NEW SERIES – Say Their Names: The Missing Women in Our Faith Narrative

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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!

Fragmented Stories: On Love, Loss and Memory

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Dear Granny.

I’ve always loved you. I hope you understand that. Since I was a little girl, you were one of my most favorite people in the world. Your smile brought me great delight and your house, at least for an eight year old, was full of treasure waiting to be discovered. I remember playing in the backyard and on your patio some afternoons you looked after us while mom worked. Not too frequently though, you lived at least 25 minutes away. But you were close enough so that when we needed you, you were there.

One of the things that I have always loved about Christmas was coming to your house for dinner – most likely because your deep red carpets made it seem like Christmas was an all-year affair. And that brought me joy.

But Christmas was also the one time of year that I was guaranteed to see family. It was essentially our family reunion – cousins, aunties, and uncles from all over would come around your table to eat your collard greens and sweet potato pie. I hope you know, I still haven’t mastered your pie recipe, though trust, I will keep trying.

More than pie and red carpets, I lavished in the fellowship of my family. The family that your sprawling dining room table brought together. And I gobbled up the stories that were passed around that table just as fast as I did your pie. Learning about our history helped me weave disparate stories of our family together into one coherent whole. I needed to understand more.

When I started writing, I promised you that I would sit down and write our family’s story. I needed to understand more about the house that the government tore down so that they could build a freeway. And I needed to know more about our beginnings, our heritage. You were thrilled and excited to share your life with me. Though we never did made any concrete plans, I always assumed there would be time.

(2)

As I grew older and wiser, our connection changed. Oh, the factors are many – some of those factors revolving around whether or not you approved of my life decisions. School. Marriage. Career. No matter the circumstance, if you were not completely behind it, you showed a strong level of disapproval – something I have never even seen in my own parents.

Still, I reached out. But at some point, you stopped calling on your own volition. You congratulated my husband and I on the birth of our children. And you seemed to be pleased that I found a full time job after I graduated from seminary. Other than that, you seemed distant. Gone were the conversations we used to have where we would blab on and on about everything.

And then, gradually, you started to lose yourself to Alzheimer’s. Mom and her siblings stepped in to take care of you the best that they knew how to do so. There were some snafus along the way, but we traversed them all and got you to a safe place where all of your needs would be provided for. I know you never wanted to go into a nursing home or degenerate to the point that you would need care like this, but trust me, this is the best. We are trying to do our best.

(3)

They buried your husband this year. Did you feel a piece of you leave your body as they lowered him into the ground? It frustrates me that they didn’t even let you know that he was gone. You were his wife for over 40 years, you had the right to know. You had the right to grieve even if the capacity to do it escaped you. They took away your agency. And so it ends like this. I am sorry. We did not know ourselves. You deserve more than this.

Mister’s mortality makes me wrestle with your own. I just can’t bear that thought. Surely you are immortal and have some secret beans hidden in your stash of belongings at the nursing home. Please take those now so that you can go back in time at least 20 years. It would give us more time to catch up to the thought of ever losing you.

There are so many things I want to ask you. But the time for that is no more.

(4)

You once told me that your father was a part of the sanitation worker’s strike in Memphis – the day before Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Besides that fact, I know little about our family’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps, this is because we are so private – we share very little with each other, even the minutest of details are top secret.

But maybe, we just weren’t that involved. After all, you moved up to the Midwest in the early 50s. My mother herself was born in Indiana in 1951 and spent the majority of her life in Milwaukee. Maybe you felt those fights were distant memory once you left the Jim Crow south.

Or maybe the demands of a young family kept you from engaging in the fight for justice for our people. I’d like to believe the latter, because as I am sure you know, racism has long existed in the North. It’s more passive aggressive in nature and doesn’t come off so in your face, but it is alive and well here just as much as it was in Tennessee. In Minnesota, they call it Nice. By they, I mean white people. But we blacks know better than that.

I never really heard you talk about the struggle peculiar to black folks. But to be honest, I did not hear anyone in our family do so either. Or maybe I just wasn’t listening. But I was definitely attuned to religion. From a young age, both you and Grandpa Hatch took me to church. With him, I attended Greater New Birth and got in trouble for trying to catch the Holy Ghost. With you, it was an Assembly of God Church close to your home in the suburbs. Grandpa’s church was distinctly black – the music, the shouting, the hats – my God the hats. I came home with headaches every Sunday that I attended. But I loved it.

Yours was a different kind of church, but I loved it too. There was a distinct children’s program at yours so we didn’t have to sit in the sanctuary with the adults the entire length of service. It was in that children’s program where I found out about salvation in Jesus Christ – and I believed it. I confessed faith in that belief on Easter Sunday of 1992 mostly because I misunderstood the preacher. But never mind that, you were proud of me and I was proud of me, too. 24 years later, I have sorted out that confusion and am still going strong in my faith.

