“So Bethany, where are you from?”
“I grew up on the Navajo Reservation.”
Usually the response I get to this is either one of amazement and curiosity or a blank stare and a polite “Oh, that’s nice,” because people have no idea what I’m talking about. Well I grew up on the Navajo Reservation, a very remote corner of the world in the great state of Arizona. I am half Navajo and half European descent. I was raised by my grandma, a non-native from Pennsylvania, teaching me the ways of the Bible. Also by my grandpa, a full Navajo, who still attends the native religious ceremonies, although it is more cultural than spiritual for him. The spiritual gauge is very unique out there, as well as my testimony and vantage point.
My journey started with my grandma reading the King James Bible to me every weekend. With the combination of living in a rural place and my grandma dissatisfied with all churches, I never attended church. I spent my childhood week after week, sitting at the kitchen table, incredibly bored. With a focus heavily on the Old Testament, I was uninterested, and couldn’t understand anything but legalism. I lived my life trying to appease God through doing what was “right” and trying to avoid what was “wrong”. Even during these years, it’s amazing how God was patiently waiting for me to eventually come back and know Him for who He actually is.
Through a failed relationship and a broken heart my freshmen year of college, it lead me to truly seek God, initially for healing. I was at an all time low and through Chi Alpha I was able to start a relationship with my Savior. No more sitting bored, or confused--I clung onto God with everything I had. Nothing has ever been the same since. Yes, he healed me, and He has become so much more. He has become my everything. I continue to grow in Him, in love and understanding of what I was never taught--the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.
As I’ve matured and gotten stronger in my faith, I have been able to return home and see my land through the lens of Jesus. My heart searched the reservation and its spiritual climate only to find brokenness. The Navajo Reservation has suffered a great deal from alcohol, drugs, and abuse. If I could sum it up in one word, it would be “hopelessness”. People live hard lives with no relief. Also, I see religion coming in. There are 3 major religions--Native religion, Mormonism, and Catholicism. There isn’t enough time to talk about how religion has jaded the native people, but I do want to share my grandpa’s experience.
My grandpa was sent to a Catholic boarding school, where he shares stories with a resentful tone. They forced him to cut his hair (long hair is traditional for Navajo men), and how they would make them wash out their mouths with soap if they heard the students speaking Navajo instead of English. The time we talked about God, something that stuck out was how he never thought it made sense that he had to talk to the priest who would then talk to God on his behalf. It was then that I was able to make a clear gospel presentation of the truth.
The Mormon Church has been very successful in appealing to the Navajo people. They claim in the Book of Mormon that the Native Americans were the first people Jesus preached to upon his arrival to the Americas after his resurrection - this false gospel has won over many. They also understand what is important to a Navajo person--land. They have created a gardening project across the Reservation to help cultivate self-sustainability.
The Reservation doesn’t need any more religion, it needs relationship. It needs real followers of Jesus to proclaim the truth. It needs those who will also respect that which is important to the people- land and family. We are not here to change culture, but to bring people into the Kingdom of God. It is not going to look like your church. What a beautiful image of Heaven if we are able to preserve the cultures and customs (without compromising any of God’s commandments) all over the world. My land is so beautiful and it breaks my heart that so few give Jesus credit for the natural beauty we live in. God made and loves the Navajo Nation--so I leave you with this, who will proclaim the hope and truth we have to this hopeless and lost people?
Tucked away behind the Lombardy Street traffic circle is Virginia Union University, just two blocks away from Virginia Commonwealth University. It is a quiet campus of 1,800 students, founded at the end of the Civil War.
I graduated from VCU in 2016 and began pioneering ministry at VUU as part of the staff of Richmond Chi Alpha. Even though the schools are only a few blocks away from each other, the atmosphere and culture are notably different when it comes to campus ministry. Acknowledging the difference of my Chi Alpha college experience at VCU has opened the door for me lay down my own preferences and comfort zone and to have a fuller understanding God’s heart for students at this Historically Black University.
I am learning to resist being a bulldozer with my own personal ideas of what the Chi Alpha should look like here. This includes being willing to learn about the students, what they are wrestling with, what led them to VUU--- hearing their story and walking alongside them. Many of the students in my small group are first generation college students. The expectation and pressures are high. As I ask questions and meet students where they are, it highlights my need for the Holy Spirit to transform their lives through faithful discipleship instead of leading based on my previous experience of being a student small group leader at a very different campus. Pioneering is fruitful when you love and engage students and culture with a teachable heart.
