The Bad Engagement: Never Too Late to Say No

He walked into your life 18 months ago although you’ve known him much longer. He was always the charismatic guy able to woo a crowd, you were just the socially awkward one standing up against the wall across the room. You were delighted when he finally turned his attention toward you. You were instantly drawn to his energy and boisterous words. He talked about his dreams and where he wanted to go in life. And told you that he wanted you in his future. He promised that if you took his hand, he could turn things around for you. Bigly.

When others were irked by his history and antics, you wrote them off as simple minded. When friends and family said they did not like him because he reminded them of an abuser, you called for a more even-handed stance on the issues. Gaff after gaff, you stood by him. Faithfully. You admired his ability to speak what was on his mind without consequence. You loved him for his outsider approach to this thing called life. You coveted him because of the billions that he bragged to possess, never mind how we got them, never mind his history of financial ruin.

So it came as no surprise to none of us when you finally said yes to his proposal. We didn’t expect much more but we hoped that you would reconsider. Oh how we hoped. And we longed for you to choose from among your other lovers. Even the Big Bird killer was starting to look good.

But you didn’t. You were in it for the long-haul because you were convinced that he had what it took. You didn’t care what anyone said or the fact that he was simply not a good look on you. Orange seldom is. Instead, you went ahead and booked the caterer. You secured the location. You chose the priest. You rehearsed the vows, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…” You were in it to win it, and there simply was no other option but him.

As you get closer and closer to the big day, he continues to show you who he is. Bigot. Abuser. Liar. Fraud. Some of the latest news causes you to reconsider, at least a little bit, if he is right for you. You distance yourself while still holding on for dear life because you have deceived yourself into thinking that you have too much to lose if you completely turn away.

I am here to tell you that you don’t. The only thing you stand to lose is your dignity and pride, and in time, that can be recuperated. But if you go through with this thing, you will lose much more.

And then, all I can say is that we warned you. We told you to cancel the ceremony, to get your refund on the location. Cancel the cake, or whatever, keep and eat it if you wish. Just make sure you are eating that thing alone and he is no where in sight. Because if you let him near it, he will steal it, smash it to pieces, and then make you clean up the mess.

White Church So Silent, White Church So Complicit

*A version of this post has been posted at RaceRhetoricandReligion.

14479586_1272218729477199_2797807119461754697_nOn Wednesday, I awoke to the news that Bethel University’s St. Paul, Minnesota campus – the school I attended for Seminary – experienced a racist incident. The Kresge rock that had been recently painted in solidarity with Black Lives Matter was now painted over in white paint with the message “BLM = Racist, Blue Lives Matter.” As I scrolled through my facebook feed, searching for clarity about the event, I became angry but I wasn’t necessarily surprised. Over the years, Bethel has experienced its share of attacks against Black people specifically and other populations of color as well.*

Back in 2003, there were a slew of incidents targeting people of color on campus which included one student’s car being vandalized with racial slurs. On the night that Obama was elected into office in November 2008, racist language was once against used against black students in reference to the president elect. Then in 2010, a white student dressed in blackface and impersonated Lil Wayne for a campus AIDS fundraiser. Disgusting, right? And sprinkled in between all of these incidents is your typical share of microaggressions and Minnesota Nice covert racism. So once again, I wasn’t surprised. But I was reminded that the school where I spent four years of my life, had a lot of work to do in terms of being an institution that would stand up for racial justice.

But isn’t Bethel University a Christian college?

Yes, it is. Since 1871, this school has been preparing future pastors, lay leaders, administrators, businessmen and women, nurses, and so many others, how to integrate their faith experience into their professions. And while it can be said that not everyone on that campus professes to be a believer, the vast majority of students subscribe to the Christian faith. And yet, these same Christians, who are studying theology and serving in their churches on Sunday, are guilty of racism. How do we reconcile these two realities?