As I grew in my commitment to Christ, I started to express interest in pursuing the ministry as a career. You supported me in this. I quickly learned that pursuing that call took precedence over everything else, even my blackness. No, you never said that. But it was something about the way that I was told to give up my own identity and adopt Christ’s that made me feel that being black was not as important as being saved.

I irritated both my mother and my father with my reductionist approach to the faith experience. My father, more so because he was a part of the Nation of Islam and didn’t so much buy into so-called ‘white man’s religion.’ And I irritated my mother because Christianity was seemingly the only lens that I could see out of. ‘Not everything is about Christianity,’ I remember her saying as I took a story she told me and concluded that the reason that the main protagonist in that story had such a difficult time was because they were a Christian and was being persecuted for their faith. In my eyes, their discrimination had nothing to do with being black.

(5)

A part of me believes that you kept the stories about how racism deeply impacted your life in order to protect us. Afterall, you grew up in the 30s and 40s – there was nothing glorious about that era and most folks with any kind of sense would most likely try to forget about all of the horrors associated with living in that time period. The lynch mobs. Who wants to tell those stories and relive the trauma every time they recall the images of burning flesh?

Perhaps silence and respectability is our salvation. At least, that is what many of us have believed for some time now. We have psyched ourselves into believing that if we were good and upright and saved that we would be spared the wrath of whiteness. That if we educated ourselves, got good jobs, owned our homes, worked until our last breath, that we would not be a stain on the nation’s consciousness. So that’s what we did. We gave respectability all of our believing that even if we lost our dignity, we would at least keep our lives.

But you and I both know that our efforts would be futile. Our oppression was never built on the lack of respectability in the first place; it was constructed on the commodification of our dark, ebony bodies. We were stolen away from our ancestral home and brought to a stolen land for profit, not because we failed to live up to some societal ideal of what it was to be human. So though we labored and gave it our all, we were still cut down like trees.

(6)

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Did you see us marching as we filled the streets after they killed our brothers, daughters, and sons? Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Keisha Jenkins, Tanisha Anderson, Walter Scott, Jamar Clark, Maya Young, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Korryn Gaines – all strong and free, yet their blackness succumbed them to the fate of others gone on before. Did you see us protest their murders? Did you see us shut down the roads that took our homes and diminished whatever wealth we had? Did you hear us chant and scream, cry and pray, trusting God that another reality beyond this constant trauma was at our fingertips?

It’s all new for us millennials. We didn’t grow up seeing the perpetual execution of our kin like this. Social media is to blame, at least in part. Within seconds, the scenes of the latest fill our homes. I watched Philando die. Footage of the last moments of Oscar Grant and Eric Garner are still too accessible. These images haunt our imagination and push us to our breaking point where in fear, we turn on each other.

Old millennials like me remember Rodney King. Aside from him, I don’t remember ever seeing mass brutality against our own for simply being black. At least, seemingly justified brutality. The War on Drugs made it permissible for police to profile and attack us. The law said we were wrong so we believed and internalized it. And then, instead of rallying around each other for support, we distanced ourselves from those who were all too easily caught up in that life lest we become a target. Too many of us were. You remember – the times our house was shot up. The family refused to visit us. We almost perished. But by the grace of God, we are still standing here!

After spending 8 years living in a war zone, we moved up and out – like the Jeffersons. And for the first time in my life, I felt a sense of hope that we could really escape this. Though living on 66th and Villard was no Whitefish Bay, it was definitely felt easier to navigate. Mom felt safe enough to let me go to catch the bus nearly 30 minutes away from our home to go to work and balked a lot less to the idea of me taking the bus at 6.30 a.m. to go to school. That would have never happened on 37th and Lisbon.

And I guess a part of me equated my own personal liberation to the liberation of my people. Or at least, when I didn’t have to come face to face with the hopelessness I forgot about it. Instead, I turned my attention to the needs of the world. I took my first missions trip 2 years after we moved to the house on Villard and the next once I graduated from high school. I convinced myself that I was going to be a missionary, believing that if people just knew Jesus they wouldn’t have to live in poverty and despair. To me, the rest of the world needed rescuing from it’s crippling despair. I failed to recognize that the one in need of the most rescuing was me.

(7)

I did the missions thing for a while, or at least, I accumulated nearly 100k in debt so that I could pursue it. I just knew that the world was where God was calling me; the U.S. didn’t have any issues that needed to be solved in my little imagination. I remember a friend of mine from the Caribbean asking me why I did not exhibit the same commitment towards my own. I still shudder at my reply. Truth was, I was so blinded by the plight of my own people because my Western faith expression did not have a place for it. I continued to interpret every single life experience through the lens of Constantinian Christianity, a lens that did not validate or even try to explain the experience of people who had been systematically oppressed.

It did not take me long to come to my senses. Life has a way of putting you in your place, whether you like it or not. And as reality looked me dead in my face, I yielded to the Holy Spirit and began the process of coming to grips with who I really was – a dark skinned black woman living in one of the racist countries on earth.