Prayer walking has helped me to have a heart for the campus as well. I find myself asking more and more, “How can I serve this campus with a heart like yours, Jesus? How can your kingdom come in the dorms and in the common area where students gather? How can Chi Alpha play a role in that?” Sharing Jesus with students makes a difference when it starts with prayer.
Students that are not in athletics or in Greek life often find it hard to find community at VUU. This is one way we can meet needs by providing authentic community. Malik is a freshman I met during welcome week. He was worried about how he would make friends in college and he even questioned God’s existence, but through the Chi Alpha community, he has dedicated his life to Christ and found genuine relationships. It has been so exciting to see lives being changed on campus through the VUU students in Chi Alpha. Guys and girls are seeing their relationship with Jesus and the Chi Alpha community too good to keep to themselves.
Through pioneering, God is increasing Jesus’ heart and character in me. I am blessed to be an African American. Though my ethnic background has opened doors for me, there are still many things I need to learn. I have to stay informed on issues in the African American community locally and nationally. I need to acknowledge the differences between VUU and my original campus. I have to be a listener, asking questions on how best to serve students. I have to build on a foundation of prayer. And I need to look for ways to meet students’ practical needs. These are some of the insights I am learning on this journey.
Malik* arrived at Virginia Union with hope. He had a difficult life. His family fled violence in his home country, but not before he personally was marked by it. They were able to find asylum in the US, but Malik struggled finding a place in his adopted homeland. His experience, his values, his world was so different, but VUU was offering everything he was looking for. It promised community; a place where he could develop real friendships. It offered challenging academics; a place where he could grow his knowledge and ability. It offered purpose; a place where he could begin to bring change to a world that desperately needed it. Malik saw endless possibilities in his acceptance to one of the oldest HBCUs in the country.
Marcus Floyd, missionary associate with Chi Alpha Campus Ministry in Richmond, met Malik three years later. He was no longer brimming with hope, he no longer saw VUU as an answer to the challenges he faced. It was in fact another milestone in his life journey that was filled with disappointments. He struggled to find the promised friendships, finding either a highly competitive or apathetic environment instead. The promise of academics and purpose fell short too to the point where every semester he questioned why he remained enrolled. Marcus and Malik met through a mutual acquaintance. Jason*, a new member of Chi Alpha. He told him about the friendships he was finding in this campus ministry and Malik had to check it out. He visited once and was hooked.
Malik found, for the first time as a student at VUU a place of relationship. The people who were a part of Chi Alpha had genuine care and concern for him. Even though they didn’t share the same core beliefs, he was Muslim and this group was full of Christians, their love for him kept him coming back. He even signed up to join them on a retreat. That’s when it all came together. That’s when he realized the reason they were different. The reason why they loved and accepted him was the one thing that made it so unlikely to join them in the first place. It was Jesus. On Saturday night of that retreat weekend, Malik surrendered his life to Jesus.
Why is it vital to plant at HBCUs? We need to plant there because there are thousands of students just like Malik at every one of them. They’re looking for community, looking for purpose, looking for God. By planting loving, intentional communities on these campuses, these students can see the relevance of the gospel in powerful, life-changing ways. We owe it to students like Malik, and Jesus who loves and pursues them, to try.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
Recently, I have been reading a book called “Satan and His Kingdom” by Dennis McCallum. In one of the chapters, something hit me while I was reading. He talked about how Satan keeps us from taking territory for the Kingdom through distractions. He then gave an example about how Christians spent years--lots of money and energy--on prohibition (politicking to get alcohol considered illegal). This really did not do anything but produce anger toward Christians. “What does that have to do with diversity?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
For the past couple of months some NFL players have been protesting the American Flag because of police brutality toward African Americans. While there should be a Gospel centered response from the Church, the idol of patriotism has reared its ugly head once again. I truly believe the devil is using this to target God’s church in order to divide us and keep us from what matters most and what matters to Jesus: the souls of people. Is Jesus using this situation to show where our hearts are really at? Does Jesus care about our patriotism? Yes, I believe He does. If anything, I believe it shows where our heart truly lies: with Him and His Kingdom or with our country of origin and our nationality.
