It’s Sunday morning and once again, I lay here flat on my back in my bed for no less than 30 minutes staring at the ceiling and grappling with questions about where I belong, whether I am failing God, what Jesus really would do and why the light fixture on my ceiling strongly resembles an alabaster and silver boob.
We’ve been made for community. For tribe. If this is the case, why is it so hard for me to find mine?
We began this naïve and involuntary sociologic experiment on race, culture, religion, and class nearly four years ago, so this moment—this process—is not unfamiliar to me. I’ve been in this same place many Sundays prior, but I am usually able to will myself into action by connecting my choice of church attendance with God’s grand design, as though each time I make the right choice is an act of penance for all the ways I’d failed God before by my inconsistencies. Each time, I consider myself more mature if I am able to internalize the very real racial considerations in my short-sighted spiritual pursuit of oneness in the body of Christ. These thoughts are not new.
But today . . .
Today is different. Today is the Sunday after I watch a white student cavalierly lob a racially-incendiary, yet affectionate nickname to her black friend: Chicken Felicia Watermelonisha. After this, I watch the young black girl –blissfully missing the cultural awareness required to reject such a nickname—catch that offensive hot potato of a label and wear it proudly, proclaiming that her love for fried chicken and watermelon has earned her that name.
This is the Sunday after somebody’s white son tells my black son that his skin color doesn’t belong here in our neighborhood that is 95.1% white and 4.9% everybody else. As my six-year-old retells this painful recollection, unable to contain his giant, hot tears, I try to convince him that he does, in fact, belong while fighting back stinging tears of my own and reflecting on my own struggle with belongingness in our nondiverse existence.
This is the Sunday after America watches yet another white boy (read: domestic terrorist) kill 17 people with cold-hearted defiance and a military-grade machine gun, be arrested alive, and receive an all-too-familiar beneficent narrative about how mental illness is to blame for this young man’s racial hatred and murderous nature while young men who look like me and my sons are gunned down in state-sanctioned violence at an alarming rate by officers who never face consequences for murdering black bodies. On top of this, I watch weak-moraled politicians, privileged whites and abject racists defend these same actions and deflect the motives of our nation’s president as he cosigns policies in acidic attempts to silence the voice and legislation of the leader who brought us our single brightest moments in black pride since the civil rights era.
This is also the Sunday after Black Panther is released. This cultural phenomenon . . . this “moviement” is imbuing hope and joy to a massively underrepresented demographic of moviegoers and Marvel fans. We finally see us! In other words, “we in the movies, y’all!” And it is magnificent in all of its magical melanated glory.
And so, with fury, frustration, and an unfamiliar sort of fearlessness, I am just “unable to can” today. Going to my church today in Trump’s America is simply unbearable.
In an attempt to be among people who “get” me and understand the unbridled joy that coincides with the release of a single movie, I search out and decide to visit a black church. Upon arrival in the parking lot and seeing other brown faces making their trek, I feel like a lost villager who has finally arrived home. The sweet relief I feel is indescribable…momentarily. My excitement is dampened a bit when I have trouble understanding which door to enter, or where to go to put my children into kids’ church. There are no signs, no greeters, no welcome station, no bulletins, no kind people, no childcare. Instead, there are unkind deacons, super-important ushers, and the ubiquitous white gloves. (What IS IT with black churches and the white gloves?) To top it off, the first familiar faces I see are those belonging to people I had a business disagreement with a few years back and have since become my model for the kind of haughty black elite I have no ambition to ever be. Roughly 20 minutes after arriving, I realize that though we share the same skin color, I do not belong here in this church any more than a slice of cheese belongs on a subway window. If I were not already a Christian, I would not want to be after visiting here. I gather my two boys and promptly exit through the same doors we entered. The good news is, I finally find my church fan—the same kind that I’ve been searching for over the last several weeks and I am again convinced that God has a sense of humor.
With a punctuation mark befitting the irony of today, we close our bizarre Sunday morning with a visit to the Lewis & Clark monument—a penultimate ode to the black erasure, genocide, colonization, cruelty, and racist heritage of this area we call our home.
This journey–living and raising our sons in the proudly white next-door neighbor of the nadir of the neo-civil rights movement (Ferguson), walking in love, bridging gaps, honoring Christ, celebrating diversity, and calling fouls on racism and racist-adjacent behaviors—it’s the Lord’s work; of this I am sure. With response to the question “what would Jesus do”, I answer E. all of the above. He would go out and live amongst and love those who seek to harm Him. Our courageous Savior would also refill His strength by spending time in community near those with whom he most identified. Finally, perhaps with the absence of belonging and profound aloneness that I feel today, He would also go off by himself and take the time to recharge and refuel by receiving a direct download from Abba Father Himself.
After the failed church visit, I take my boys and make my way to something familiar and comforting. We find our holy place on the inside of a greasy breakfast restaurant where we commune over waffles along with all the other unbelievers and unbelongers who are also searching, perhaps—or not—for sanctuary on this Sunday morning.
And for today, that is enough. Next Sunday, I’ll try again. Maybe.