A Faith That Gives Rise to Hope
“Suffering naturally gives rise to doubt. How can one believe in God in the face of such horrendous suffering as slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree? Under these circumstances, doubt is not a denial but an integral part of faith. It keeps faith from being sure of itself. But doubt does not have the final word. The final word is faith giving rise to hope.”
Life in the present moment feels a little unsure, less certain and scarier than ever before. Maybe recent events were not a surprise to some and more in line with historical events than we'll ever talk about, but there is much damage done. The wound that Charleston has left feels too open, too gaping and too big to try to fill with words. With all that has been going on in our country and the world, all the attacks on black bodies and black people, words seem like a luxury. Action or numbness seems like a better use of time. But here I sit writing, offering my musings and thoughts into the public discourse on what it means to be a contradiction and praying that my honesty may help others make sense of it all. It is what my faith is calling me to do.
I am a contradiction: I am black, I am woman, I am a community organizer, I am a lover of black people, I am poet, and I am also a Christian, a Lutheran to be more exact.
Lately my Christianity has felt as heavy as my blackness, a weight I can’t take off and yet don’t actually want to carry or know what to do with. Everywhere I go and even on my social media, I see the cross between two groups of people. The politically conscious people of color who may or may not connect to organized religion have lots of analysis and lots of fire about the way the world is operating. They post things about Christians (black ones in particular) being backwards and subscribing to their own oppression, and that hurts. My social media is also filled with church friends who love Jesus and post scripture regularly. They try to live out their values through love and often see the world through a more passive lens. Both of these points of view are incomplete and leave no space for someone like me to exist.
Being a young community organizer who loves my community and bends toward justice with my radical political views, I rarely tell people I am a church geek. I love black liberation theology and I listen to Luke Powery lectures at night like lullabies. I enjoy spirited conversations about God and People and life and love and what it all means. I am both.
Most would say that being both and having both within makes me Lutheran. It was the language of being both “saint and sinner” that attracted me to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This language and the community of Luther Place Memorial Church, where I am a member in Washington DC have supported me as I have grieved the loss of black lives and given me the space to develop my own leadership and theology. But today I want to pick a side. I don’t want to exist in the both/and tension.
Charleston has made me feel like this perpetual tension, this desire to see things from every side - while great theoretically - is almost impossible; especially in a world where violence is pervasive and racism undergirds the fabric of the way we operate as a nation.
A young man walks into a church, sits and fellowships, participates and is welcomed in a way that I imagine Jesus teaches us to welcome the stranger. Then, he attacks. He launches into hateful rhetoric, that while we pretend is offensive, we have all heard. It is the same hateful speech that causes us to laugh at the expense of another culture; to be so concerned with protecting our own way of life and church tradition that we won't even recognize the humanness of other people.
The shooter claims the same church I belong too and that hurts because it’s not about him. It’s about the victims and families and it's about the way our country believes and operates as if black lives mean less and that refuses to see that racism and gun violence are linked. It is about a narrative of race that promotes white geniality and purity, white intention over impact, white purity and guiltlessness as the most important values. And again, I was reminded that I live in two worlds, the black one of my work and upbringing and the white one I choose to engage by my participation in the ELCA. The one of organizers and activist and secular folks who go to political analysis before they feel anything and those of believers who allow their feeling and theology to paralyze them.
Today I have decided to leave the tension of the both/and. Today, my side is picked. It is the side that calls us to confront the ways in which racism has distorted our world both at a macro level and individually, in the ways in which we see each other, It is the side that requires us to confront what it truly means to stand for justice and not just use the language of faith to let us off the hook. It is the side that demands us to see the humanity of all and to intentionally choose to prioritize those most marginalized. It is the side that leads us to boldly declare #blacklivesmatter because until we understand that we will just be clanging symbols. It is the side that pleads us to stop shoving our anger into appropriate boxes and is bold enough to be hurt and vulnerable. It is the side that says love is great but love is not enough to heal the choices we have made as a nation.
And yet there is still hope. There is comfort in knowing that our lives are more than the collection of accolades and events. That our lives can spark awareness and action and movement. There is hope knowing I am part of a people who have always been resilient and claimed their humanity, even when society wouldn’t recognize it. I am part of a people who God loves, a people who have always emerged from the ashes scarred but not broken. It is that legacy that allows me to believe that doubt and (anger and pain and rage and hurt) keep our faith from being sure of it like James Cone says.
2 Corinthians 12:9 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
The weariness that people feel may be the fuel for new paradigms and new worlds to be created.