The Gift of Flight
Black eyes, Black hair, Black skin,
Black Queen stand majestic with the Black King.
The music comes to my ears and makes me want to bust out dancing. I'm in the middle of a party but then I'm not. I remember I asked my best friend to give me a call at 7 am. We were out late and I was sure I would sleep through my alarm. I can sleep through my alarm but for some reason, I can't sleep through my ring tone. I reach over to my bedside table, so I can answer the call; but my phone isn't there. Come to think of it, I can't feel the table either. I rub my eyes and roll over, only I'm not rolling on anything.
Ah! I grab my chest to feel if my heart is still beating. It's still beating...racing.
Good. I'm not dead. What the hell is going on?
Fuck! Am I possessed? I can't get that image from the exorcism of Emily Rose out of my mind.
"Hello," I say out loud, to check if my voice is still mine. I sound like me. I don't think I'm possessed, but how would I know for sure? Maybe the demon is asleep.
I'm not possessed. I make the sign of the cross across my body. I'm not possessed; but if I am, I hope its potency holds for Non-Catholics.
I take a deep breath and move my legs as if I'm descending an invisible staircase. My feet have met the cold tiles, and what a beautiful reunion it is. I'm halfway to the shower when I shoot up in the air again.
This is going to be a long rass morning.
I shower, get dressed, and head to the kitchen for breakfast. I pour myself a cup of juice and retrieve the step ladder, so I can snag a protein bar from the cupboard.
I don't need this. I laugh and shoot up a few inches.
There are some perks to this weird shit.
I wonder if I could fly to work. It would save me from having to commute with the weird dude who finds me on the bus every morning.
I go to the back of the house and surrender to the magnetic pull the sky has on me.
This is risky. What if someone sees me?
Well, at least I'll go viral. Maybe I can start a YouTube channel. "The Flying Girl" has a nice ring to it.
That will land me a few subscribers. I won't have to endure the morning commute or the drudgery. That would be a win, win.
I leave the cloak of the clouds and fly closer to the buildings, but I'm at work within five minutes.
I hope someone snapped a pic.
I can't believe this. No more morning commute for me.
I'm at my desk staring at an intimidating stack of papers.
Bring on another dreary day. The things we gotta do for a paycheque!
I reflect on my morning flight and how exhilarating it felt. It was a way better experience to my first and only time on a plane. The plane experienced so much turbulence I wasn't sure we were going to make it. I haven't been on a plane since...I haven't been home since.
"You keep on hopping from one thing to another, wasting my money. When are you going to grow up and start taking care of yourself?"
That was my last fight with my father. It's bad enough to feel like you're failing in life -- like your peers have some cheat codes that you don't -- you don't need a parent confirming it. I took the money he gave me for the course (my latest hopping), and I booked a flight. I haven't asked him for anything since...I haven't seen him since. I have spoken to him though, to let him know I'm alive; but the conversations lack intimacy. I don't feel I can trust him, so I keep a safe distance. I think that's why I maintain the physical distance as well. I wouldn't be surprised if someone got into my head and my brain cells screamed to them that my flight here wasn't that bad, that the turbulence I experienced was an emotional one, not a physical one.
I have used my fear of flying, and the expensive plane fares as an excuse for not going home. But I can fly now. I enjoy the thrill of it. I could go home and it wouldn't cost me a dime.
I'm here. My watch says my flight took three hours, but it felt interminable. I had to take a rest here and there; but now I'm here, on my parents' doorstep. My muscles are barking; I know I'll be sore tomorrow. I'm at the door, but I can't bring myself to enter. I decide to make the return flight home when I hear the doorknob turn. My dad bursts through the door and sweeps me up in his arms.
"Why didn't you tell us you were coming? Your mom left to spend the weekend with your aunt, but I'm sure she will want to return first thing in the morning. We should call her. Come in. Where are your bags? How long are you staying?"
I can't sift through all my father is saying and provide him with appropriate responses, so I enter the house. The familiar smell and furniture are a stark contrast to the atmosphere that's alien to me.
My dad makes me dinner, but I'm too tired and overwhelmed to eat. I came here to talk, but I feel too drained to utter a word; so I retire to my old room and my old bed. I need to be at my best when I talk to him. I just need a little nap. My bed smells the same, and my room is immaculate as if someone cleans it daily. It's just as I left it, but it doesn't feel like it belongs to me. The apartment I left feels like mine; this room feels as if it's trying to impress me, to woo me; but I don't find its aura appealing. The sameness of all that feels foreign to me is too much; and before I know it, my cheeks are wet with tears. I just need a little nap.
The sun shines through my bedroom window and nudges me to wakefulness.
It's morning. I'll be late for work, even if I fly.
I'll tell my day bye, call into work and let my boss know I'll be late. If I leave now, I'll get to work before lunch. My boss will only be half mad... I think.
"Dad I love you. Take care. I have to go."
I rush through the front door and try to ascend into the heavens, but my body won't comply.
This can't be happening. This must be a dream.
I try again, but nothing. I'm still rooted to the doorstep. I pinch myself; my skin bites in the spot I gathered to inflict the pain. I'm not sleeping, so I can't be dreaming. I try to fly again, but the wind refuses to sweep me up.
There goes my YouTube career.
Maybe my gift wasn't given to me to make me rich. Maybe it was given to take me home. Now that I'm home, I no longer need it.
I enter the house and gently close the door behind me.
"Dad. I'm back. We need to talk."
Haunted By Thoughts of Jane
Doc, what plagues your mind? What keeps you up at night? I know this session is about me and my demons, but I often wonder what steals the sleep of others. Maybe we share the same kind of twisted fascination. Fascination may be an incorrect description...I wonder...Does the same thing that arrests my thoughts also capture your mind?
Doc, I wonder what makes a person depraved, truly morally bankrupt? Are we all capable of the evil we sometimes see around us? Or are some of us more vulnerable to the whispers of the beast within? Do we have to make a decision to feed the evil or is it all-consuming? Does it strengthen with each morsel, grow ravenous, and then devour our soul? I think we feed the evil and then find that its hunger can’t be satiated. When that happens we are left with the futile task of trying to fill the bottomless pit, so we can stand on stable ground. That’s what I think, but I don’t know for certain.
What I do know: I was first exposed to the knowledge of depravity at 8 years old. When my young mind received the details of the crime, I tried to unravel it, to reveal some logic; but I was unsuccessful. I still can’t make sense of the events of that day. It was about 4 pm when I heard the story that a little girl had been raped and murdered. The crime was discovered when the father of the teenage murderer returned home early to help him dispose of the body. The father’s early arrival aroused the suspicion of his neighbours. Apparently this man usually worked from, ”..can’t see morning to can’t see evening.” His neighbours probably thought he was an intruder and decided to monitor his activities. He was caught in the act of trying to discard the body of the 6-year-old girl...like trash. Can you believe that?
Do you think love served as the impetus for the attempt to cover up the crime? Can love even exist in a soul so dark? I think of the look of terror that must have become frozen on Jane’s face as the life left her little body, terror produced as she realized she would not be able to retain possession of her innocence or her life. I wondered how the father could have seen that face and decided that protecting the murderer was more important than doing right by the victim. I guess once we become cold and lifeless we’re no longer worth much. I think that man was just as bad as his son. I guess depravity can be genetic.
I watched that documentary; the one about Epstein’s filthy life. Doc, it raised the usual questions. Do you think his depravity was ingrained? Or did he feed his beast? Those girls made me think of Jane. I know they were much older than Jane when they were assaulted, and I know they weren’t killed, but every sexually assaulted young girl evokes thoughts of Jane.
Epstein didn’t kill the girls. Does that mean he was better than Jane’s murderer? More redeemable somehow? I often hear people tell victims to be grateful for the life their predators allowed them to keep...to be happy they are alive. That always makes me consider the different ways a soul can be killed...all the ways to kill someone even when they are left breathing. If we prioritize the breathing, we forget to mourn the murdered childhood...the suffocated hope...the strangled dreams. Instead of telling victims to be grateful for life, we should ask how humanity can help them to breathe life into all the spaces another human has killed.
Doc, I had a dream about Epstein. I think I had the dream because I was angry about his premature death. Not that he deserved any more life to continue feeding his beast, but I wish he had spilled the beans before he died. I don’t know if he was helped to his grave, or if he took the coward’s way out, but I know he died with knowledge of murdered places. He has taken root in my subconscious, Doc. In this dream of mine, I’m on his plane just before it lands, and he faces his judgment. In my dream, I knew of his imminent judgment and subsequent death. I kept chanting this mantra in my mind: “Don’t die before you squeal motherfucker!” I wanted him to reveal all he knew and spend the rest of his life rotting in prison.
