Where Do We Go From Here? Maintaining Faith in the Midst of Suffering

barrentree

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him. For the help of his presence.” – Psalm 42.5

After another agonizing week of around the clock coverage of the war against black bodies, we find ourselves here again. Once again, we rise in protest because of another shooting of black men, women, and children. Once again, we offer analysis and critique of a system that continuously devalues our lives. Once again, we have conversations with colleagues, neighbors, friends, and even strangers about the urgency in dealing with this national sin. Once again, we petition God for cessation to this madness, praying that he would rescue us from imminent doom.

And with all of this, I still wonder if we are actually doing anything. It feels as if our prayers are falling on deaf ears, reverberating throughout the heavens yearning for someone to listen.

Does God hear? And if God hears, does he care? Can God actually do anything to save us?

As these crises continue, it proves that it doesn’t matter what we are doing – our melanin makes us an instant target. Whether we are armed or not, with our hands up or not, running or lying flat on the ground, able-bodied or disabled, cis-gendered or queer, young or old – the common denominator in them all is blackness. Blackness presumes that we are guilty regardless of what we do or what we don’t do. And that is disheartening as much as it is mind-boggling. If this was about behavior, we could act right even if it didn’t feel right if it meant that we would make it home. But it is not about behavior, how good or how bad, it is about this skin, this blackness which God created.

We can’t change this skin. We can’t peel it off or wake up one day shades lighter so that we can escape the white gaze. Yet the longer we stay in it, the longer our fate remains the same. All it takes is one traffic stop, one sidewalk encounter, one word misinterpreted, one glance mistaken for anger – as if we didn’t have a right to be. Can God get us out of this mess? Didn’t he know what they would do to us, that they would despise and kill what he deemed beautiful?

Deep in my heart I know that things will change. And yet my confession of faith sounds trite and feigned even to my own ears. I sympathize with Baldwin and Coates’ lack of faith in a divine deliverer as the past 400 years suggests that deliverance isn’t coming and at the same time, my blackness denies me the opportunity to surrender to the notion that this is all there is. Hope against hope is the only thing that sustains as black corpses fill my facebook feed night after night after night. With every new hashtag, I feel my heart leap out of my chest. I have stopped looking. I have stopped counting.

Too oppressed to give up the fight of faith. In a sense, agnosticism is a luxury of the privileged, those who don’t have to spend entire generations praying for relief to come. And yet, faith cannot simply be deduced to a product of poverty and oppression. I disagree with the notion that suffering helps us to center our faith, because then racism sounds like the intent of the divine and not the workings of evil men who have purposed in their hearts to ransack the earth of all of its goods. I choose to believe the latter and still, it brings me little comfort as then we have to question whether God has the capacity to make the suffering stop.

If I keep fixated on the news feeds, I begin to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the suffering. Every single day, it seems, there is a new Emmett Till. Before we can even grieve the loss of one of soul, we learn of another. The sheer rate at which our black brothers and sisters are falling – with no plausible end in sight – can leave one to deduce that God is not as powerful as we once imagined him to be. We’ve been praying. We’ve been fasting. Not just in this moment but for centuries. Though methods have changed, the fact that we are brutalized remains the same. If deferred hope makes the heart grow weak, the absence of hope surely kills it.

It is one thing to have our bodies thrown about because our blackness too closely resembles God’s image; it is quite another to allow our spirits to die because we have grown disillusioned by the suffering. If our spirits die, we will never survive this sadistic society.

We must press on. We must fight to maintain this ancient faith, not the white man’s faith but this faith that flows from where the Nile meets the Euphrates. It is this faith that enabled our ancestors to survive slavery, and it is this same faith that empowered them to fight for their freedom. This faith empowered our people to escape the Jim Crow south, to protest against lynching, stand up for voting rights, and march for freedom. We cannot abandon it, even in desperate times like these. We cannot walk out on God, even if we can’t see where God is moving in this moment.

Just as he led the children of Israel through the Red Sea to escape Pharaoh’s army and led our very own people out of slavery, he will lead us away from this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I choose to believe change is coming.


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Angry Black Woman

How should I compose myself?Ebonyimage
Now that you have killed my children,
Raped my mother,
And beat me beyond recognition?
You force me to live in dilapidated housing conditions,
Where the rent is higher than a two bedroom in the suburbs
Yet you pay me less than the minimum wage,
and threaten to take that when I complain.
I am only of value to you with my tail high in the air
So I bend over and twerk some more
Even though I am tired and my feet are sore.

How should I compose myself?
Now that you have taken my loves,
And denied me of my God-given liberty?
I will put on a smile and laugh with my head pulled way back,
Like those high society girls.
Knowing that my anger is powerful enough to destroy.

I will bury this godly rage, deep down inside of me
Because I know you are afraid.
You are afraid that what you have done to me, I will do to you.
You fail to understand the power dynamics in this complex relationship of ours.

You have the military, the police, and congress behind you –
All I have is my God and my hands.
And so with my hands, I will go to my God
Who can handle my anger,
Who won’t force me to be silent
Who listens intently to my cries,
And will deal with my oppressors in time.

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Breathe

icantbreathe2
I can’t breathe.
Your unrealistic expectations are suffocating me.
But you can’t hear my cries for help,
Over the noise of your ego.

Maybe my existence clashes with your own.
But I don’t need to die,
Just so that you can live.

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Dirt

 

dirt

Dirt.
Ending up in places you don’t belong.
Whoever thought you could be the source of so much
unhappiness?

What did I ever do to you?
Have you come to disturb my peace?
Have you come to unearth its fragile state?

Dirt.
I don’t know what to make of you.
I will clean you up lest you make a fool of me.

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Charleston

charleston

Your oppressors forced you to carry a cross,
That they fashioned with their own hands
That killed your loved ones and would eventually claim you.
They made you say, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”
As they mocked and spat upon you,
And persisted in nailing you to that beautiful, wretched dogwood.

Every word you spoke in that moment was precious,
We knew that life was leaving you.
The more you tried to grasp it, the quicker it left
You did not understand that the confession would not buy you any more time.
And that soon enough, the oppressors would succeed in their task
Guilt-free.

400 years of oppression and pain undone as you lay dying,
Suffocating under the weight of conquest, slavery, murder, and Jim Crow.
You became the scapegoat for a nation that did not want to be saved.
They only wanted absolution.

I mourned for us that day.