I know that this may sting, but let me challenge something. As a black man, I had to have a come to Jesus moment and choose which was more important, being black or being part of God’s kingdom. I had to “die to myself” and release my identity to join God’s kingdom and become His son. I’m not saying I had to give up my heritage or give up being proud of where I came from. What I mean is this: being black comes second to being part of His Kingdom. The same thing should go for pride in our nationality. The love of country and pride in our people should only come second to being part of the Family of God. Sure, we can be proud to be American, but being American should not supersede being a child of God and being part of His Kingdom. Our love of culture and country are offensive to Jesus if He does not come first. As God’s people, we need to reorient our lives around His purposes and His vision for His Kingdom. Here is how we can do this in light of social justice issues:
As God’s body, we should be “loving our neighbor as ourselves”, be “quick to listen and slow to speak”, and demonstrate fruits of the Spirit like love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. These things should rule our interactions with people, especially on hot topics like the NFL kneeling at the flag controversy. How can we claim to be fully part of God’s Kingdom if we do not allow his loving law to take priority control over our hearts, minds and actions?
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15)
Again and again, I find myself coming back to Joshua’s encounter with “the commander of the Lord’s army.” I feel it has something super important to say to the church today.
Joshua was Moses’ successor. Moses led Israel for forty years. He prepared the people to enter the Promised Land by teaching them God’s commandments, directing them in the construction of the tabernacle, and interceding for them through all their rebellions. He was the man for the preparation, but not for the advance. For entering the land, they needed a soldier. So it makes perfect sense for Joshua to lead the nation next. After all, the Promised Land would need to be fought for.
The first great battle, if it can be called that, was Jericho. God directed Joshua and Israel there. They had spied it out. They had prepared themselves. They eagerly anticipated and expected their first victory. This is where it began. They were there at God’s command and on his business, and yet…
And yet, when Joshua came near Jericho he saw a man in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. He asks a logical question, “Are you for us or our enemies?” This figure must have been somewhat frightening. I would guess he would be the type of man Joshua would want fighting for him, not against him. So I think his question to be both logical and prudent. It’s the answer that I think speaks to us still. “Neither.”
Even though Joshua was about to enter a battle that God himself had sent him to fight, the “commander of the army of the Lord” does not say, “I am here to fight with you. I am on your side.” No, he says, “neither”. The commander of the Lord’s army was not there to assure Joshua God was on his side, instead he was there to make sure Joshua and Israel were on God’s side. It is so easy for us to co-opt God’s endorsement for our side, our views, and our agenda. In just how many wars have opposing sides both claimed God was fighting for them? Are we not guilty of this still today?
Does this mean God does not have an opinion on the battles of our day? I am pretty sure God has an opinion on pretty much everything. The question is, are we seeking it out? Are we humbly bowing down like Joshua did and asking, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Are we getting on his side and working from there? Are we entering the holy place, seeking his face, and with trembling hearts and minds saying, “Father, show me your ways that I may walk in them?” Or, are we instead, giving into the spirit of the age and justifying our venting under the banner, “I have a right to my own opinion and can say whatever I want.”
There are lots of battles taking place in our nation today. The lines are drawn and people tend to pick one extreme side or another. Should those who claim to be Christ’s ambassadors enter the fray, shouting as loudly and meanly as everyone else? Should we not instead, stand out from the crowd? Jesus’ apostles included a tax collector and a zealot, representative from two extremely opposing sides of the issues of that day. They found unity, not on the issues, but by laying down their lives, picking up their own crosses, and following him. There cannot be unity in the church today, unless today’s disciples are willing to do the same. This is the starting place. Like Joshua there will be battles we will need to fight, but like him, first make sure we bow down, humble ourselves, and get on God’s side.
You have probably heard about the protests and the ongoing unrest that has erupted yet again in St. Louis. If you have not, then it is likely because you have, like many, grown so frustrated with racial issues in the U.S. that you have decided to drown it out or ignore it. Living here in St. Louis makes it hard to ignore, and more importantly, ignoring it is actually the problem.
When I moved to St. Louis from Cincinnati, Ohio I heard that there was a significant racial divide here based on statics and the racial demographics of the city. There is a street called Delmar that almost divides the city in half, North and South. This street has acted as a proverbial railroad track for the city, as 95% of the African American population of the city lives north of these “railroad tracks”. I know, it almost seems impossible, but once you live here you not only come to recognize it as being true, you can also visually see the historic effect of this “railroad track” divide.