At times, my identity as a black woman stood in stark contrast to the form of Christianity that I was taught to embrace. But the more I read the scriptures, I saw myself and my experience reflected in them in a way that I had not picked up on before. Gone were the over-spiritualization of passages that were calling out structural oppression and exploitation. I began to see this ancient text, the Bible, for what it really was: a testimony of God’s faithfulness to the exploited people of the world.

(8)

One of the most important things I have learned over the years is the notion of structural racism and oppression. I used to believe that racism solely functioned at an individual level and my imagination mostly pictured dudes in white robes burning crosses or some bigot shouting the N-word. These were obvious forms of racism that even in my naivety I could not deny. But the idea of structural oppression, or that racism was codified in a system of laws and practices in the United States, was new to me.

It took me a while to understand the depths of that. Honestly, I think my Western ideas of individualism and Christianity got in the way. Or perhaps, it was because even without the burning crosses and hoods, I still saw far too many racists walking around, hiding behind the veneer of Minnesota Nice progressivism. Their passive aggressive behavior made it impossible for me to abandon the idea that structural racism was our only foe – structural racism has and continues to be nurtured by individual attitudes, practices, and behaviors. The realtors who refuse to sell homes to black families are acting out of individual prejudices that then get formulated into de facto laws. And employers who refuse to hire blacks – regardless of education and experience – are acting on their own biases in spite of the mandated equity and inclusion workforce goals. The attitudes of the most bigoted and powerful among us get baked into laws that govern our bodies and dictate when and where we walk, live, worship, and play.  

(9)

This racism thing seems to be only one piece of the puzzle. Another closely related if not intersecting piece – I think – is this notion of white fragility. There is just something about the black body, our mere existence, that threatens white people’s identity.

Perhaps it’s because they didn’t expect us to make it this long. We’ve survived the Atlantic, slavery and rape, the convict leasing system, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and in spite of what it seems, police brutality cannot kill all of us! Maybe they didn’t think we would be this resilient, this stedfast in the face of the ever-morphing racist attacks against us. And maybe this ongoing existence is a residual reminder of what they did to us. As much as they strike us from their history books, forget our names and contributions, and sanitize our prophets, our presence is a constant reminder of their oppression against humanity. They were the criminals, the soul-less bearers of inextricable evil against image-bearers, forsaking their own identity for the sake of whiteness.

For many, whiteness only means that they are not discriminated against because of their race. That aside, they have given much in exchange for a fleeting, unsustainable dream. And they will go to great odds to defend this dream, a dream that in fact proves to be a nightmare for them to the extent that many in their community are suffering exponentially. The pastor in me wants to reach out, wants to solve their crisis. Be their black savior. But the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates cautions me:

Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field of their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.”

(10)

I think the biggest identity crisis for white folks are our nation’s changing demographics. In less than 25 years, our country will have more people of color and American Indians than white people. Even now, there are more children of color being born than white children. Which is exciting because there is so much beauty in diversity! But the same thing that fills me with joy is a source of anxiety for white people because they fear loss of wealth and power amidst the changes.

The election in 2008 put a face to many of their fears as a black man from the southside of Chicago was elected to one of the highest seats of power in the world. Obama’s election sent shock waves down the spine of white people who saw his administration as a threat to their well-being. From the moment he secured his seat, they gave him nothing but trouble. I am sure you took notice as the tea partiers hoisted themselves into power, seeking to hold on to whatever they could grasp from a yesterday that was quickly fleeting. For all of their disdain towards organizing, they sure as hell did a fine job growing and organizing a base of people who worked to ensure that there would never be another Obama.

In 2010, they unseated many Democrats and moderate Republicans with their rhetoric. But as 2012 came to a close, it was clear that the Tea Partiers had become irrelevant. Though many of those elected held onto their seats, the Tea Party as an organized identity failed to thrive and died a quiet, unsuspecting death.

And in 2015, Trump resurrected pieces of it. The idea of taking the country back along with his entertaining presence, pushed him into the lime-light. Surely, someone of his station – with his toddler like tantrums and adolescent boyish antics – would be disqualified. God, we hoped and prayed that it would. But the media fanned the flames of his existence and his supporters thought those flames to be true fire. They, overwhelmingly white and anxious over the browning of America swallow his words whole, blind to the fact that his rhetoric is as void of nourishment as it is virulent.

I’m not suggesting that I am with her. At least completely. She’s shady but she’s stable. What I am saying is that he has re-awakened the consciousness of white folks who feel that they are losing ground in this country that they do not have legitimate rights to. They ‘earned it’ by conquest, genocide, and war and that is the only way they imagine they can hold on to it. This is essentially at the root of the push to build the Dakota Access Pipeline and the way that those in power respond to the water protectors’ agency. And the irony around the rhetoric about Mexicans crossing the border undocumented when the border actually crossed them through violence and war! How they fight against Islam and LGBTQ and women and everyone who is not a cisgendered heterosexual white man! Reminds me of the oft quoted saying, “If you have a problem with everyone, maybe you’re the problem.”

