What means more to you, or how would you identify yourself first? Would you go straight to your personal faith first, or point out your race? How about your gender, ethnicity, hometown, occupation, or education? When you give a description of yourself, how does it begin?
I ask these questions because having worked in Student Affairs for a number of years, it periodically came up in conversation with my peers. Now, being out of that profession, and just living my life and thinking about how my husband and I will go about raising our daughter, these questions are coming up in my mind more and more. Personally, having graduated from Spelman College, I went through a good period of seriously identifying myself as an educated, Black woman. However, in the years following graduation, I grew more and more in my faith, and I came to hold on to the fact that I was a child of God far more than I did to my race, gender, or education. So I wonder about Christians today. In your personal reflection, what means more to you at this moment?
Now I pose this question because for many Christians, I think that the answer is very obvious. We still live in a society that has many social problems, and we have allowed this culture to even influence our perception of other Christians and the Church. For instance, how many people know about “white Christian music” versus “black Christian music”? How many people can’t step foot in a “white” church or a “black” church? Nowadays, there are people who won’t step foot in the “urban” or “inner-city” church. Why? “Well, I can’t get down with those people.” And “I just don’t like the way they do things there.” Or “I didn’t grow up like that. I just wouldn’t be comfortable there.” Oh, there are lots of reasons people give, lots of excuses that are offered to massage the consciences of many self-proclaimed Christians.
I think what is more troubling to me is that there is largely no attempt by Christians to get out of their comfort zones. People just say “Well, I can’t”, and that is it. There is no attempt, no trying, no prayer lifted up for more grace in the area. Nothing at all, except contentment knowing that no one is going to force you out of your comfortable place or challenge you to love every member of the body of Christ as yourself.
Personally, I haven’t been a member of a Black church since a few years out of undergrad. Now, my leaving was not intentional. I didn’t have any resentment. It was just that as I was courting my husband, I came to really love his church, and he was the only Black person in his church. His church was comprised of former Mennonites, Indians (from India), Midwesterners, and others from various more legalistic backgrounds. So, while we courted long distance, I found it fortunate that his church streamed services live, and I really grew from the teaching. Yes, the worship style was different, but it worship in the spirit and in truth, and God gave me grace to adapt to the differences. When we married, I became a member of the church, and to this day, I love each and every one of them so deeply. They are my family. Now, God called us to leave Colorado, and we have found ourselves here in Louisiana. Praying and searching for a church home, we are now the only Black members of an evangelical Presbyterian church. What are the odds of that? We didn’t go searching for that kind of church to be members of, but we just wanted a church where we agreed with the doctrine they were teaching. So, after several months, we became members, and again, the worship style is very different (more liturgical). But again, the worship is done in spirit and in truth, and God has given us grace to bear with the difference in style.
If you had asked me years ago what the course of my church membership and fellowship would be, I would have never guessed that I would hold deep friendships with Indians, former Mennonites, Midwesterners, or even upper-class Southern White people. But, I thank God for removing from my comfort zone. I thank God for causing me to put my educated, Black womanness on the back burner to really be able to behold the beauty of His church, His bride. I’m glad that I’m no longer at a mental place where I think of churches or music in terms of race or ethnicity. I’m glad that I am not fearful or intimidated being around other Christians who don’t look like me, talk like me, or even have similar experiences. I’m glad that I am not holding an identity lens when I think about what I believe so that I can genuinely and wholeheartedly love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, the way Christ ordained it to be.
Now, have I forgotten myself? Or have I become so absorbed in the “white man’s religion” that I’ve forgotten my own history or heritage? No, not at all. Not at all. I’m well versed in my own Black history. I was well educated about the struggle of Black women at Spelman, and I’ve heard the countless stories from my own mother and grandparents of their struggles. And I will pass all of these things down to my daughter. Because, yes, they are important.
But, I will be honest in saying that my zeal to never “forget who I am or where I came from” has caused me to be lazy and ignorant in the history that has forever given me life and given me a very real and eternal hope. I will admit that I was never zealous to know the history of the church like I was to know the history of African-Americans. As a Christian, I can say that I have forgotten who I was or where I came from because I never knew it in the first place.
Yeah, it’s hard to admit that, but it is the truth. I know that my faith means more to me than anything else, but my zeal has never met up with my professed conviction. I was comfortable reading a few verses here and there, maybe even reading an inspirational devotional book, or a blog like this. But I never sought to study or understand the history of how I have entered the Christian faith today. How did I get my hands on my Bible? Where do the different versions of the Bible come from? What do the denominations mean? How did the Bible get put together? What happened to the apostles after the book of Acts? Lots and lots of unasked questions from a heart that never even thought to ask those questions. You may not forget who you are as a Christian on the day to day, but I hope you begin to ponder and search out where you came from as a believer? What is your history as a believer of Christ? Start there. Figure out your history there.
And you know, I think that when we realize that all believers have a common history (now there are some dramatic differences here and there), we will start to realize that there should not be as many self-perceived differences when we look at others in the body of Christ. I think that we will begin to see race less, and education less, and socio-economic status less. I think that we will begin to see each other simply as brothers and sisters in the faith. And I think that just as much as I will make sure my daughter knows the history of African-Americans, she should also know the history of what she believes even more so because it’s effects are eternal….just a thought.