Discovery. It’s survivals greatest tool. And as a young disciple it was that simple for me. I felt hyphenated. You know, African-American. But ironically, neither. Not African nor fully American. But strangely, in some sense I was both. And to top that, America’s history books calls me black. See my blackness, according to American historical record, was tethered to an oppressive ethical and aesthetic reality that I was not willing to accept any longer. One thing I did know, without a doubt, is that I valued my faith in Jesus Christ. But the mainstream Christian narrative wasn’t painting a picture of Jesus Christ who had suffered for my blackness. Or better yet served to promote my well-being and dignity.
I stumbled across Alex Haley’s Malcom X on my grandmothers book shelf, at 12, so color blind is something I have never really been. And by 20, I was playing Miles Davis in my dorm room and trying to comprehend Stokley Carmichael and Marcus Garvey. So a few months after my conversion I heard Cornell West, who was probably my greatest influence before Christianity, talk about James Cone’s “Black Messiah.” As a young black Christian, 21 at the the time, James Cone knocked me off my feet. My soul was infatuated but my spirit was left deeply concerned. Actually, Cone literally scared me and it would be several years before I would develop the relationships that would support my journey to discover if Jesus was even concerned with my blackness, my manhood and the painful implications of my American existence.
In honesty, by my mid-20’s, Pan-Africanism, the Nation of Islam, the Black Consciousness and Hebrew Israelite communities were having a more profound impact on my ethnic identity and its validation than Christianity. They engaged my blackness in their own unique way but horrifically failed to address the brokenness of my soul. I longed to know a Jesus who loved my black face with the same fervency as my broken soul. But I just couldn’t get around the notion that there was an edited public narrative saturated with American and Eurocentric (Germanic) theological perspective but ironically Jesus walked on Palestinian soil. That timeline in the back of my bible wasn’t adding up. I wanted to know why no one, at least in mainstream circles, talked about Africa’s involvement. Or better yet Christianity’s presence eastward toward China. And those pictures of a blond hair blue eyed Jesus Christ hanging on the walls wasn’t helping either.
It was during this process that I realized I had been miseducated. I was suffering from an underdeveloped ethnic and religious worldview. And that was something that fueled my dissenting attitudes towards mainstream theology. It was comforting to know that God wasn’t scared of my suspicions of western theological presentation nor the integrity/authority of biblical text. In fact, they were welcomed and fueled my growth. My miseducation caused me to misread the bible. And furthermore it was approval for others to misread it to me as well. The survival of my faith required me to remove the colonialism of the past 500 years from my theological text and perspective. The solution was pretty simple but not necessarily easy. I had to reread the bible. But this time with a broader historical and cultural awareness. I had to commit to research, both religious and secular text, to learn to my express my redemption with cultural and historical relevance.
I quickly learned that I embodied an attitude of black inferiority, that was equally as sinful as America’s attitude of white superiority. Although, the later in part was created by and perpetuates the former, I needed deliverance from the ethnic, cultural and religious self-hatred that I practiced and found to be systemically affirmed throughout the western theology and culture. It was a spiritual and psychological liberation to learn that my blackness carries a dignity bestowed only by God. And even though my dignity can never be culturally appropriated, it must always be culturally validated. And this is where I began to lay the narrative of my personhood and our peoplehood within American culture as a Christian. See, my blackness is a beautiful affirmation that allows me to express my faith with cultural and religious relevance. I learned it is my duty to engage a triune God & the theology of Jesus to shape sociopolitical action that resists every attack on my dignity, self-worth and value in America.
Two recommendations I have are: Relationships and Reading. In that order.
1.) Relationships. The bottom line is, healthy people have healthy relationships. Your spiritual health and longevity are directly associated with the relationships you value. I began to form new relationships while maturing my current ones with people who were different than me. This means across race, gender, political, religious, educational and income identifiers (etc.). I found that my ignorance and arrogance had incubated many ethnic, cultural and religious blindspots that I had failed to confront. My relationships provided the support and transparency I needed to grow both as a man and disciple.
2.) Reading. Resources should supplement your daily bible reading and prayer. I should probably start there. And further more a few books, blogs or podcasts has not made me an expert on Race, American culture or Christianity. The same will probably serve true for you. I find creditable presenters and allow them to introduce information, concepts and most importantly their academic sources that I can research them myself. Register at your local library and budget $25/month for resources. I buy many used books online for less than $5. Devotional biblical reading and your cute social media posts with your big bible will not be enough. Commit to research. It’s well worth it and the survival of your faith might depend on it.
I will post 5 books to buy, blogs to subscribe to and people to follow on social media that can prove helpful to your journey on my Facebook and Twitter pages.