The reality is that they are losing ground. Fast. They know it and are grasping to hold on to it by any means necessary. And this is what shakes me to my very core. As a spiritually sensitive person who is well versed in the Word of God and history itself, I see a change coming. But I suspect that change will not be good for people who look anything like us.  

None of this is new to you. You survived the Great Depression, you lived through Jim Crow, and you witnessed the Civil Rights Movement – you know what they do to us when they fear loss of power and resources. You have witnessed with your own eyes the frequency of which we become the sacrificial lamb for this country’s sin, called to atone for that which continues to oppress and marginalize us.

And yet, you are also well acquainted with hope in spite of the permanence of this beast. For you, that hope was rooted in your faith in Jesus Christ and the promise of the Second Coming where He would come and make all things new. It is this same faith that you passed down to me and that centers me when I would rather cower in fear of the future. In spite of what I see in this present hour, I know that this system of dehumanization and destruction will not last forever because God will pull the veil down on this whole thing. In that moment, we will discover that racism is nothing more than a cowardly wizard hiding behind a twisted version of reality. And God will defeat that wizard, liberating all those who have been oppressed by its grasp.

(11)

How I wish we had more time. How I long to hear your stories and learn from your experiences. Although that time has escaped us for now, I know that I will one day have the opportunity to sit and hear from you again.

In heaven. I hear God is preparing you a home. And if I could guess, that home will be covered in velvety red carpet with matching pillows to boot. The windows will have the same Christmas wreath that you have held for years. You will have your patio overlooking your expansive backyard. When I come for a visit, you will offer me a soda just as you always do and I will turn it down, just as I always do since I haven’t drunk that diabetes inducing beverage in years. But I’ll take a slice or two of your wonderful sweet potato pie. Keep it cold because that’s the way I like it.

We’ll sit down at your kitchen table eating our pie. I’ll pull out my paper and pen so I can write down the stories as you tell them. This time I will be ready. I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world.

Some glad morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

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

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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 >

 

The Black Body: Prophets Against Empire

beautiful-black-womanAnd I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6 These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. 8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9 Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. 10 And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. – Revelation 11.3 – 10, NASB

The task of those who take up the mantle to speak prophetically against systems of injustice in this world is an arduous one. When you dare to fight against empire, empire most often fights back. When you become emboldened through the power of the Holy Spirit to speak against oppression, oppressors do not sit idly by – they crack down harder, hoping with every ounce of their being to either make you irrelevant, silence you, or obliterate you altogether. And they often do so in front of the world, using the oppression and death of the outspoken as an example of what can happen when one dares to challenge injustice.

Such is what happened to the two prophets, or witnesses, in the book of Revelation. While it can be argued that these two were persecuted because of their beliefs, we must take our analysis distorted by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B Jenkins a little further and also consider how these two men spoke out against an oppressive, sadistic system which caused deep hunger, poverty, and war while also challenging the people of the empire who committed idolatry, murder, and theft. With every word they spoke, they agitated a system that was bent on destruction and angered a people who would have preferred to wallow in misery than receive the mercies of God. For three and a half years, the two prophets – empowered by the Holy Spirit – rattled this evil system until they were overpowered and killed.

And the bodies of the prophets laid in the street for three and a half days. Unmoved. Untouched. And the people who they prophesied against refused them a proper burial because the prophets forced them to face their sins. For three and a half days, the people mocked and taunted the dead prophets. And the empire was complicit in the mockery because at last, the outspoken voices who reminded it of its wickedness and oppression were silent. Three and a half days. 84 hours. 302,400 seconds of rotting in the hot sun as an example to anyone else who would dare to challenge structural sin and oppression.

Embodying blackness, Mike Brown dared to challenge an empire who wanted to forget about its history of oppression and sin.* As a young, black man in a country which so desperately longed to be post-racial, or rather, a country who wanted to forget about blackness, Mike and so many like him who are profiled and killed on a daily basis, was a constant reminder of the America’s sin. Like the prophets of old, he drew attention to the nation’s history of injustice and exploitation. Like the prophets, his presence agitated folks who did not want to face the truth about the way in which they had been complicit in the sin of empire. And so, they killed him and left him in the street for 4 ½ hours, his decaying body serving as an example to every other black person of what happens when you dare to live the truth.

As with Mike, the same has held true of so many other black men, women, and children in our nation who  are either battered and bruised (Rodney King, Dajerria Becton, James Blake) or violently killed (Emmett Till, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott Freddie Gray, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel L. Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor, Sandra Bland, Kindra Darnell Chapman and unfortunately so many others). The only factor that united all of these was their blackness which continually reminded those in power of our nation’s dark history. Our mere, enduring existence as black people is a prophetic voice against the ways in which we have been exploited and marginalized for profit. And when empire has had all it can take – as in the case of the two witnesses in Revelation – it retaliates. Brutally. The death of so many black prophets have spilled on the ground, remaining, rotting, voiceless and alone because we dared to wake up and walk out into the world, challenging white supremacy with every single breath we take. Our blackness – whether we bear the right name, look a certain way, or have Ph.D behind our name – is a continual prophetic witness against empire and capitalism.