When I realized I couldn’t control the outcome of the events that would unfold after he exited the plane, I decided to get him to reveal all he knew before we landed -- confess his crimes and rat out his friends. I couldn’t think of a way to turn him into a leaky faucet, so I considered seducing him. Ha! Can you imagine that, Doc? Seducing a predator? That thought came and went. Then I decided to try a more philosophical approach. I sat next to him, flashed him a smile, and then asked, “Do you think we are born depraved? Or do you think it creeps up on us...one deed at a time?” I could see that he was thrown by my question; he didn’t answer. Maybe he thought I was crazy. My dream state is about as subtle as my waking state -- which is to say, not very subtle. My dream state is also as relentless as my waking state, so I asked again, “Do you think we are born depraved? Or does it creep up on us over time?”
“A little at a time for most I guess, but some may be born depraved.”
“Do you think there is any hope for a person born depraved?”
He paused and looked at me intently. “I suppose there can’t be hope for such a person. How can one be born a particular way and have hopes of becoming something different?”
“It does seem insurmountable.” I studied his features. I searched for the evil in his eyes, but he was just a man. I became terrified at that moment. How can we escape evil if we can’t recognize it? How can we know when to flee when the carrier of the beast looks just like a man?
“Do you believe in God?” I could tell I would receive no response to my question because it had been laced with accusation. “I hope you do, and I hope He finds something in you that is worth redeeming. Only hell is promised to men like you, and the hell you’ll inherit will be far worse than the hell you created for your victims.”
I saw fear flit across his face. This ephemeral countenance quickly gave way to a smug smile reminiscent of the smirk of an “untouchable”. I remembered his victims at that moment -- and the parts of their lives that have been murdered though they are still breathing.
His victims again made me think of Jane -- raped and murdered at 6 years old. I remembered her killer and his accomplice father. What awaits on the other side of life, for men who have lived in depravity?
I carry Jane with me daily; she was my friend. I wonder who she would have become if her killer had murdered parts of her instead of the whole. Would humanity have helped her to breathe life into her murdered places? Would she have risen from the grave to be reborn a survivor like Epstein’s victims? Doc, I really don’t know. What I do know is that whenever I see her mother, I can tell that parts of her have also been murdered.
The Constant Conflict of Being a Black Christian
Most of the world’s population claim or actively practice a religion. How we
worship God is largely determined by our geographical location. I am a Jamaican. Most
believers in Jamaica are Christians. Jamaicans are predominantly of afro-descent, but I
can’t identify the church as a source of Black empowerment. Maybe I should speak
specifically to my experiences. From childhood to this very moment, I’ve longed for
something that I’ve never been able to get from the church: a true knowledge of myself
and history. The church positions itself as the institution that is responsible for the
complete man. It’s our great compass. It provides instructions on how God intends for
us to live our lives as believers – how we’re expected to move through the world. The
church sets clear guidelines – a code of conduct – but never opened any discourse on
how I see myself. The message was never tailored to include my complex history or the
issues that I faced daily. Maybe race isn’t considered to be a church issue. My race is a
key component of my being. Shouldn’t the church tie my racial experiences to the
guidelines that govern my life?
As a child, I had this unyielding desire to become a Christian, but as I grew within
the church, I soon realized that Christianity didn’t offer me much of what I needed. I
attended a church of singularly black congregants, but I never felt an ounce of
Blackness. A strain developed at an early age, that persisted and heightened as I aged
within the church. I knew that, “Jesus loves the little children, whether they are black or
white”; but this black child needed to embrace all aspects of the way that I was created. I
needed to hear stories of my people, specifically. I developed this feeling that the
message was right and true; but not necessarily for me, because I didn’t see myself in it.
I heard the message that “salvation is free for all”, but I never saw myself in the stories.
The Holy Bible is also a History book, but the sermons never included my History. I
started to question the authenticity of my faith. Did I truly believe, or was I putting on
belief like a cloak to provide me warmth and comfort?
I was a part of this family that I initially thought had all the answers: insight about
God, guidelines for living life on this plane, and a plausible explanation of what lies
outside of this plane of existence; but I grew distant. I couldn’t immerse myself in the
faith knowing that all of me wasn’t acknowledged. I developed a relationship with God
outside of church. I prayed for and about everything. I talked to God in my head and
aloud. Going to church became a ritual, but I remained sure about God. I broke one of
the church’s guidelines; I wore jewelry. I knew the assumption was that I was one foot
out the door and into the world. Because the biggest issue for young people, by the
church’s assessment, is sex and dancehall culture.
As this psychological tension increased, I started to ask questions and make more
observations. I never felt comfortable enough to broach the topic with the general
congregation, out of fear of being labeled ungodly and lacking spirituality. The pastors
and elders never used the pulpit to speak of Blackness, so I felt maybe the topic didn’t
belong inside the church. A sign which read, “reverence my sanctuary,” was in direct
view of all who entered the church. Would discussing Blackness; the rise and fall of the
Black race, be deemed irreverent? I wasn’t sure, so I asked my questions to individual
members. Mostly those that I felt would be the least judgmental. One Saturday, during
our lunch break, I expressed to a church brother that I felt our worship lacked afro
elements. He responded by stating that caution is taken because the church doesn’t
want to be linked to spiritism or obeah. I retorted that we had no problem incorporating
European aspects, and witchcraft is a part of European History. My response was
brusque. This was a church brother that I respected greatly, so I was disappointed with
his response. His declaration caused me to consider all the sects within Christianity
whose practices have been spurned as occult or akin to devil worship – they’ve retained
practices that can be traced back to our ancestral home. We’re quick to judge the
unfamiliar. I’ve often wondered how we’d classify a burnt offering to God. Picture a fat
cow burning on an altar. I don’t care how many times you’ve read that in The Holy Bible.
If you were able to witness an old-school, Old Testament sacrifice, it would leave you
unsettled. Whatever is foreign to us, we consider to be less than us. For Christians,
whatever is foreign, is automatically impure. Since we claim knowledge of the truth of
God, everything else must be a lie. And who is the great deceiver? None other than
Another conversation when I was about 15 years old still has me baffled – I need
closure on that rationale. I was deep in conversation with a church brother – let’s call
him Will. I don’t quite remember how we got to the topic of black worship songs.
(Strong possibility that I was the one to raise the issue). Will revealed to me that soon
after his conversion he was informed that negro spirituals weren’t appropriate worship
songs. This was told to him by a church mother: one of the women who helped to
establish our church. By the time I heard this, she’d long migrated, so I was unable to
hear from the horse’s mouth. This education of new convert Will, occurred years prior to
my birth. I told myself that ideologies could’ve evolved throughout the years, but then I
came to the realization that I’d never heard a negro spiritual sung at my church. I shook
my head in incredulous resignation when I considered this.
Whatever motivated the restriction, may still prevail. I do acknowledge that negro
spirituals were often instructions to get to freedom, but they were indeed spiritual.
Africans remained unwavering in their belief in God while enduring the worst atrocity
known to humanity. They remained faithful in all circumstances. Wasn’t that what we
preached? Faithfulness to God despite our circumstance. They passed the test. So why
aren’t we eager to emulate their worship? I wanted to know if it was the liberation
aspect that made these songs unfit for worship. I love Amazing Grace, but I wondered
what made it acceptable and Swing low, sweet chariot unacceptable. The disclosure by
church brother Will confirmed what I’d felt for years: “you’re welcome to salvation but
leave your race at the door.”
Growing up, the little information that I garnered about African History, was
collected outside the church. The Holy Bible is also a History book, and my
denomination prided itself on knowing Religious History, but no History was presented
for Africa and Africans. I repeatedly asked myself this question: doesn’t Africa have a
place in Religious History? The only aspect of Africa that was emphasized was Egypt’s
villainous role in another nation’s history. I knew Moses’s wife was an Ethiopian
(Numbers 12:1 KJV), but still there weren’t any sermons dedicated to her or her people.
Her story was told in passing. The wife of the great liberator of his people. She wasn’t a
member of that ilk; but God approved of the union between her and Moses because of
her faith. I may have projected how I felt onto Zipporah. I’ve felt that the party was
thrown for another set of people, but faith was my admission fee. The only religious
group that seemed eager to disseminate information about Africa, were the
Rastafarians. The Rastafarians who most Christians considered to be on the brink of
insanity – sometimes full-blown crazy – or condemned to hell. That irked me greatly. The only group that took up the gauntlet to spread Black consciousness, on a Black island, we considered to be hell-bound madmen.
As I’ve stated, knowledge of Religious History is one of the greatest strengths of
my denomination. Even the babe can tell you of the conquests of Alexander the Great,
the fall of Greece, the might of Persia, and the rise and fall of political Rome. History is
used to elucidate doctrine. I understood this as a child; but as an act of rebellion, I didn’t
immerse myself in the details. I can recall certain historical facts (or at least know what
to Google), but I never studied the prophecies and committed them to memory the way
the rest of my church did. I wasn’t being taught African History, so I let them bask in the
Greco-Roman/Eurasian History by themselves. The History they taught, served a
purpose; but my ignorance on such matters isn’t of great significance on this plane, nor
is it a hindrance to salvation. It was a means of gaining knowledge to win religious
debates or set us apart from the “others”. The knowledge I needed to rise from a place
of inferiority didn’t seem to be on the agenda. There wasn’t a permitted segue, so I was
deaf to their History.
