He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:16-19 (NIV)
How is it possible to be Black and Christian?
O God, strengthen our resolve to manifest Christ’s liberating message to those who feel oppressed in mind, body, and spirit and to those representatives of power structures who tacitly or willingly marginalize people. Reaffirm our commitment to good and right actions that manifest the Kingdom of God on earth. Forgive us when we vacillate and fall short, causing us to be perceived as enemies of human liberation and justice. Out of evil bring good, and make us strong as we week to be witnesses to Your Love.
This is not my question, although I often ask it, and I am not the author of this prayer, though I prayed it fervently. According to Rev. Richard L. Tolliver, whom I thank for giving words to my unease,
the Christ event today is a liberation—taking place wherever men and women, boys and girls, who are oppressed in mind, body, or spirit, are seeking to free themselves of the forces that bind them. Questioning and skeptical brothers and sisters will only know of the liberating power of Jesus Christ by what they see and hear from Christians who seek to be agents of Christ’s liberating power in this world.
Before you seek to lecture me…
for making it about race, pause to consider whether Grace underpins your response or, whether the question makes you sufficiently uneasy that you are more comfortable shutting my inquiry down, rather than inviting discomfort in, in favor of prayerful self-examination.
I’ll go first. I remember a time when my knee-jerk response was to condemn something I personally found offensive. God and genuine friendship allowed me to articulate the issue to a writer friend, who offered in love to mitigate the “offense.” However, we talked through my bias and realized, this time, it was about me. I was wrong, and grateful to have been given space to self-correct and learn. She didn’t need to change the words, our friendship deepened, and I learned a lessons in Grace.
Last weekend on retreat, we talked about “holding space.” I confess, upon my first experience with the term, I didn’t like it; I found it insulting. However, as is His way, God was even then turning my heart. I understand now that holding space for me, means practicing the pause, allowing my first response, or yours, to be acute, raw, and honest, in order that we might examine it fully to see if it fits the Gospel. Or, as is often the case, is it embracing the discomfort caused by things we do not yet understand, lack frame of reference to appreciate, or simple fail to fit into our tidy, anthropomorphic concept of God and Grace. What is our sacred obligation? Love anyway.
God rest your sould, Daddy. I miss you ever more keenly this week as I pass yet another anniversary of your crossing to join the ancestors and the elders in eternal worship of The Almighty. Your caution still rests with me…if it doesn’t fit your narrow frame, “Your God is too small.” I am grateful to have learned riding a two-wheeler concurrent to reading, though not fully understanding, JB Phillips, James H. Cone, and Søren Kierkegaard-my childhood was not like yours, but I wouldn’t trade it.
Let’s hold space.
Let’s give each other permission to tell our stories. I cannot know your pain, and you have not lived mine. I continue to be troubled by the frankly disagreeable dialogue among so-called Christians lately. Haven given myself a “time-out,” I claim only to be following Jesus. Y’all can have Christianity for now. However, while I will not support your clear disdain for the Gospel, I do reserve the right to challenge you to actively live what you profess to believe. The world is watching, and I remember the song of my childhood, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” They don’t know that about many of us right now, and if we were called to account before the Throne of Judgment right now, would you be proud?
Would you be fierce in your defense of your actions and your positions, or would you perhaps, humbly offered, “Lord, I tried.”
I fail daily.
I fail daily, but not for want of trying. I have also come to rely on Grace, knowing that when I posit, “How is it possible to be Black and Christian?” I risk distancing myself from people who claim to love God but cannot embrace my earnest supposition. It’s not that I don’t love all of God’s people. I can no longer ignore the way we treat one another, if we profess Imago Dei.
Let’s hold space. I was raised by Black Nationalists on Liberation Theology in the 60s. I know who I am, the legacy upon which I stand, and that God calls me, as He does us all, to more.
My father and mother raised me to be the woman I am becoming. I know Dad celebrates with the angels and the ancestors to see his sown seeds yielding fruit. He’d be proud.
And Mommy? Gray and frailer, still fierce and radical, and on fire for Christ. That’s what I want to be when I grow up.