This is a hard truth to bear! However, the more that we come to understand that our blackness is under siege because of the shame that those who are complicit in our oppression harbor, the more we can stop beating up on each other. At last, we could put respectability politics to rest. And perhaps, we could even stop talking about black on black violence. Because the truth of the matter is, we could be as saintly as Mother Theresa, or as far gone as Judas Iscariot and it will not matter because as long as we embody blackness, our bodies will speak out against injustice.

In order to move forward, empire must enter into the sacred process of repentance, confession, and healing. It must recognize the ways in which the ideology of white supremacy has corrupted the hearts of so many people in this nation and has also disregarded the image of God present in every person. This is where the deepest work must take place!

And the emphasis on undoing white supremacist ideology cannot be overstated. For far too long, empire has put the onus on black people to improve and move beyond our position as if we were culpable for our own chains. But we are not! We did not do this to ourselves but rather it is this nation who in the words of James Baldwin has ‘robbed black people of their liberty and who have profited by this theft every hour they have lived.’ No matter the heights black people climb, until our nation shakes loose the shackles of the wretched ideology that has governed the people for centuries, not only is change impossible but so is the liberation of black people. Our bodies will continue to live in protest.

*Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a conference that was being hosted at my church, Identity, Theology, and Place: Re-inhabiting the Mississippi Watershed. During the first plenary session on Saturday morning, activist and theologian Ched Meyers made mention of the passage in Revelation and connected it to the murder and desecration of Mike Brown’s body which inspired this post.

On Kindergarten and Little Black Girls

diversepreschool-585x296My daughter started kindergarten last week. And it was bittersweet. On the one hand, I was excited to see her transition out of daycare into the formal system of education – a transition that clearly indicated that my precious five year old, the one who I carried for 9 months, nursed for 2 years, and with whom I have spent untold hours reading to, potty training, and you know, general caring for, was growing up. On the other hand, I was a nervous wreck because for the first time in her life she would be under the instruction of a white teacher within a white institution, and I would not be able to be present to protect, love, and guide her through it.

I have heard the stories from parents and educators alike who have witnessed first hand the intrinsic racial bias that is displayed towards students of color. While this bias may not be overt, meaning that it is often not intentional or done from a place of malice, it operates in such a way that targets students of color, limiting their ability to be well and flourish in the same ways that their white classmates do. It does this by drawing on stereotypes about people of color to form conclusions about behavior, culture, and values – conclusions that are inaccurate because the premise from which they were formed assumes that children of color are either always in the wrong or in the perpetual need of white saviors. These negative assumptions are more than simply wrong but absolutely destructive to students whose young minds who are so malleable.

As I mentioned, one of the things that shows that racial bias is evident in the system of education is the high rate of suspensions among black and brown students. In Minneapolis alone, where my daughter is enrolled in school, 400 students from kindergarten and first grade were suspended in the last school year up from 246 in the previous year. And the racial disparity in these suspension is significant. Data from the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership reports that “in 2012, the suspension rates for white males, who make up about 18% of the enrolled student population was at 3.4%. But for African American males who make up about 19% of the enrolled student population, similar to their white male counterparts, the suspension rate was 18.7%.” The disparity between white and black students suggests that there is significant bias when interpreting the behaviors of our youngest scholars. Things that are seen as misdirected but innocent behavior in white students are seen as disruptive and maladaptive behaviors in students of color.

But inappropriate disciplinary action is just one evidence of racial bias in the education system. Racial bias also exists in the macro and micro slights that occur on a daily basis, gradually chipping away at the esteem and confidence of students of color. It’s in whom students are perceived to be before they even walk through the door. Depending on racial or cultural background, some students are treated as if they have a handicap or are in need of some tailored approach to learning simply because they do not possess a ‘traditional’ American name. My daughter and I experienced this last year when we went in to assess her kindergarten readiness. For some reason, the student placement center thought that she was Somali (even though I told them she wasn’t) and issued her an assessment test geared for Somali students. Even after I fought hard for them to change it, they were slow in doing so.

It’s also in the curriculum that is taught and the books that are read and offered to the students. For the most part, black and brown faces are missing from these stories but when they are there, they mostly defer to some racial and/or cultural stereotype about who we are. Such is the case with the books being offered by Reading Horizons, a Utah-based company that specializes in literacy training which Minneapolis Public Schools has a contract with. The books project highly offensive narratives about people of color, immigrants, and women as well (thank you teachers for standing up to that nonsense)!

Lest some misguided reader suggest that the problem lies in Minneapolis’ Public Schools or in public schools in general, let me assert that racial bias in education is vast and widespread. It Racial bias in education rears its ugly head in private, charter, faith-based, and alternative schools across our nation. And yet, America’s system of education is just one tool in the hands of a white supremacist society, perpetually committed to minimizing, silencing and destroying the lives of people of color for profit in order to benefit wealthy white men.