We’re all equal in the sight of God, but the sinful activities of man have made it
so that we’re not equal on the earth. My church never acknowledged this fact. Not
really. The focus was placed on the afterlife. I’ve always felt that church is for the here, as
well as the hereafter. There wasn’t any acknowledgement of our horrendous slave past,
nor the prolonged history of oppression. There was never an action plan drafted to
address the psychological blocks that prevent us from seeing ourselves the way we were
created: with love and in the image of God. A Christian bleacher is absolutely jarring to
behold. If the church had sought to address the issue of race and racial identity, this
wouldn’t have been an issue within the church. Still, when confronted with this reality
the church again drops the ball. Skin bleaching is denounced as an act of the world: a
desire to be current with dancehall culture. It isn’t characterized for the self-hate that it
Self-love isn’t innate to the Black child. It must be attained through research and
an increase in knowledge or as an act of defiance. I learned to love myself as an act of
defiance. Jamaica may not have the deeply entrenched racial issues of other nations,
because the country was established after the abolition of slavery. But it is a country that
was owned. Issues persist that can be linked to our colonial past. One such scourge:
colorism. When you’re owned by people who don’t look like you, it affects the way you
see yourself. The image that we have of ourselves is still tainted. It is through colorism
that I learned to love my blackness so fiercely. As a child, I collected and archived all the
crude remarks and questions directed to my mother. Questions like; was she sure that
she’s my mother? I am by no means light skinned, but I happen to be a few shades
lighter than my mother. This degree of lightness is viewed as degrees of increased
beauty. To me as a child, my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world; and I
detested them for not seeing her beauty. I remember going through a phase when I
wanted to be as dark as my mom. When I started to date, only the darkest males
appealed to me. I was on a mission to love everything that the world didn’t seem to love
about us, and I grew weary of the fact that the church didn’t join me in this fight.
Not only was there a failure to address the need to validate our physicality, there
were also restrictive understandings and expectations against the physical expression of
Blackness. When I was in my teens, there was a district crusade that resulted in the
baptism of several individuals from communities that surround the church. A Rastafarian
man from the community was among the new converts. A beautiful dark-skinned man,
with well-groomed locks that made him look regal. I remember commenting on his
locks to my mother. Only to be informed that the church would probably require him to
cut his hair or he himself would probably feel compelled to cut it out of obligation. We
both thought it was an unnecessary act. He clearly accepted the message they preached.
This was evidenced by his baptism. Why did they require his hair as well? What if it held
his strength like Samson? What if he simply liked the feel of his hair? Like I did.
My hair was texturized when I was 8 years old. This was somewhat of a rite of
passage. In the 90s, there wasn’t a widespread education of how to groom the Black
hair. My hair was texturized for manageability and because it was a cultural norm, but I’d
always let it grow out when it was time to process. I’d let my hair grow out enough to be
able to play with the kinks and the curls at the root. I loved and missed my hair – that’s
the main reason why it’s now in its natural state. What if this man also had a love for his
locks? There were these written and unwritten rules that governed appearance. Hair
texturizing was a permissible stretch of the rules. The most devout Christians didn’t
texturize their hair, neither that of their children. Hair extensions weren’t allowed either.
This had more to do with looking righteous than looking Black. Those hair guidelines
have been relaxed over the past two decades, but lock wearing is still a little taboo.
There are more people in the church who wear locks, but they’re mavericks –
trailblazers. But should that really be a trail that requires blazing? A method of grooming
afro-hair, in an afro-church, in a predominantly afro-country.
There’ve been moments that I’ve attended church solely to complete a ritual that
I’ve completed since childhood. The unrelenting discomfort from not receiving all that I
desired from church weighed on me. I wondered if I was the only person carrying that
load, so I started to have discussions with my peers. Several of them shared my concerns
to varying degrees. Some young adults from my church who’d been very active in the
church prior to their racial awakening, no longer had a taste for it and left. The church
was ignorant to the cause of this egression, because the members of our church
attributed their departure to the lure of the world. Young people from other
denominations also expressed a need to depart from Christianity. They declared
spirituality – belief in God – but didn’t have a desire to continue their journey with God
as Christians. People lose the desire for religion for many reasons, but the individuals
that I spoke with are all trying to embrace their Black identity. Searching for a stolen
history that remains hidden. It’s an unspoken pact, to do better for our kids: make
accessible what we had to search for, learn and share all that we can, so that self-love
will eventually become innate to the Black child. For many of my peers, it seems as if
Christianity can’t make this journey.
I contemplated the relevance of writing this piece; I considered vacating the idea,
but I came home to a religious artifact that provided an additional impetus to put my
thoughts into words. This artefact was a small picture with the message of Christ; as well
as, information for the denomination on the back. My son saw the picture of Hitler’s
ideal human and said god.
He’s trying to develop his own understanding of God. He tells me to pray before
we leave the house, and when he wakes up, he tells me to tell God good morning. He’s
gathered most of this from myself and his grandmother, but he’s also trying to
understand how it works for himself. Just like anything else he’s exposed to. I don’t
expose him to any imagery when it comes to religion, but at his age he identifies the
inaccurate depiction of Christ as God. I hadn’t realized until that moment that the image
was already engraved in his mind. He’s mostly with his grandmother or myself, and we
don’t include that image as a part of our worship. It bothers me that a child can be so
inundated with this false depiction that at 3 years old he looks on the picture and say,
My son has a sense of self-awareness that I didn’t actively instill in him. I received
knowledge of his self-awareness when I observed him playing games. From a list of
avatars, he always selects the brown male avatar. One day I observed him playing a
game with a brown male avatar, but he didn’t like something about the depiction (I wish
he could express himself more clearly because I’m in awe of his mind most days). He
returned to the list of avatars and searched the queue for about 5 minutes. I didn’t
understand what he was trying to do until he selected the avatar that he’d initially
chosen and exited the queue. His selection was the only brown male avatar.
I try to teach him a love for himself, but that self-love isn’t relative to another
racial group. I didn’t consider it important, at this moment, to teach difference in skin
tone. I do teach him colors, in terms of identifying the crayons in a box. It seems he’s
transferred that knowledge to identify himself as brown. He touched my skin and said
“brown”, when I was in the process of writing this piece. He has a knowledge of his and
my brownness, but he hasn’t decoded it the way the world does. He hasn’t felt the
weight yet. My plan was to build a foundation of love for himself, knowledge of himself
and people; then inform him of the weight and how to carry it. I’d prayed that my model
would be a successful one. But he’s ahead of me.
He’s 3 years old, fully aware that he’s brown, and has identified this blonde hair,
blue-eyed man as god. The true race of the Messiah doesn’t matter; because salvation is
universal, but that depiction is inaccurate. We know the image of a Jew born at the time
of Jesus, would look nothing like the image Christianity presents. If a modern-day Jew
from Hollywood should be used to depict Christ in a film, the hair of that Jew would
need to be bleached and contacts worn to match the image of Christos. To be fair, there
are denominations, including my own, that don’t make the image of Christos a part of
worship. For my denomination, care is taken so that we’re not found worshipping
pictures and images instead of the one true God. I’ve also heard denunciations for its
resemblance to Zeus or other Greco-Roman gods. Separation for righteousness sake.
Not an acknowledgement of the psychological impact that the image may have on
individuals who to fight thoughts of inferiority daily.
When my son saw the picture and said “god”, I wondered how long it will be
before he no longer wants to tell God good morning. When he starts to feel the weight
of his brownness, will he seek redemption from a God that he’s told looks like people
who will oftentimes offer him everything but redemption? I then became incensed,
because the religious artifact was from a denomination that once preached that
Blackness is as a result of the curse of Ham. Such denomination should jump to
denounce the inaccurate imagery of Jesus.
Though my church didn’t actively use that image in our worship, when I think of
the Christ of Christianity, I see Hitler’s ideal human. I’ve had years of conditioning, but
from my son’s proclamation I realize that the association must’ve been created at a very
early age. As I grew older and started to feel the weight of my Blackness my worship
brought with it a different feeling. Being moved to tears by worship songs brought a
feeling of unease. It wasn’t the most dominant emotion, but it bubbled below the
surface, nonetheless. I couldn’t ignore it. I felt a little ridiculous picturing the likeness of
a man that resembled the devils of my ancestors’ stories. Weeping for love and comfort,
while picturing an image that hasn’t offered love or comfort to me or my people. I was
mindful of my History and the weight that I felt. I never held the belief that all white
people are evil, but I felt ridiculous crying to a white man.
The only people who were able to understand this feeling of slight disgust, were
other members of the black community. In public and private declarations, the advice
seemed to be to “throw the whole religion away”. I understood the source of their
frustrations. I shared their frustrations. Colonization and slavery interrupted African
History. Christianity was married to slavery and colonization. The practices existed in
oneness. As the descendants of displaced Africans, we occupy a home that will never
truly be ours and seek connection to a home that we don’t know anything about.
