The last year has been hard. Excruciatingly hard. In all honesty, I’m not quite sure when it began. And if I only had one word to describe it, I’d use anxious. Anxious over the seemingly mundane but obligatory responsibilities that come with adulting. Anxious over balancing multiple roles and hats because my no filter seems to be broken. Anxious over the mass graves that I see piling up all around as life, after life, is taken from the human family violently and unrepentantly.
I first noticed this anxiety last June as black body after black body was taken from us. I felt myself feeling unnecessarily irritable and impatient but also sad. I was on the verge of tears over trivial things, but the box on my heart marked ‘emotional capacity’ had sprung a leak. And when tears weren’t welling up in my eyes, I was jumpy at the slightest misgiving. Understanding that this was not normal, because hey, my life was different before this, I rehearsed possible scenarios in my head before important meetings and interactions with typically stressful people, to make sure I didn’t just snap off. And if all else failed, I just avoided situations that I knew would trigger trauma unnecessarily.
Then I started to experience back pain which impacted my mobility to drive, to walk, and to simply do life well. The pain had been sitting patiently underneath the surface until the tipping point of life caused it to rear its ugly head. The first time I went to go see a chiropractor about the pain, I walked into his office a weepy, crying mess, not because of the actual pain of my neck but because I felt the compounding weariness of life resting on my muscles. When the doctor asked me where it hurt the most, I cried out everywhere, failing to understand how much I was prophesying with my body because Alton, Philando, Dallas, the babies in North Minneapolis, Baton Rogue, and Korryn were just weeks away.
Not six months away from when we buried these souls, we now find ourselves in the midst of another crisis and this time, it is not just black bodies under threat. Our new president has made it expressly clear that he is not only coming after blackness, but everything that does not look like whiteness, and to be more specific, white, male, evangelical, wealthy, heterosexuals. In just one month, he has started to dismantle the few things that were righteous and true about our country including upholding civil rights law and protecting the environment. He has ramped up his efforts to Build a Wall to keep Latino immigrants out and has also banned people from seven Muslim countries – both those who are Muslim and Christian and those who are permanent residents of the United States – at the airport refusing to let them in. In addition, cabinet appointees are diligently working to dismantle all of the departments and services that actually benefit the American people. The rapid pace of these compounding crises, not to mention, the ways in which his moves are alienating other sovereign nations, is a sure recipe for monumental catastrophe across the globe.
As a poem that I wrote a few weeks ago affirmed, it is impossible and dangerous, to live a life like this. Fight and flight is a natural defense mechanism when there is need to quickly respond in an emergency but we cannot possibly imagine that every waking second of our lives is an emergency! Living like this will take a toll on our heart, bodies, and minds overtime, and will defeat the best of us if we are not adequately prepared. Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, and if things continue as they are, we – as a society – will only plunge further into the abyss of mental illness and instability. Not only so, but the constant fear will push us further away from one another, limiting our capacity to enjoy deep human connections and live in community.
So, what are the strategies to move us forward? How do we find ourselves on the other side of despair and chaos? How do we lift our eyes from our current situation, surrounded by death and destruction, to a new reality where love, joy, and freedom are more than just a nice idea but are actually a reality?
Faith. Faith that what we see and experience at this present moment won’t last forever. It’s temporal. While structural racism and oppression and every pain associated with it, including gun violence, unhinged presidents, poverty, and mass destruction in communities of color and American Indian communities, seem to be all encompassing now, these things will come to an end. One day, and one day soon – I know – God will redeem us back to Himself and in that process, we to each other.
And Hebrews 11 gives us a glimpse at what faith looks like by profiling the lives of godly men in the Old Testament text who were known for trusting in God against all odds. We become re-acquainted with Abel, who though poor, gave out of his poverty a pleasing sacrifice to God contrasted to his brother Cain who was rich, and gave to God very little. Abel teaches us what it is to allow faith in God to determine our gifts of time, talent, and resources.
In the same passage we learn about Enoch, friend of God, who exhibited such great faith in this being that he could not see, that God took him from the earth to be with him. Unlike the rest of us, Enoch never experienced death but was transported to his heavenly home
We learn about Abraham, who trusted in God for children in his old age and who left his home for a country he did not know. And greats like Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthath, David and Samuel – all men who held onto God’s promises and did great things in His name in spite of their imperfections and sin.
These stories are all great and good. But where are the women? Where are the narratives of the women who, in addition to the great men of God lifted up in our text, also waited for promises, for deliverance, for blessings? Where are the narratives of women who fought against oppression in spite of what doing so may have cost them – who withstood evil empires and who refused to allow the deaths of their fathers, husbands, and sons go unpunished?
The truth is that their narratives are largely missing, and if they are referenced, they are either nameless or exploited, such as Rahab who is mentioned right along with the fact that she is a harlot. Her past continued to follow her regardless of the faith she displayed.
For all intents and purposes, this writer defines faith in the context of men. Maybe for his time, his thoughts were considered radical, cutting edge, and progressive because he gave at least a head nod to women, but it is not sufficient for us when we know that there are women throughout time who have displayed remarkable faith in the face of great odds. This affirms that the Holy Spirit, who inspired Scripture, was still bound by the cultural and contextual realities of very human writers.
The world does not have enough libraries to contain the stories of women who have, in faith, moved mountains and kept the sky from falling. And in times like these, when the pain of structural oppression and patriarchal violence threatens to snuff out every bit of hope, we need their stories of faith to draw from.
It is not enough to know that these stories exist without being specific about who these women are and what their stories are. This level of erasure in our faith lives only allows the marginalization of women, and subsequently all of the lives that women bear, to persist. All over the globe, women sit at the intersection of gender-based violence, classism, ethnocentrism, racism, religious extremism, homophobia, and more. As a result, women are often the most vulnerable victims to acts of violence. When the stories of women are lifted up and included as part of our faith experience, it quells the cycle of oppression whereas when they are erased, oppression is normalized as part and parcel of the human experience.
Yet erasure also severely compromises our collective ability to live into who God has called us to be as a body of believers. If both men and women are created in the image of God, the missing stories of women also translate into missing stories about God. We then end up only validating male gendered qualities in God such as physical strength and prowess, and ignore female gendered qualities such as sensitivity, wisdom, gentleness, and intuition. As a result, we approach all of the problems in the world through our warped interpretation of who God is instead of from a deeper understanding of who God truly is. No wonder we are in trouble!
Over the next few weeks, I want to tell the stories of amazing women in the Bible who like our male heroes, exercised and operated from a deep sense of faith. And from their stories, I will expound on other historical and modern day examples. Outside of the biblical text, I will only lift up the faith narratives of black women because in our sociopolitical landscape in this present moment, black women are often the most exploited. Depending on the situation at hand, black women sit at the intersections of multiple marginal oppressions including classism, gender based violence, homophobia, and ableism. Even so, black women are often the first to speak out and resist our oppression and the oppression of our families. We are invisible emotional laborers, mothers (even to those who are not our own children), liberators, innovators, and world changers – often the first to be called on in times of trouble and the last to be recognized during times of celebration and praise.
Our prophetic voice runs as deep in our DNA as does the memories of slavery and racism. Yet our voices are often silenced, or at least drowned out by others who co-opt our stories for their own gain. This series will lift up our stories – understanding that because our humanity is so deeply intertwined with each other, none of us can be free until black women are free!
The first woman from the biblical text that we will look at is Hagar. Stay tuned for the next story!