I am a new mother of an eight month old charming boy named John and as protective as they come. No one is exempt from my scrutiny. I even subjected my husband to a job interview of sorts before leaving them home alone for the first time. “How many diapers have you changed? How many babies have you watched and where are these children now? Are they still alive?”
Before giving birth to our son, I did not realize that babies are new. Sure, I understood that they didn’t come with instructions but I had not fully considered the fact that they do not come socially pre- programmed either. They are not born celebrities, motioning for body guards to remove the overly affectionate grandparents from their nursery. They are not born capitalists, seeking the highest bidder for their first baby pictures. They are not born racists, drawing color lines in their sandbox.
In fact, they are just the opposite. They are humble, tender and affectionate. They seek attention and love indiscriminately. And these characteristics will remain if along with potty training, we teach them that it’s not only safe and acceptable but necessary to live this way.
Babies don’t come with identities scratched by physical insecurity or abuse, bruised egos or the baggage of American history. No, we neatly pack these bags for them and place this burden on their shoulders, destined to carry it because we did. But, why wouldn’t we consider raising a generation whose body is not bent from the weight of our anger, unforgiveness, pride and hatred? Why do we continue to pass down a faith that is racialized and invite them to worship a God who is divided by our prejudices and stereotypes?
Our little John is original and beautiful. I would be cheating if I took the life and experiences of another, even my own and copied them onto him. Instead, I will study him, waiting patiently for the answer that is his true self to be revealed. I will not tell him who others will say that he is or who I hope that he will become. I want John to show me who he is. And while I am his student, busy taking notes in his journal, I am also his first teacher.
He still doesn’t recognize his own name. We will call him John until he identifies himself by it and answers. This is the name that we have given him. Lesson #1: Don’t call him black and he won’t answer to it.
John has not shown me that he is socially colored black but that he is teething. Ouch! And it is not a name that we or God have chosen for him. God didn’t call him black but “very good.”[i] Thus, he will not be identified by the social coloring of his skin but first by his Creator and then his cultural heritage, which is not synonymous with racial identity.
As a mother- minister, I want John to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to love the God who loves him not based on his physical appearance but his heart.[ii] I pray that John would come to know the God that is not socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige but the God who is Spirit.[iii] I pray that I would show him that God is not a polygamous, married to both a Black and White Church and whose tongue is tied and mind has gone blank when it comes to matters of race and racism. No, I want to pass down to him the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that declares, “From now on then, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”[iv] Lesson #2: Christian believers, like babies, are new.
Now, I’m not sure if there is a Vacation Bible School theme that covers this topic. But, it’s important that John be surrounded not only with good people who are trained to care for him but good words that mold and not mar him, that seek to bless and not curse him. His faith will be formed but without race and it is my prayer that this is the future of Christian faith formation for the next generation of believers.
[iv] Second Corinthians 5.17, NRSV