Colonizers had a face. That face is shared by individuals who occupy the positions of
power within Christianity. The lack of urgency to atone for the plight of Africans raises
I’ve attended international conventions for my denomination, as well as
international conventions for other denominations. I like to expose myself to differing
opinions. That’s how you grow. Though the doctrines varied, there was a common
theme: powerless black men and women completely enthralled by the utterances of
powerful white men. Because most of the international leadership positions are held by
white males. I understand and agree with the ideology of showing respect for authority,
but the attitude of most of the observers at these conventions went beyond respect. It
was reverential, borderline worship. The church operates with this notion of immunity to
the ways of the world, but the power imbalance is very apparent within the church.
Throughout my discomfort my need for God was unrelenting. God has always
been a certainty for me, but I’ve struggled with experiencing God through Christianity.
The obvious decision was to relinquish it, but Christianity was my first organized
exposure to God. Besides its failings, it also provided a foundation to a child who
desired to know more about God. Was that its purpose? To bring me closer to God, but
I ultimately had to seek completion elsewhere? The salient point of salvation through
Jesus was still plausible to me, but the culture of Christianity made me feel like an
outsider. I was in crisis. I had to convert or be content. I considered conversion to Islam
or Rastafarianism. Before I surrendered my faith, I had to explore it more deeply.
Chapter Two: It All Started with a Tearful Saturday
I’m 8 years old and it’s a typical Saturday morning in my household. We’re
preparing for a day of worship. The tone has been set by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
cassette that my mother has playing – the same one that she plays every Saturday (and
sometimes throughout the week). Melodic messages of grace, peace, love, and deliverance
fill the house with a feeling of clean and newness that cannot be achieved by the most
stringent hygiene practices. The house is busy with preparation for the full day’s worship.
Clothes need to be finalized, lunch needs to be prepared and packed. All this preparation
should’ve been done before the Sabbath started, but we aren’t the best at following the
code of conduct. The house is busy with the late preparation, but there is a serenity that’s
My mother had been sending me to church with neighbors since I was about 6
years old; but for several months she’s stopped working on Saturdays, and church is now a
family activity. I enjoyed attending church with the neighbors, but this new arrangement
makes the experience even more meaningful. I no longer need to worry about what will
happen to my mother should Jesus decide to come as soon as the church states that He’ll
come. The only thing that’d make the experience more meaningful, is if my stepdad joins
my mother, myself and little brother (2 years old) for worship. But my stepdad shows no
interest, so we must set the example and continue to pray as the church advises us to do.
I’m excited for the day ahead: to learn what the grown-ups can tell me about God,
the playing at lunch; then more about what the grown-ups can tell me about God. I want
to tell God about the way the kids at school pick on me because of my height and the size
of my feet. As if I have control over either. At church, they say to cast your cares upon
Jesus. That’s a care. Right?
I’m singing along to the cassette while I shower, like I do every Sabbath. Something
is very different about this Sabbath. By the end of my shower I’m sobbing, unable to dry
myself off. Friend of a wounded heart plays in the background and I have this overwhelming desire for Jesus to be the friend of my (on its way to wounding) heart. My mother comes into the bathroom to check on me and sees me frozen and emotional. She’s concerned. She sees her little girl crying but has no clue what’s happening. When I’m
finally able to mount the levees and contain the flood, my response to her is: “I want to be
baptized.” She simply responds, “OK.”
We complete the last of our preparations and walk to church. We’re late – typical.
We search for available seats while on the outside, so that we’re not that much of a
disruption to the service. We locate empty seats at the back and enter the sanctuary. We
turn our attention to the altar and the item on the agenda, ignoring the disappointed side
glances and stares. We worship, we eat, we learn, and then head home just before sunset.
Another worship day complete. Providing spiritual fuel to drive us through the upcoming
A few weeks have passed since my encounter in the bathroom. A few days after
that joyful, tearful morning, my mother informed me that she will be honoring my request
to be baptized. She’d been planning her own re-baptism prior to my morning of tears, but
she hadn’t informed me. The new plan is for us to be baptized together. I’ve been looking
forward to this day for weeks, and it’s finally the morning for me to surrender my life to
God. Though I already feel surrendered, this act of baptism feels necessary in ways I can’t
Our morning routine is pretty much the same. Preparations for a day of worship –
that should’ve been done the day before, while gospel music fills the house. We arrive to
church late – typical. This morning it’s a little harder to find seats. Baptism, christening,
and communion always attract additional congregants. I spend the service anxiously
awaiting my entry into the watery grave of baptism – that’s what the pastor calls it. I don’t
hear or retain much of the worship activities. I sit eagerly awaiting the last amen before
The morning service has ended, and they make a call for those wishing to be
baptized, to walk to the altar. I walk to the altar with my mother. An elder speaks to me,
and the others wishing to make this surrender. He advises us that he will read a list of
items that we should declare agreement to before we get baptized. My focus is on what
comes next; I don’t pay much attention to the list. I hear something about alcohol. The
only alcohol I use is the one to bathe myself when I get wet, to ward off a cold. I already
made an agreement with God; the list seems inconsequential. The list is complete, and
we’re advised to make our way to the back to change; then wait in line for our new lives to
As I change my clothes, the excitement shifts just a bit, to create wiggle room for
fear. I consider the possibility of being drowned by the pastor. I remember that my mother
will be there, and the fear subsides. It’s now our turn to enter the pool. There’s triumphant
singing and fellowship in the church. I can’t see their faces, but I can sense the joy the
congregants feel as they witness their brothers and sisters make the decision to dedicate
their entire being to God. Returning to the creator that which He created.
My mother and I enter the pool. It’s not as deep as I thought it would’ve been, but
the fear tries to re-surface. The singing is halted. The mic is lowered to the pastor. He
mentions the decision of mother and daughter to take this step of surrender together. I’m
standing in front of the pastor as he speaks, because I’m to be baptized first. The fear
increases. I hear the pastor say something about the profession of my faith and baptizing
me in the name of the father, son and the Holy Spirit. He covers my nose with a rag and
dips me into the water. I’m in and out of the water within seconds. My heart is racing, but I
realize there wasn’t anything to fear.
My mother and I exit the pool and return to the area with the clothes we arrived
in. As I change out of the wet clothes, I notice that I feel clean, as if I’d taken a shower. I
feel happy that I’m baptized. It feels like the first step to what my life will look like.
Those moments: in our bathroom and in the pool, bonded my mother and I in
ways that I didn’t quite acknowledge until I was writing this piece. Throughout the years
I’ve been able to express my areas of discomfort to her, without fear of judgment. Not
because she’s my mother; but maybe because she stood witness. She had knowledge
that my surrender was authentic, so I felt safe disclosing my questioning without fear of
condemnation. She was present, so she wouldn’t assume that my soul was dangling
perilously on the ledge overlooking hell.
Most Christians fear questions. They’re of the view that questions erode faith, but
questions keep faith interactive. If you’ve never questioned, how are you sure that you
have faith? I like to explore all the aspects of my faith that make me a little
uncomfortable. If it lingers in the back of my mind, I bring it to the forefront and
examine it, thoroughly. The questions that remain unexplored are like fault lines in faith.
It’s from these areas that faith crumbles when life applies pressure to it.
I appreciate the fact that I was unaware of my mother’s planned rebaptism. I
didn’t feel pressured, coerced, or even encouraged to make that decision as an 8-year-
old. I came to that decision on my own, and that has helped me throughout the years. I
have searched my beliefs, my surrender. When conflicts arose, I didn’t cast it aside as my
Seeking to establish a relationship with God at that early age, isn’t a rare
phenomenon. Life’s biggest debate is the existence of God. We seek to know the source
that reputedly cast the image. We desire to know Him. We seek out evidence of His
existence. Some of us use what we discover to establish faith; others use what we
haven’t found to establish unbelief. But it’s that yearning that fuels faith or unbelief. For
those who faith has been established, religion is used to satisfy this need. Like
developing cooking methods to satisfy our need for food. If God exists to you, you have
a desire to commune with Him. And Oh, did I want to commune with Him.
I’ve always been fascinated by nature. Nature makes me feel close to God and
want to be even closer. I’ve always been in awe of nature. The way everything seems so
beautifully fit for its purpose. The characteristics of organisms that make them uniquely
suited for their roles. All the unknowable aspects of nature made me marvel at the
workmanship of God. My mother has always stated that I was a very mature child. I
don’t know about all of that, but I had this sureness about certain things as far back as I
can remember. There was this giant universe that I wanted to explore that was made by
the same God that made me. I think certain things are easier for a child to accept.
As I increased in understanding, I wondered about being created by a God but
not being able to truly know that God. I pondered the fate of the created, separated
from the creator. Christianity was plausible to me because it addressed this question. It
answers the why we’re separated and the how we’ll be reconciled aspects of my
questioning. I honed my belief in God through Christianity, but as an individual of
African descent, Christianity also increased my questioning.