I used to ask myself the same question when I first moved to Minnesota from Milwaukee, WI and attended another Christian college, North Central University, for undergrad. For the very first time in my life, I was surrounded by a sea of white people on a consistent basis – black people were few and far between. Also, for the very first time in my life, I felt as if I was being discriminated against because of my race – the fact that I felt more excluded at a Christian college than I did in one of America’s most segregated cities ought to say something!

In the North Central bubble, as students so affectionately called it, I felt isolated and alone. For nearly two years, I struggled to make and maintain friendships with roommates and classmates. Between the summer of my freshman and sophomore year, I watched my roommates help move each other’s stuff to another dormitory on campus and left me to carry my stuff alone. When I ended up in the emergency room due to a bad allergic reaction to God knows what, the only person who helped me in my moment of desperation was a Sri Lankan woman who happened to live down the hall (thank God for her). When I spent a holiday completely by myself, as all of my family lived in Wisconsin, and the church I attended was just as white as my school, I seriously contemplated hurting myself because the pain of isolation hurt so bad.

Time and time again, no matter how hard I tried, I felt excluded, talked about and ridiculed at NCU. These feelings went on and on, in a Christian school, until I found a diverse church outside of campus that loved me for me, a dark-skinned African American woman. Once I found that place of refuge, I distanced myself from the school as much as possible and was there only to get my degree and leave. Other black students who encountered the same level of hostility at NCU didn’t bother completing their degree, they just left. I am no more brave than they were scared – we all make decisions to the best of our capacity with the resources and knowledge we have in the given moment.

It wasn’t until I learned the history of my denomination, the Assemblies of God, that I started to put things together. The isolation and racism that I experienced on my college campus, which was affiliated with the AG had everything to do with history of exclusion and racism within this body of believers. With intention, the AG broke away from the teachings of William Seymour, an African American man, who was the key leader in the Azuza Street Revival between 1906-1909. With intention, they defamed his leadership and said that it was ungodly for them to submit to it. With intention, they excluded blacks and latinos from their membership. With intention, they upheld the same bigotry and racism that was commonplace in America for far too long.

But it isn’t only the AG who has this tattered and torn history of racism, so many other Christian denominations in America do too. In fact, many churches and Christians themselves, have been complicit if not explicit actors in the terrorism against black lives throughout our country’s history. Everything, from the leadership structure to theology to the way it engages in politics to the way that it conflates the constitution with the Bible, suggests that Western Christianity and more specifically, the white Church, has a strong disregard if not flat out hatred, towards African Americans in this country. Which is why incidents, like those that occurred at Bethel on Wednesday are awful but not shocking.

The white Church’s history of complicity also explains why it, as an institution, remains silent as black bodies are continuously hunted and killed. Through all of the police killings in recent years, the white Church has literally nothing to say. #MichaelBrown. Nothing. #TamirRice. Zilch. #SandraBland. Nope. #PhilandoCastile. Who? Well, that is not exactly true. The white Church has been crying #AllLivesMatter, which sounds great in theory because yes Jesus died for all lives. But in practice, this chant is nothing more than a clever ruse to detract energy and focus from one of the most important movements of our time. Because if all lives truly mattered to the white church, they would not only turn up for our crucified sons and daughters, they would also rally against the senseless police killings of their own sons and daughters.

All Lives Matter lulls a church that is already asleep to the oppression of black people into a further state of hypnosis. And if the white church feigns unconsciousness, they can neither speak or act which is really their point – a clever ruse, right? Here’s the thing though: no matter how silent the white church is or ignorant it pretends to be about #BlackLivesMatter and its importance in this hour, God still holds it accountable. In the same way, that God called after Cain asking the whereabouts of his brother Abel, God calls out to the white church asking the whereabouts of its black brothers, sisters, and sons. Can you hear God calling? Or will you ignore Him, too?

*Thursday afternoon I had the awesome opportunity to participate in a prayer service led by two black students at the site where the racist incident had previously taken place. I am horrible at estimating numbers but it *feels* like hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and alumni showed up in solidarity with the black students on campus. The rock in question has been painted again (by the president and campus pastor) and now reads ‘Us for Us’ a message that the students chose.  



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


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.

*Link to image >


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

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

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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