Being born in Georgia meant that I learned as a child to fear some things in order to survive. In addition to fond memories, my childhood also included superstitions.
Visiting Florida last week, where I attended a small Christian college, brought back many beautiful memories of incredible friendships. But, it also reminded me that when my faith journey began at the age of 22, I also brought fear along for the ride. In addition to learning to love Jesus, the Bible, studying Hebrew and Greek, I also became fluent in superstitions and conspiracy theories about other Christians, politics, other religions and even those within my own Black community.
Grace was extended, but there were limits as to who was worthy. Especially in politics. The worst thing you could be called was a liberal. Liberals deserved Karma not Grace! So of course I became a Black Republican.
I also became the Black friend who was proof that no one was racist. Even though I walked out of chapel during a visiting singing group’s tone deaf portrayal of “Black music”, by my silence and immature faith, I endorsed and held the same kind of thinking. Until I moved to Cambodia.
One of the many paradigm shifts that occurred during my 14 years in Cambodia was after reading “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Phillip Yancey. It was a part of my journey to cease maintaining debilitating fears, superstitions and conspiracy theories about God. About who He was and how He saw me and the world around me. The Amazing Grace that had taught my heart to fear in a beautiful reverent way, had to deal with the same heart to unlearn a punitive fear from a wrath filled God that was keeping score. Especially if I didn’t believe a specific set of traditions. Believe specific doctrines about faith, the role of women in the church and many other areas.
Living in a war torn country, having an Australian pastor who challenged me to examine what the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus had to say about the poor, injustice, women, the marginalized and seeing the Imago Dei (the image of God) in others was a complete game changer.
In the 10 years since returning from Cambodia, I’ve seen fear, superstitions and conspiracy theories continuing to flourish in Christian communities. Conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s birth, Superstitions about the Black community, Refugees, immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, etc. And an overwhelming Fear of losing power.
My daughter asked me the other day, “How do you remain friends with Christians who continue to say these kind of things about Black people?” They don’t care about you! I answered by hemming and hawing with thoughts like, loyalty? Nostalgia? The “Friends” song by Michael W. Smith? Grace?
She’s right and the two pastors I spoke with in the office last week are also right.
What would I say to myself as my counselor?
– You’ve already walked away from unhealthy fears, superstitions and conspiracy theories about God, yourself and the world. You know decent people from every political persuasion.
I would say remaining in these spaces has nothing to do with showing Grace to others. It actually says more about how I allow others to treat me and the communities that I love.
It’s about healthy friendships. It’s about self-care. It’s about the dignity that I was taught being born in Georgia. By a family who said Grace. Whose strength was a measure of the goodness of God’s Grace.
Maya Angelou said “When you know better, you do better.”
I know Grace better. It’s about the unrelenting love of God. It’s about how we are to treat others AND ourselves. And it’s Amazing!
Mourning the loss of 49 Muslim lives that God fearfully and wonderfully made is a prayer answered by how we treat our neighbors. The immigrant. The refugee. The marginalized.
Mourning is an action that welcomes. It shows compassion. It shows up. It refuses to allow love to become a stranger to the Stranger.
Refuses to become indifferent or passively complicit to the domestic terrorism of white supremacists.
Mourning with those who mourn is demonstrated by doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Legislating unto others as you would have them legislate unto you.
Looking into the grieving eyes of our Muslim neighbors and seeing our family. Seeing our tears. Seeing a community loved by God.
I know my faith and trust in God grows exponentially, when there are ample reasons to exercise faith and trust in God. An already present God who can be trusted to faithfully show up. Because God always has.
God’s ways are surprising. More often than not, mysterious. His timing, until it’s once again proven perfect, can sometimes feel late. But even then, His loving, relentless tenderness in the darkest of seasons, overwhelms and incomprehensibly delights.
If a season of let up means a season where I’m less witness to the hope in the middle of the storm. Or unable to capture seeing goodness strong arming toxicity. If I miss seeing grace show up unannounced, then I don’t want a season of letting up or letting go of all that.
I wonder if it ever gets easier. The constant dance of embracing joy and grief close to your heart. As a therapist, I lived in this dancehall of vulnerability. Where brave individuals rehearsed and mastered powerful steps. One step. Two steps. 12 steps. First steps toward healing, freedom and peace.
Pain is an aggressive dance partner. Stepping on the toes of your joy. Forcing your spirit and your gaze to be downcast. Until Grace cuts in and introduces your to an old friend called gratitude. You look up and see again the beauty of God. The goodness of God. The faithfulness of God. What is my soul’s response? What is my next dance step? I wonder.