Chapter Three: Evolution of My Faith
God of Akan
I discovered the God of the Akan people while I was researching Anancy for a
work of fiction. Every Jamaican child grows up hearing Anancy stories. I considered
adding a little bit of a darker side to our folklore. But first, I had to know more about
Anancy: his origins, role, and capabilities. My research led me to the Abosom. I
discovered the aloof, all knowing, supreme creator of the universe by the name of
Nyame. Nyame is part of a triune deity. The deity goes by many names, but Nyame is
the only one that I managed to pronounce with some accuracy. The moment I
pronounced the word Nyame, something sounded very familiar to me. And the more I
considered the description, the more familiar it felt. I’ve made myself an honorary
Ghanaian. The slave ship that brought my ancestor to Jamaica, most likely sailed from
Ghana. So, when a Ghanaian friend of mine commented that my mother looks like a
Ghanaian mom, I adopted Ghana as my home. I’ve always revered Nanny of the
Maroons so I named myself Ashanti. I mean no disrespect to the Ashanti people or the
other members that comprise the Akan people. But when you have no true knowledge
of your history, you either shun it or choose to embrace the little that you know. I’ve
longed for an anchor, so I claimed the little that I knew.
I may’ve been grasping at straws, searching for a bond to my ancestral home; but
the word Nyame sounded like Yahweh to me. The aloof God who created all things.
Member of a triune deity – an African trinity of sorts – made me feel as if I’d already
developed a relationship with the God of my ancestors. This comforted me. One of the
things that fuels my discomfort, is this constant feeling that I have a History, Culture,
Origin, and People that I’ve been and will forever be separated from because of the
sinful greed of men. Discovering elements of the Akan religion that were familiar to me,
made me feel spiritually connected to my people and my stolen heritage. It made me
feel closer to God as well. He remained constant. Even with the cruel and horrendous
intervention of men, He remained constant. Sabbath observance is an important part of
Akan religion. While I worshipped God on Saturdays, my kin were also worshipping God
– in their tongue, by their name, Nyame. Far removed from each other, but our worship
was simultaneous. Together we worshipped the supreme creator of the universe.
Separated by sea and ocean but connected in spirit.
This revelation caused me to consider other similarities between religions. I
reflected on what I remembered from high school Religious Education. The major
religions that we covered, had a common tenet: a belief in a messiah. I remember our
Religious Education teacher created a table for us to reproduce in our notebooks. A
teaching aid designed to help us remember the key points of the major religions. This
table had the names of gods/goddesses, holy books, holy places, and so on. From that
table I remember Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity, all claimed a Messiah.
Typically, when people stumble upon this truth, they try to find the origin and label all
others a copy. That’s if they don’t denounce them all as fallacy. But I explored another
possibility. Is it possible that the idea originated from a common source, and then took
different evolutionary paths according to locale? Much like the evolution of man? I
explored this idea of the Messiah being a promise made at creation, by God to man, to
restore the relationship that sin would disrupt. This theory of mine originated from the
promise God made to Abram. God promised to establish the seed of Abram, but in
Genesis 15:13 KJV, God was sure to elaborate that Abram’s seed would also be slaves in
a strange land for 400 years. I marveled at the righteous and honest God that cannot lie.
The same God that had the foresight that Adam and Eve would’ve disobeyed and eaten
of the fruit. Wouldn’t that same God detail the full consequence of disobedience and His
plan to restore that which sin would disrupt?
I had this scene in my mind: God sitting in the garden between Adam and Eve –
one on his right, the other on his left – detailing to them the consequence of eating the
fruit, the damage it will cause, and His plan to repair it. God told this great plan of
redemption to both man and woman, because the plan was for them equally. I
considered the possibility that after Adam and Eve consumed the forbidden fruit, they
hid themselves because they dreaded the separation that was to follow, not just because
they had knowledge of their nakedness.
While conducting the research, I also came across a theory that the Akan
people originally migrated from the Middle East. This theory is shared by Wikipedia,
encyclopedia.com, and other sources. Much of Human History has been lost with the
passage of time; a lot of African History remains a hidden treasure to be discovered.
When dealing with great unknowns, all possibilities must be entertained. Every
established law started with a theory, and every discovery started with a belief in the
unknown; so, I entertain possibilities. The name of the triune deity, that sounds like the
God of the Old Testament; as well as, the suggested migration from the Middle East,
gave me the impetus to search The Holy Bible for mention of the Akan people. Genesis
36:27 KJV lists the children of Ezer as Bilhan, Zaavan, and Akan. Could it be the same
Akan people of West Africa? We know from The Holy Bible that names gave rise to
nations. Descendants of Israel are the Israelites, descendants of Edom were the
Edomites, descendants of Levi: Levites, and so on. Could the Akans of West Africa be the
descendants of the Akan in Genesis? That would make them descendants of Esau. This
possibility created a desire to closely examine Blackness in The Holy Bible.
Blackness in The Holy Bible and the Issue of Slavery
Genesis 10 KJV details the generations of Noah. The chapter culminates with
verse 32 which states, “these are the families of the sons of Noah, after their
generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the
flood.” We know the story of Noah and the great flood. Mankind had become depraved;
God was sorry that He’d created mankind, so He told Noah to build an arc (Genesis 6
KJV). God destroyed all created life with a flood. Only the occupants of the arc were
spared (Genesis 8:1 KJV). Noah and his family witnessed the annihilation of created life. I assume ensuring that their family had knowledge and reverence of God would’ve
ranked high on their list of priorities. If Genesis 10 is to be believed, life then diverged
from Noah after the flood. DNA, culture, religion and heritage evolved as the sons of
Noah migrated after the flood. The nations divided and brought with them their
understanding of the God who saved their ancestors from the great flood. Some of that
knowledge may have been lost from generation to generation or transformed with
cultural growths and shifts.
I’ve always been cognizant of the fact that my location influenced how I came to
God. If I was born elsewhere, with this same yearning for God and desire to do good, I’d
be a member of the religious community of that location. Unfortunately, Christians don’t
approach other religions as a yearning for God and a desire to do good. Besides
Judaism, there’s no attempt to understand other religions. Even Islam, which is an
Abrahamic religion, is treated as religious fallacy. Rarely do we explore a possible
common origin. If the earth was repopulated by the descendants of Noah, isn’t it
plausible that the world’s religions also came from the descendants of Noah? Rather
than explore the divergence of religions, it is quite common to hear Christians preach
against the falsehood of other religions. The idolatry. But what is idolatry? As a child, I
surmised that idolatry is an attempt to know the unknowable. Idolatry is a common
preaching point. Along with being Israel’s villain, ancient Egyptians are also painted as
the great idolaters. I’ve been informed through religious discourse that the cross isn’t an
acceptable emblem of Christianity, because it resembles the ankh of the pagans.
Ancient Egyptians are treated as treacherous people that had nothing to do with
God. They made their own gods and as such sealed their fates. The children of Israel
turned to idols numerous times throughout the Old Testament. We preach of the
rebuke; God sending his prophets to admonish His people, but we always add that even
when they turned away from God, He sought them. He still had a plan for them. Egypt
was not presented as a rebellious child that God rebuked but still had a plan for. But in
Isaiah 19:22 KJV it states that the Lord shall smite and heal Egypt. Verse 25 of that same
chapter pronounces a blessing upon Egypt. Egypt was included in the plans of God
before Christian mission trips could make it to Africa. There is a finality with Egypt and
that’s the blessings of the Lord, not condemnation for their idolatry.
I examined the concept of idolatry more in depth. Examined my theory that it’s
an attempt to know the unknowable. This is how I’ve imagined the descent into idolatry.
We start off with the unyielding desire to know the God of the universe. We set out to
personalize our relationship, but instead of personalizing our relationship, we end up
personalizing God. He becomes our God, but not the god of others. Or we capture some
aspect of His creation through which we appreciate His magnificence. But God will not
be contained by the limitations of the human mind. The creation can’t be greater than
The Creator. God is spirit, the spirit of all humanity. He belongs to all of us, equally. No
matter how much we think we know. We cannot limit God to ourselves or to our
religion. By my rationale of idolatry, that would mean idolatry is also within Christianity.
We’ve made the doctrines that divide us, our idols. We hold so strongly to our natural
interpretations of supernatural things – many of which aren’t crucial to salvation. We
ignore 1 Corinthians 13:9 KJV, which states that we know in part and prophesy in part.
But here enters the Messiah, as a promise made at creation, to remind us ALL, of the
universal love of God.
“From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter of my
dispersed, shall bring mine offering.” Zephaniah 3:10 KJV. I have established my origins
to somewhere beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. I found in this text what was never properly
conveyed to me as a child. This is a plan for me and my people that is equally important
to God. A plan that isn’t a by-product of His plan for another nation. But a plan that is
equally important to Him. As a descendant from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, I come
with my offering.
