by Christena Cleveland, 8/12/13.
WHEN I LEARNED THAT THE CHURCH CAN HEAL WHAT THE CHURCH HAS BROKEN
When the VBS teacher called me a nigger, she cursed my identity. Though I never explicitly referred to myself as a nigger, I internalized the teacher’s racism and developed an inferiority complex that was fueled by my subsequent experiences of racism. I’m sad to say that my race-based feelings of inferiority lived on through my childhood, adolescent and college years.
By the time I started graduate school, my identity was exiled and I felt like I belonged no where; my self-esteem was clinically low; and while I somehow remained committed to following Jesus, I didn’t believe that God’s love for the world applied to me specifically.
But God lovingly and specifically led me to a small but mighty multiethnic church — in super-segregated Santa Barbara, of all places – led by a middle-aged black man with a striking afro and a wise, reconciling spirit.
Afro Pastor led the congregation in the practice of radical, cross-cultural solidarity by preaching it, modeling it and prioritizing it. As a result, the church excelled at honoring the image of God in diverse people. At this church, which had representatives from over ten ethnicities, everything was upside down: difference was valued, diverse perspectives were given voice, and the congregants from privileged groups in society served the congregants from oppressed groups.
Even though I was culturally different than everyone else in the church, they immediately accepted me, cherished me and invited me way in. I shared countless meals, long conversations, fiery prayer meetings, Sunday gatherings and service opportunities with my fellow congregants. And in the midst of this, God partnered with this church to call me out of my forced migration, beckon me home, and reverse the curse on my identity.
- There I learned that I belonged and that my perspective was valuable.
- There my identity took root in God’s love and the church’s love.
- There my unique experience of blackness was affirmed.
- There I learned that I am no longer called Deserted; I am Sought After.
- There the chip on my shoulder softened and morphed into a fiery passion for reconciliation.
The church taught me that though racism steals, kills and destroys, the church can partner with God to restore, resurrect and heal.
WHEN I LEARNED THAT RECONCILIATION COSTS EVERYTHING[i]…