Now, I guess, one can probably understand and perhaps sympathize with my fear in sending my daughter off to school. Over the years, her father and I have gone through great lengths to ensure that she has a healthy understanding of herself: we’ve affirmed that she is beautiful, valuable, intelligent, curious, funny, and so much more. We’ve taught her the beauty that is inherent in her skin color and the curl pattern of her hair which is prone to much shrinkage. We’ve told her that she can achieve anything that she puts her mind to and that she should never say ‘I can’t do it’ but rather ask for help. She is learning that she has a rich cultural history spanning two nations – America and Nigeria and she is thoroughly interested in learning Yoruba, her father’s language. And we’ve told her times without number how much God loves her and how much God delights in her and how much she is fearfully, wonderfully, and beautifully made. This she knows. But I know that she has just entered a system bent on telling her the exact opposite of all that I’ve worked to instill in her.

Perhaps I should take an act of faith. Maybe I should be more trusting and less skeptical. Probably. There are individual schools and teachers who are doing an amazing job and who are intentional about providing the best level of education to all of their students regardless of race, culture, or socioeconomic background. I believe my daughter’s school is one of those schools which is one of the reasons I was intentional in my selection process. These are rare, shining examples which deserve to be praised, uplifted, and modeled. Even so, the system, in spite of the great schools, the outstanding curriculum, and the award-deserving teachers, is flawed, and mostly so for students who look more so like my daughter. The individual stories of success get lost and are even severely impacted by a system bent on destructive – which is highly financed and politicized, further impeding the damage, another story for another day. 

So I don’t trust it. I can’t trust it. Having faith in the school system to do right by my daughter and all of those who look like her is like having faith in white supremacy to do the right thing. It just may not happen (soon). The burden of proof is in all of the students of color who walk through the doors of education and leave broken and wounded. So I am not hinging all of my faith here. That would be lunacy. Instead, I stay informed. I stay vigilant. I re-educate and supplement whatever the teacher is teaching with material of my own, books of my own, knowledge of my own. And I resist, I resist the notion that our kids can’t learn, that they are not up to par, that there is something inherently wrong with them because I know that is not true. And everyday, I make sure my daughter knows the same.

And if all else fails, there is always homeschooling!

Cultivating Hearts of Worship in Pursuit of Racial Justice

11900629_10207223094483006_1833846839_oWorship changes things. It forces every spirit, opponent, and plan contrary to that of God’s to bow at His feet. As we exalt God to His rightful place in our hearts and in the world, he takes over and makes things right. This we know, either through experiences of our own, hearing the testimony of others, or through reflecting on the biblical text. And yet, in spite of the fact that we can attest to how the presence of God changes things, we often seem reluctant to engage. So often, we rather rely on our own know how, our own expertise, to fix the broken things in our world especially as it pertains to addressing structural injustice and oppression.

Maybe we’ve lost the vision of God’s holiness and His splendor. Perhaps, this is why we don’t worship in desperate times like these where black life, as well as the lives of other people of color in this country, are so devalued. Unable to fully comprehend the majesty of God, we likewise are deceived into thinking that worship does not accomplish very much. At our best, we treat worship like its the warm up before the game without realizing that this is the game, this is the work, this is what is required to bend a deeply psychotic society back towards God. At our worst, we neglect it altogether without realizing how much we are impair the fight for racial justice by not seeking God’s face.

Of a truth, if I am honest this morning, I have noticed a significant change in my life in this regard starting from when George Zimmerman was not indicted for killing Trayvon Martin. Because you see, as Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin mourned the death of their son, I was celebrating the birth of mine. And the reality that I had just given birth to a black son in America frightened me to my very core. I began to read all that I could, consumed as much material as I had the capacity to, attended this meeting and that convening, and wrote voraciously all to perfect an intellectual analysis about what was going on in our society.

I tried to worship. I honestly tried to. In the back of my mind, I knew worship was so critical to undoing racism in our society. I had been reading, “The Heart of Racial Justice’ by Brenda Salter McNeil for the second time which really challenged me in this area as well. In her book, co-authored with Rick Richardson, McNeil writes this:

God is delighted when his people come together in worship and prayer to live out the power of the cross to break down dividing walls of hostility. Far too often, those who seek to be reconcilers and peacemakers have anemic worship lives – both individually and corporately. This is a mistake. Racial and ethnic problems are too immense to be addressed with spiritual anemia and cynicism. Rage, mistrust, and even self-hatred can lurk in the corners of any heart and cannot be overcome simply by our effort. It takes the Holy Spirit to melt down the inner barriers we have erected and to create in us a desire for God and for other people. This is not humanly manufactured. We can’t do it by ourselves. It takes a work of God’s grace in our lives.

