech because we are about to enter a different environment or we become associated with people and involved in causes of social justice because it makes us feel good about ourselves not because we feel that it is the right thing to do will only benefit us externally.

In order to progress in this journey of new life in Jesus Christ, we must change, not becoming what is expected or wanted, but becoming the person that we need to be, that we have to be. And if we know the way, if we know how we are going to look in the end, if we know how the people around us are supposed to look then we are not pilgrims but tour guides.  So, which one are you?

 

The Genealogy of Race

Difference begot intrique,
Intrigue begot interaction,
Interaction begot comparison,
Comparison begot dissatisfaction,
Dissatisfaction begot jealousy,
Jealousy begot pride and anger,
Pride and anger begot hatred,
Hatred begot prejudice,
Prejudice begot stereotypes,
Stereotypes begot race.