Religions have their holy lands, if I had to choose one as a Black Christian,
I’d chose Ethiopia. Ethiopia for me as a Black Christian is like the city on top of a hill that
could not be hidden. If you feel like you’re wandering aimlessly with your faith, Ethiopia
is a good place to start. As a country that was never colonized, with a population that is
mostly Christian, it offers solace to Black Christians. Acts 8: 26-40 KJV speaks of the
conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch and his baptism by Philip. The scripture states that
the Ethiopian was in Jerusalem to worship and was reading the prophet Esaias. This
suggests that the Ethiopian was familiar with the word of God and desired to know
more. God instructed Philip to meet the Ethiopian, so that He could reveal Himself as
God through the Ethiopian’s questioning. Verse 39 states that the Ethiopian went on his
way rejoicing. We infer, to spread the good news of salvation to his countrymen, so that
Zephaniah 3:10 KJV may be fulfilled. The recent unearthing of a 4th century church in
Ethiopia confirms an early adoption of Christianity (detailed in an article by the
Slavery and Christianity seem to have a symbiotic past. The history of both seem
so intertwined that members of the black community sometimes view Black Christians
with contempt due to this fact. Christianity was wielded as a tool of power, to keep
slaves obedient to their masters and accept their shackles as destiny. It was easy for me
to discredit slavery as a child. I believe in an all-powerful God that created me more than
a mindless robot. I have free will. I couldn’t understand why God would grant to fallible
humans, what He hadn’t taken for Himself. God didn’t take my free will and that’s
exactly what slavery is. Seizing the free will of another human being. For that very reason
I considered slavery to be in opposition to God’s nature. I concluded that free will to
do good, is also free will to do great evil; so, for me slavery was the product of the free
will of men. What was harder to reconcile, was the belief that Christianity came to West
Africans through slavery. Wouldn’t we have been exposed to Christianity without the
painful disruption of our own history?
By 313AD, Christianity was decriminalized by the Roman Empire and Christians no
longer had to worship in secrecy. At a time when Egypt was still it’s province. There was
Christianity in Egypt, and Ethiopia before the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. But what of the
West Africans? After migrating from the Middle East, the Akan settled in ancient Nubia.
Around 500AD when ancient Nubia fell due to pressure from the Aksumite kingdom
they migrated west. Several articles and books support this theory of migration from
ancient Nubia. One such source for this claim is The Black Nation and divinity. In it, the
author states that the Akan people migrated from ancient Nubia to West Africa
approximately 2,000 years ago. Michael Harrower stated in the Smithsonian article that
Aksum was one of the most powerful ancient civilizations. If Aksum was such a powerful
kingdom, it would suggest that her neighbors knew of her glory – and religion. If the
Akan people did in fact migrate from Nubia, that would suggest a possible knowledge
of Christianity prior to the arrival of the slave ships.
When the questions arose, I was able to denounce slavery as an act contrary to
the will of God. But the complicated history remained. Christianity and slavery have a
shared history. A history that I had to try to unravel. Like many other Christians, I came
to the realization that though The Holy Bible was used to justify the enslavement of
black bodies, slavery is still contrary to its teachings. Exodus 21:16 KJV states, “And he
that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put
to death.” By this decree, everyone that took part in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was
deserving of death. According to Matthew 22: 39 – 40 KJV, the second greatest
commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. On the two greatest
commandments – love for God and love for your neighbor – the laws hung. To love
your neighbor as you love yourself requires you to only subject that neighbor to that
which you’d like for yourself.
Slavery and oppression make distinctions within humanity that The Holy Bible
doesn’t. They both oppose the spirit of Christianity. As Galatians 3:27&28 KJV states,
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is
neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female:
for ye are all one in Christ.” The only distinction that I’ve observed in The Holy Bible is
between believers and unbelievers.
Salvation is viewed by unbelievers as something that Christians work to earn. That
argument is often used to declare that Christianity describes this life as a test that we
must pass in order to inherit another perfect life. But salvation isn’t earned. It is free for
all to accept. It’s the acceptance of the salvation that changes our lives and actions. It’s
not the actions that earns us the salvation.
I have a rebellious spirit. Any dispute that I’ve ever had stems from my refusal to
be treated with indignity. I don’t esteem myself above others, but it causes my blood to
boil when people mistreat me. It angers me even more when I witness the mistreatment
of others. If you mistreat me, I’ll put distance between us. But if you mistreat others,
especially people who’re incapable of helping themselves, I have to pray not to detest
you. I’ve been accosted with Titus 2:9 KJV by an unbeliever and it left me unsettled,
because I know it would’ve been a task for me to be an obedient slave. I read further to
verse 10 which states that all that is requested in verse 9, adorns the doctrine of God. It’s
not about being deserving of injustice. It’s about living a life that is set apart EVEN in the
face of injustice. I realized that throughout the years I’ve developed a bit more patience.
It’s not about belonging to slavery or oppression. It’s about the message of salvation
being so much intertwined with your being that it accomplishes changes that you
couldn’t have achieved on your own. I am a fallible creature, but I’ve seen where the
doctrine of God has so transformed me that I think before I act and speak. I may now
pray for someone who mistreats myself and others. The word working in me so that the
doctrine may be appealing to others.
Paul wrote the epistle of Titus. He lived what he wrote/preached. In Acts 16:16 –
40 KJV Paul was beaten and thrown into prison for casting out a spirit of divination from
a woman. Paul and Silas prayed and praised God; the prison doors flew open and the
shackles fell from the prisoners in response to their praise. The guard awoke to find the
prison gates open and was about to kill himself. Paul advised him not to harm himself
because all the prisoners were present. On the receiving end of injustice, Paul acted with
complete fidelity because of the salvation that worked in him. In verse 30 the guard
asked Paul and Silas what he needed to do to be saved. He witnessed the actions that
distinguished Paul and Silas. The doctrine was appealing. He too desired to live the life
of fidelity in all circumstances.
What Makes Us Chosen
I’m not a Historian. I’m by no means a Theologian. I’m just an individual on a
mission to live an honest and full life. Living an honest and full life requires me to
personally explore the belief system that I’ve held since childhood. The religion that I’ve
often felt as if I was intruding on. Exploring Christianity meant exploring the covenant
between God and Abram. Christianity is after all an Abrahamic religion. Though I believe God’s plan for mankind started in the garden of Eden I decided to explore the covenant between God, Abram and the descendants of Abram since Christianity places so much emphasis on it.
The obvious truth of God’s covenant with Abram is that it was rooted in
obedience. God advised Abram to leave all that was familiar to him and go to a land
that He, the Lord, will show him (Genesis 12: 1-3 KJV). Verse 4 starts by saying, “so
Abram departed….” Without protest or requiring additional information, Abram did as
God instructed. That made him chosen. The next few words of verse 4 states, “….as the
Lord had spoken unto him;” Abram didn’t amend or tweak the instructions to satisfy his
imagination. He didn’t detour and say, “God, how about this piece of land?” He was
completely surrendered to the direction and he trusted the plan of God completely.
Obedience is invaluable to God, that’s why He often rewards it in a way that we
understand – with material possessions. Obedience realigns the relationship between
the creator and the created. It restores some of what was lost with original sin. Sin and
separation entered the world through disobedience. Adam and Eve used their free will
to defy God. With our free will, we can surrender to God completely. Our surrender
acknowledges who God is, to and for us. Obedience is acknowledgment of God’s divine
power, and His divine love. When we obey, we acknowledge that our love and intent for
ourselves, can never exceed that of the one who made us. Through the obedience of
one man, God promised to bless the entire world (verse 3).
In Genesis 17 Abram’s name is changed to Abraham and God promises to make
him the father of many nations. When Abraham has waxed old in age, and it seemed
that the promise was slowly coming to fruition, God required what He’d promised, as
sacrifice (Genesis 22 KJV). Head bowed and reverent (that’s the image in my mind),
Abraham went to the altar without remonstrating and reminding God of His promise. He trusted God’s instructions, even when those instructions seemed contrary to what he
was promised. Abraham thought he’d have to sacrifice his son, but the sacrifice that day
was Abraham’s obedience. Because “…to obey is better than sacrifice…” (1Sam 15:22
KJV). Exodus 20:6 KJV states, “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me
and keep my commandments.” The seed of Abraham were brought into covenant with
God because Abraham loved and obeyed God. But God isn’t confined to a bloodline.