I knew that McNeil was right. If I was serious about racial justice, worshipping God had to be paramount. But it was all too easy to rehearse that in my mind rather than engage. It was far too easy to put the task, the joy, of seeking God’s face on the backburner while I engaged my intellect instead. Sure, my analysis is much stronger than it was four or five years ago. My understanding of the ways that capitalism has been the driving force to support the perpetual dehumanization of black men, women, and children was significantly increased. And if I don’t say so myself, my blog is 100% better because of the critical, anti-racist perspective that has informed my thinking.

I know I have had impact. But I wonder how much more God could have done through me if I spent more time before the feet of God in worship than tweeting and retweeting the latest victim of white supremacist terrorism and state sanctioned violence.

As I have stated before, engaging the intellect is completely necessary in a society that is completely brainwashed with supremacist and oppressive ideology. New media that challenges that status quo and offers up new, refreshing narratives about black people as well as other marginalized groups, is deeply critical, anti-racist work. But I must, we must, seek the face of God more than all of these things. We have to have our imaginations awakened to the joy, peace, and clarity that is derived in God’s presence so that we, with the psalmist, find ourselves absolutely desperate to be in His court. Indeed, it is only when we see Him clearly that we have the capacity to effectively challenge white supremacy.

This post is an amended version of the sermon that I preached on Sunday. You can listen to the rest of the sermon here >

The Church as a Catalyst for Racial Justice

TheChurchHow can the Church of Jesus Christ
be a vehicle for change and racial justice
in a society that consistently
dehumanizes and devalues black lives?

This is the question that believers of the Gospel, need to ask in earnest as police brutality and white supremacist violence increasingly compromises black American’s ability to live and do life well. In 2015 alone, there hasn’t been one week that has gone by without us hearing about a black life lost too soon, or a black body being physically violated as a result of state sanctioned violence.

Names like Tony Robinson, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Dajerria Becton, Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Sam Dubose, Raynette Turner, not to mention the Charleston 9 – Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Daniel Simmons Sr., DePayne Middleton Doctor – have become household names in black homes around the country, people who we never knew but whom we recognized as brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, play cousins and friends, as a result of the affinity we shared. As we mourn their lives, we demand justice for our own, chanting #BlackLivesMatter so loud that our cries shake heaven.

But as we mobilize, educate, advocate, and tweet, the Church sits quietly with its hands folded like a helpless child, often offering trite, wholly inaccurate explanations to the suffering. Persecution. Degradation of the culture. Video games. Black-on-black violence. Sin and immorality. Lack of personal responsibility. Drugs. Obama. And a host of other reasons, all which either minimize or ignore altogether the main issue – that black Americans, solely because of the color of our skin, are not able to fully access the opportunity to live and have our humanity fully embraced in the same way that our white brothers and sisters are able to.

Over the last couple of weeks, this is the point that I have stressed over and over again: that more than lacking access to economic opportunity, black Americans lack the opportunity to fully live. It’s been a hard truth to sell, it doesn’t go down easily. AND it can be a defeating concept to grapple with, I get that. But the reality that bears out, time and time again is that we are hunted and profiled and then assaulted for simply doing everyday, run-of-the-mill type things like walking down the street, asking for help, sleeping, traveling across the country, swimming, playing rap music, and worshipping our God.

As I have mentioned at great length before, I believe that the perfect combination of laws, science, and religion have gotten us in this mess. In my last post, I addressed the ways that law and science has been used to perpetuate racism and white supremacy but also how it can be used to undo it. In this piece, I want to examine religion and specifically Christianity in the same light.

The Church as a Means of Validating Structural Racism

Historically speaking, the Church has been used as a means to validate structural racism and white supremacy. Yet the roots of the Church being used as a vehicle for oppression do not begin on America’s soil, indeed they reach all the way back to 4th century when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Up until this time, Christianity posed a real threat to the ruling powers of the day to the extent that those who professed to be followers of Jesus Christ lived under the constant threat of having their property destroyed and being killed.

But Constantine changed this, which had some significant benefits i.e. no more persecution as well as drawbacks. Sharing power with three other emperors, he gradually began to position himself politically speaking so that he could rule the entire empire. Turning to battle in order to defeat the competition, he received a revelation of sorts which instructed him to place a Christian symbol on the shields of the soldiers, which most scholars understand to be the first two letters of the name “Christ.” Constantine then made Christianity the official religion of the empire and also stopped the persecution of Christians which had endured up until this point.

While some believe that this event represents Constantine’s conversion, it is important to note that after this ‘revelation’ he continued to worship the Roman god, the Unconquered Sun. Scholars and theologians alike call into question the legitimacy of Constantine’s conversion, believing that it was more of a political maneuver than anything else. And perhaps it was. Because while Christianity is embraced by the empire, it is also now controlled by the empire and becomes the de facto representation for state sanctioned oppression, exploitation and violence.*

Those in power now control what was once considered an organic, abundant expression of God’s grace and love in the world. Whereas Christianity was previously known for the love and hospitality that it showed to both those inside and without the Christian community, it was now associated power and prestige. The empire continued to operate as it has always done but now it did so with the validation of the Christian faith. And anyone who questioned it, or decided not to opt in, were either ostracized or killed.