If the Akan people are indeed descendants of Esau, that would make them
descendants of Abraham and equally entitled to the terms of the covenant. That,
however, is not the crux of my argument. The emphasis should be placed on the
obedience rather than the bloodline. The salvation of Christianity isn’t confined to a
bloodline, so there is no need to establish one’s origins in Abraham. It was, however,
important for me to explore Blackness in The Holy Bible. As a member of an oppressed
people, that The Holy Bible was used to control and keep in subjugation, it was
important for me to form independent ideas of what The Holy Bible says – about people
Chapter Four: Where I Leave Things
I struggled to reveal many of the issues that I’ve detailed in this piece. I’m sure it
will be received by many as a public acknowledgement that I was/am not spiritual
enough. That I never truly accepted the message of Christ because I wouldn’t have had
these issues. I have always, and will continue to, maintain that church is for the complete
man. We can’t continue to trivialize the complexities of the individual man or the impact
of the actions and histories of man. I have other issues with how the church handles
complex matters, void of love, understanding, and patience. Our response to mental
health issues is insufficient and uninformed; our response to those we think are gay
amongst us, lacks the love and compassion required. I’ve often wondered if my mind
harbored depraved thoughts, could I confess them to the church and receive
compassion and intervention, to ensure that my thoughts don’t become actions. I have
a strong feeling that I’d be condemned to hell instead. I didn’t feel safe enough to
disclose that I needed empowerment as a little black girl, so how could anyone feel
comfortable confessing depravity, sexual identity issues or suicidal thoughts? I don’t
have enough insight to detail the inner turmoil of those other issues, so I don’t feel
qualified to go into details. What I struggled with, was feeling that expressions of
Blackness and Christianity are as oil and water, immiscible.
I had an epiphany recently. When I think of Jesus, my personal savior who will
return for His children, I see the figure of a man, but His identity is veiled. Even when I
picture my personal redeemer on the cross, bleeding to death so that I may have life
eternal, I can’t give you a physical description. I still have the image of Christos in my
mind when I picture the Christ of Christianity. But it’s as if I’ve extracted my Jesus in an
act of rebellion. Whenever I think of God, I reflect on the vastness of space and the
entity that hung all the stars in place. Whenever I try to assign physicality to God, I have
this image of a massive man, but nothing else. In rebellion, I’ve extracted the divinity of
Jesus and that has been my focus. It wasn’t an active decision. I assume over time my
mind chose to focus on the God within the man. The God within that redeemed me. It’s
almost as if my years of struggle with the inaccurate depiction, caused me to separate
who Jesus means to me from Christianity’s image of Christ. A mental declaration of
“they can have the flesh and I’ll keep the God.”
Operating from a place of oppression easily leads to hate. It’s not the loud and
obnoxious kind of hate. It is more subtle in nature, insidious. But still hate. I’ve never
wished to rewrite history with the slavers being the enslaved or the oppressors
becoming the oppressed, but I clammed up around white people. I’d smile a smile that
never reached my eyes and find a reason to excuse myself. I felt uncomfortable around
anyone who wasn’t “Blackity-Black”. I had no white friends and a white partner was
absolutely out of the question. In my zeal to do my part in reclaiming black pride, I
developed a Us vs Them mentality. I made the white face the face of hate and
oppression. After taking a closer look at the black community I realized that oppression
isn’t raced linked. It’s wielded by anyone who has the power and lacks respect for
humanity. Anyone who fails to live by the second greatest commandment.
Micro-oppression exists within the black community. The mistreatment of the
disabled and the treatment of members of the LGBTQ community revealed to me that
oppression isn’t beneath anyone. I try to treat everyone with love and respect, but I’m
sure it’s not beneath me either. It is a moral issue that should be preached against like
lying, stealing, and all the sins of The Holy Bible. We are all capable of being the worst
part of somebody’s history. Being a moral issue, oppression falls squarely within the
church’s purview. Hate and oppression was preached from the pulpit for centuries. Love
and validation must also be preached from the pulpit. We must work for the oneness
that we claim to want. There must be acknowledgement and atonement for the way
Christianity was wielded in the past.
I think there is an overall fear to explore the racist past of Christianity. I have
come to grips with the reality that if a denomination is old enough, it has racist roots.
Acknowledging this fact may be something that makes the doctrine of Christianity less
appealing to some, but denying the past has the effect of turning many others away
from the gospel of Christ. We are also missing the opportunity to illuminate one of
History’s greatest stories of redemption. The message of Christ was spun into lies to
satisfy the greed of men. The people that God created in His image, were reduced to
animals. His creation described as incomplete – only 3/5 complete. (This declaration may
have been made by the law, but the church didn’t stand in opposition to it). But still He
allowed His church to evolve into what it was intended to be, and it’s still evolving. That
is why I love Amazing Grace. There is redemption for the slaver at the foot of the cross.
You can break the second greatest commandment and Jesus awaits you, with arms wide
I read an article on CNN.com which details the Church of England’s intent to
formally apologize for its racist past. That is the way forward. If we hope to evolve and
shape the wider society, we must acknowledge the past. The Archbishop of Canterbury
stated that we’ve damaged the church and the image of God as well as the people who
were victims of the hate. That damage may not have been done by us personally, but
the restoration is our responsibility. I commend these actions by the Archbishop and the
Church of England and recommend them for all of Christianity.
I don’t wish to be divisive. I do know that from one blood we’ve all been created.
There was a divergence in our past that has resulted in the evolution of beautifully
diverse people and culture. When we come to Christ, it shouldn’t be a requirement for
us to shed our identities. As Christians we aren’t supposed to be carbon copies of each
other. We have our personal and cultural journeys that makes our walk unique. A black
church should be a source of information and power for a black child. The church of afro
people should understand that self-love isn’t innate to the black child and be equipped
and ready to combat that.
I thank my church for being present to provide a foundation for an 8-year-old
that didn’t quite understand what her tears meant, but now I do. The church has been
present, to satisfy man’s yearning for God, but we should evolve to deal with the
complexities of mankind, be dynamic to identify our failings and take corrective
measures. I am more secure in my faith than I’ve ever been. I don’t feel sinful for
requiring empowerment from the church. I am eager to share the little knowledge that I
have with my son and any little black child that needs it. I can confidently express my
concerns for the black community as a Black Christian without feeling that the
description is a bit of a paradox.
Do Not Cross the Tracks
There are many rules in my village; the cardinal rule is: do not cross the tracks. The other rules are introduced in stages, according to our capabilities and development; but the cardinal rule is given to us at birth. As a toddler I was instructed not to play with my dad’s fishing pole; as a teenager I was instructed to hunt in a group. I’ve received many instructions throughout my life, but the cardinal rule was given before them all. Before I knew how to walk, I was told the limits to my walking.
When I was a child, our village was a huge world filled with giants and adventures; but as I grew older and my stature dwarfed the giants’, my world seemed smaller and void of excitement. I was content with the village being my playground when I was a child; but as a man, I want to conquer. I’ve broken other rules without much consequence; I’ve hunted alone and only received a scar as punishment.
I suspect the rule about crossing the tracks is much like the others: an attempt to control what was meant to be free, to control me – a way of governing when and how I act. But I want more; I will not be controlled, so tonight I will venture across the tracks.
I wish you’d come here in the day. You would’ve seen the beauty of the city that lies beyond the tracks. Wait till morning, so you may see that I have not tried to withhold the truth from you. If you see with your eyes that I haven’t lied, you will know that the darker parts of my story are also true.
Oh, you think I was given my post by the villagers to keep you from your adventure? I assumed the role of watcher when I lost my son due to his desire to conquer. I’d sensed that he was getting restless, as if our village had become clothes that he’d outgrown – clothes he’d rather walk naked than wear.
I repeated the warning daily, but he didn’t take heed. He left in secret one night, just as you’re trying to do now. He never returned, and I suspect you won’t either. I have been here many years; I have seen many young men cross these tracks, but they all seem to have forgotten the road home. A city of opulence must be a joy to live in, but I wonder why they have never returned to share their wealth with family and friends. I’d planned my own journey across the tracks, but when I came here, and turned to bid our village farewell, I finally saw what was veiled by my disappointment. My son is dead.
He was not always obedient, but he was always loving. He’d eat only after I’d eaten, and always took care to make sure that I was comfortable. I’m getting older; my comfort would be of increasing concern to my son, if he was alive. I can only offer you warning, but the decision to return to the village or cross the tracks is yours to make.
That old man tried to keep me from my destiny, but I will not be deterred. The air felt different the moment I stepped off the track – a bit heavier – but that won’t dissuade me either. The light the moon reflects unto the buildings lets me know that the old man wasn’t lying about the village’s beauty. The buildings are tall and majestic; our huts would be lost in their shadows.
The beauty of the village hasn’t dimmed, but my appreciation for it is waning, because there are things lurking in the shadows. I didn’t notice at first, but I do now; whenever I move, there’s movement within the darkness. I’m terrified, but if I return to the tracks, what becomes of my conquest? I must press on; maybe the brightness of day will quiet my fright.
I rush to one of the buildings to knock on the door; I know it’s rude to visit anyone at this hour, but I want to get away from whatever is stalking me in the dark – it’s getting closer. I knock, but my hand on the door doesn’t produce a sound; the door isn’t solid, my hand simply passes through the air. I try another door – same outcome. I can’t seem to touch whatever I see; my experience in this village is limited to sight.