This is the way that Christianity has operated for the last 1700 years, wielding a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. While the face of the empire has changed through the ages, the fact remains that it has long been controlled by the powers that be. And the empire, up until recently, has always needed it to be this way, as it has used the Church as a means for social and economic control. In his book, ‘Prophetic Imagination’ Walter Brueggemann explains:

“In the establishment of a controlled, static religion God and his temple have become part of the royal landscape and the sovereignty of God is fully subordinated to the purpose of the king…obviously, oppressive politics and affluent economics depend on each other. Nevertheless it is my urging that fundamental to both is the religion of the captive God in which all overagainstness is dissipated and the king and his ideology are completely at ease in the presence of God. When that tension concerning God’s freedom has been dissolved, religion easily becomes one more dimension, albeit an important one, for the integration of society (Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination: p 34, 36).

So you see, when those who wished to colonize the Americas looked for justification to do so, they drew upon a structure that was already in place. They were not so much inventing a new wheel as they were expanding the scope and functionality of it so that Christianity would now be used as a means to subjugate and dehumanize people based on the color of their skin. Slaveholders and others began to pick and choose scriptures (out of context) from the Bible which they believed supported their erroneous claims to the land of the Indigenous people and the bodies of Africans, weaving these disparate verses into a doctrine of supremacy.

While slavery ended some 150 years ago, white supremacy and racism endures. In fact, white supremacy never needed slavery to substantiate its claim to black bodies, what it needed was this Christian faith to legitimize its actions at every turn so that no matter the structure – slavery, convict leasing system, Jim Crow, segregation, war on drugs, mass incarceration, police brutality – it would endure.

The Church as a Means of Undoing Racism

In spite of it’s history, I remain hopeful that the Church can be a vehicle for change and uprooting white supremacy in our society as well as across the globe. My hope is twofold. One, I believe in Jesus Christ and the promise of the Gospel. And as I read this Gospel, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ is in the process of redeeming this world, including we ourselves, back to him. The book of Revelation declares:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 2 And I saw the holy city—the new Jerusalem—descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist (Revelation 21.1 – 4, NET).”

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life—water as clear as crystal—pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations.3 And there will no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city. His servants will worship him, 4 and they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will be no more, and they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, because the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22.1 – 5, NET).”

Reading God’s Word, I am rest assured that the order of this world – and of the United States, for that matter, will one day come to an end. This is reason enough to be hopeful. Secondly, I remain hopeful in the Church because it is Christ’s instrument to announce peace, reconciliation and healing to a broken world:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24.44 – 49, NET).”

So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth (Acts 1.6 – 8, NET).”

After His death and resurrection, the Church was what God used to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and invalidate the Roman Empire’s faulty claim on eternal rule. While I believe that the Church will be what God uses to break the chains of white supremacy and racism in our time, drawing a nation’s consciousness back to the value of black life, it can’t from a place of power and wielding might in the way that it has done it before. Due to its deep, dark history of oppression, the Church will only point the way to healing and reconciliation if it relinquishes its relationship with empire and associate with the downtrodden and exploited in our society. Indeed, this is what Christ modeled before us, showing us that true transformation does not come through the power of the sword but through finding oneself in relationship with those society has cast off going to the point of sharing in their suffering and pain.

Fortunately, this is the opportunity before us now. Many statisticians are beginning to declare the end of the Christian era in America, as many churches are shrinking their budgets, laying off staff, or closing their doors altogether. Society itself seems to be moving away from defining itself by Christian values and doctrines. Indeed, we live in a time when Bible stories and concepts that were once considered well-known even among unbelievers, are foreign.

But if we look with spiritual eyes and stop licking our wounds, we will realize that what is really happening is that we are entering a post-Constantinian era. The hold that the empire once had on the Church is no longer necessary because the goals and morales of the empire function just well without it. White supremacy is so ingrained in our nation’s soil, and capitalism so much a part of our nation’s ethos, that it no longer needs Christianity; these things thrive just well on its own.

As the empire looses itself of the Church, let us likewise shake off imperialism and wholly and completely embrace Christ for who He truly is. Let the Church relinquish its claim to power and capitalism so that Holy Spirit can work through us in the way that He worked through the first century disciples – completely unrestricted, drawing a nation’s consciousness away from the deception of the Roman Empire to the enduring truth of Christ. In doing so, we will be able to join the chorus of black Americans crying for justice, chanting #blacklivesmatter because in seeking God’s truth, the Church will be able to tell an immoral world that our humanity is the truth. I will be waiting, millions of black people are waiting, for the Church to take its rightful place in proclaiming racial justice and restoration in this hour. Do not delay!

*See Justo Gonzalez’ The Story of Christianity: Volume I