Something is woefully unnatural about this place. What do I do? Do I sleep and restart my escapade at daylight, or do I return to the void of my village? There is shuffling all around me, and there is a smell! What’s that smell? Did someone hunt and kill and leave their meat out to rot? The air has gotten heavier…colder too. I’m terrified to turn around; whatever was lurking in the shadows is now behind me – close enough to touch me. I can’t return to my dull village; I know the old man was telling the truth.
The Toilet Paper Heist
I had to do a number two but didn’t want to use my shirt.
This great crisis I tried desperately to avert.
I have a friend on the inside,
Who promised to leave the door wide.
Lies! I tripped the alarm. Oh, why didn't I use my shirt?
What Scares Me
Through all the hurt and neglect, I never stopped loving him; and that scares me.
Six months after the isolation began, the nation received the long-awaited message: You may return to your normal lives. Well, normal before the awakening – before we realized just how fragile our existence is. The most intelligent species on the planet brought to its knees by something that’s invisible to the naked eye. That’s perspective. Being confined to our homes, making small talk through apartment doors with the deliverers of our sustenance – perspective.
When the news of our salvation came, we rushed to the streets. I approached my street with a goal: to hug someone, anyone. You don’t appreciate the importance of a hug until hugging becomes outlawed. Cheers, laughter, and hugs were shared by a sea of people. It wasn’t the rapture, but we were caught up with something else – appreciation. Immense appreciation for all that we’d been taking for granted.
But our merriment was disrupted by a gentle quake of the earth. Our joy turned to dread within an instant; months of uncertainty had made us hyper-vigilant. Fear stained the faces of all that I could see; my concern was reflected as if I was in the middle of an apocalyptic house of mirrors. I wondered what other cruelty mother nature had the audacity to bestow upon us. My thought was interrupted by an utterance. For a moment, I considered the possibility that my mind had become cracked during the isolation period until I realized that everyone was on a search with their ears.
I tried to recall the predictions for the end of days because surely this was it – “The End”. Well, maybe not the end, but the next phase of the sorting. I looked to the eastern sky and listened for the sounds of the angels crying, “Holy! Holy!” I felt the ground rumble again beneath my feet. The rumble was accompanied by a message from the belly of the earth:
I’m sorry. I needed to recover so that I can continue to nourish, nurture, and heal you. I was getting too sick. My forests were dying, my seas were polluted, my air had become poison to you. I needed you away for a little while. I needed to begin the purification process so that I can continue to be your home. I am happy to see you out and about and enjoying me again. You bruise me continually, but the love you share amongst yourselves warms my core.
That’s when we realized that if we didn’t change, it would happen again.
Neighbors have moved in. I watch them from my window; they are the picture of health. When the sun touches their skin, it radiates beauty; when the sun touches my skin, it stings – just a little. That’s what I remember.
The new neighbors’ skin resemble a pastry baked to perfection; my skin is pale – grey almost – and flaky. It looks like the flesh of a fish before putrefaction begins. I’m diseased. I don’t know if I acquired this disease or if it is a product of my body’s malfunction, but I know I am sick. I can feel it coursing through my veins, increasing in strength with every passing day.
I stand at my window and watch, peering through the spaces between the boards that I’d used to conceal myself from the world. I only venture outdoors at nights, when I’m sure that the world is asleep. And even then, I don’t venture too far from my sanctuary.
Before today, I never had neighbors; but I never risked walking too far from my home. I didn’t want to run into someone who’d walked too far from theirs. I knew that if they saw me, even if it was just a glimpse, they would’ve feared what they saw – they would’ve feared catching my disease. I can’t blame them though; I’d give anything to be healed of it, but I can’t seem to find the cure. I watch the new neighbors and try to remember what it feels like to be whole.
It has gotten harder to do that, remember what it feels like to be whole. Everything around me reflects my disease. The boards that shield the inside of the house, from the outside, are grey and weathered – much like the skin that protects my insides. The desks, chairs, and tables are strewn with newspapers that are at different stages of aging. The air that I breathe, carries an odor. The odor hangs on the air like it’s a conjoined twin. Eau de decay, perfumes every room of the house.
The smell is suffocating, but I seem to resist its attempt to limit my intake of oxygen. I suppose decay can’t kill decay. Rotten things must stick together. Or maybe the odor is mine so it can’t kill its source, just issue a reminder of its presence.
Ding! Dong! My doorbell rings.
I don’t know how to respond to this new development. My new neighbors are at the door. I haven’t spoken to anyone in years; I fear that I’ve forgotten how.
Ding! Dong! The doorbell rings again.
If I don’t answer, they’ll just go away.
I hear a shuffle and footsteps moving away from the house.
It’s night and my neighbors have retired for bed. I’d watched from my window as they busied themselves with their nightly activities; then settled in for the night. I open the door to my house and see a container accompanied by a note, on my doorstep. I open the container first. A plain cake, the perfect shade of brown, greeted me. I smile, I haven’t done that in a while. I read the note: We’re your new neighbors. I’m not much of a baker, but I hope you enjoy our hello gift. Feel free to drop by for a visit anytime.
I have the urge to go outside when the sun is out. I wonder if it still stings.
The Value of the Infertile
Before I knew how to or when I carried the weight of a woman.
No blood, no sex, no love for a man – but I knew.
I understood deeply the pain of more than a few.
Every argument ending in, “galang yuh ol dutty mule”.
The anguish of a woman used as a deadly tool.
A weapon that tears apart the soul.
Labelled cursed and unable to pay nature’s toll.
But why is a woman’s worth wrapped up in her ability to give birth?
I absorbed the pain of women near and far.
But I felt deeply for one more than all.
She was beautiful and sweet, but also erratic.
Somber days, solemn days, loud days, quiet days, low days, and some days ecstatic.
They heightened her pain by making her life a stain.
To them, without a daughter or a son, she only had worth to the son of all sons.
Their words were flaming darts, and her womb bore the bullseye.
The pain of the fruitless witnessed through a child’s eyes.
“Children must be seen and not heard,”
But from children, they do not hide the ways they hurt.
Insults hurled at another like a battle axe.
Pain that a child witnesses but dare not ask.
She had a man who loved her,
But he was ridiculed for the way he was manhandled by her.
He was labelled as stupid and weak,
Because of the abuse and curse, he didn’t speak.
With unconditional love, he tried to fix
That which the fertility gods had missed.
A botched adoption brought her momentary satisfaction.
Within a week the child was gone,
Giving rise to whispers of a child bought at dawn.
She tried to grow what would not sow.
Someone’s child she tried to know,
But that mother changed her yes to no.
More ridicule. Her grief and loss brought twisted jubilation,
To those who despised her without provocation.
Their arsenal was full,
A new bullet to release when the trigger’s pulled.
As I grew older and harbored thoughts of being a mother,
I never planned for my womb to bear a flower.
I planned my motherhood around the joy, left by another,
To prevent my own hope turning sour.
I tried to immunize myself against their lies,
That I’m only worthy once I’ve pushed life from between my thighs.
Motherhood is sacred, but it’s not the destination that’s lauded.
It’s the growth and the expulsion that’s applauded.
Women have adopted and fostered,
Only in the heat of an argument to be told they’re nothing more than imposters.
How do we value the infertile?
By recognizing that the woman bears the womb,
The womb doesn’t bear the woman.
Do You Know Who I Am? I Don’t!
I don’t know who I am. And how can I?
When everything about me exists just shy – of revelation.
I’ve sought information and elevation, but I always miss the mark.
I fear I shall be forever left in the dark.
But I have a memory!
It’s not a memory that I recall with the eyes of my mind.
But it’s a memory that exists in every cell that is mine.
In my DNA like purines and pyrimidines,
The memory doesn’t bear my face, but it bears my trace.
Sights, smells, tastes that I’d experienced way before my current existence.
To share this memory is to risk being called too this or too that.
Too angry, too black.
But what does one do with a memory of being suffocated by loves,
All because they valued us in droves – but only in droves.
Food? Never enough.
Oh, the smell! The smell! The smell!
Not even our dead bore this smell in the past.
I know our connection to home will forever be lost.
How did we begin to smell so different, so soon?
And our sick is different too.
I shake, I shiver, and I sweat.
But I can’t find a root or herb to ward off this threat.
I speak of the ache of this memory,
Only to be told that I hate another.
Is it hate to reflect on the anguish caused by separation –
To disclose the pain of being plucked from the bosom of my mother?
I’ve flown on metal wings to the north, but I can’t seem to make the journey east.
I blame a lack of trust in the metal wings and even the cost.
But my memory makes me fearful of going East – across the Atlantic,
My last trip was so tragic.
I know I’ll hear the songs erupting from the belly of the sea.
The metal walls won’t block them from getting to me.
The songs of the souls that will hum from the sea to the plane,
They will enter through those double glass windows and reach me all the same.
I will hear their song carried by the winds of the trades,
The most joyful, sorrowful song I’ll ever hear.
Joy for the treachery escaped,
But sorrow for every brother who kept their place.