South of Delmar, the city has continued to develop with businesses and new construction happening. You see early 20th century million dollar brick homes surrounding the historic Forest Park along with the History Museum, Science Center, Washington University and St. Louis Zoo. It is the place to live and be when you want to engage with what's new and great about the city. However, literally two city blocks north of this icon of wealth is the polar opposite. There is vacant lot after vacant lot and burnt out and abandoned homes. You can see the same large 20th century brick homes that decorate the neighborhood south of Delmar, only these homes are boarded up, abandoned and in disrepair. It is almost as though 75 years ago someone drew a line down Delmar Blvd and said all development money will go south of this line and nothing will happen north. The wealth, which at the time was 100% connected to race, will move south and leave the poor, which all but a few African Americans were at the time, will stay to the north. And so it has been done!
When I arrived, I found it hard to believe that no one, Black or White was talking about this blatant racial disparity. Is it as though the battle was fought, and people had decided it was better to ignore rather than deal with this issue. Which brings us to the protests that continue to happen in St. Louis today.
The shooting of Mike Brown and the acquittal of Jason Shockley has forced Black people in St. Louis out of silence. The unspoken agreement that was held before these events has been broken and now the protests are the icebreaker to the conversation that has to happen. And the protests and civil disruption will continue to happen until the conversations begin.
I think St. Louis is a microcosm of America. In almost every city there is a Delmar divide that has been created by historical inequality. And for a while everyone agreed to not talk about it because some progress had been made. But with the 2016 election of Donald Trump and his openly racist remarks and immoral behavior, the unspoken agreement has been broken and now the protests are breaking the ice for the upcoming conversations that need to happen. Just as NFL players protest during the national anthem or university students refuse to have people speak at their graduation, the protests will continue until the conversations begin. So let’s talk!
What does it mean to welcome someone? When we talk about creating a multi-ethnic Christian community we often talk about being a welcoming place, about welcoming everyone. But how does welcoming really work?
Stores often have welcome signs on their doors. It means they are open, ready for business, and want you to come in. Is that what we mean as well when we tell someone they are welcome to come to our service or discipleship small group? Are we saying, “no one is going to keep you out”, “we really want you here” or is there even more to it than that?
I sometimes have the privilege of traveling to campus groups and churches to share the vision of kingdom diversity. During these visits I am often hosted for meals or even put up in a kind person’s home for several days. In some ways, I am a professional guest. While I try to be a good guest, I am not a trouble free one. Because I suffer from food and environmental allergies, hosting me is not hassle free. Cleaning chemicals, perfumes, and scented candles can trigger a migraine. I can’t eat pizza, sandwiches, or pasta due to a wheat allergy. Do you know how common these foods are? Even some pets can cause me problems. In other words, you don’t want to invite me to your house!
And yet, I am frequently overwhelmed with the amount of time and forethought my hosts take to prepare for my arrival. They air out their houses. They buy special foods. They exile their pets to other rooms. You know how this makes me feel? It makes me feel welcome! Funny, how being a troublesome guest can teach you so much about what real welcome is. It is so much more than opening the door or being happy someone is there. It is really all about preparation.
I think about how our Father prepared the world for us, to make us feel at home in it. It is first act of hospitality. In the same way, if we want to create a kingdom community on our campus or in our church, one that represents our Lord and makes our Father happy, we need to prepare. For my hosts, preparation starts with information. We’ve actually put together a “Hosting Belkis Guide” for this purpose. For you, it may start with asking students from different ethnic groups you are reaching out to, “Hey, what can we do to make you feel at home?”
Sure, I can probably answer that question for you; you might even be able to find the information on the internet (probably even here on this site). But just asking the question let’s people know you care. It does not even have to be a member of your congregation. You can ask anyone you have a relationship with. Something like, “we really want to be a church/group that represents God’s kingdom in every way. We are trying to be more diverse but don’t know how to make different ethnic groups feel at home and welcome at our service. Can you help me?” It is a humble question that expresses your vision and you desires.
"Blood and soil," they chanted, invoking racist Nazi rhetoric of the past. With what appeared to be a fire of hatred in their eyes, these White Nationalists marched the Grounds of our University and our city seeking to instill fear. They came in hundreds. They came with guns. They came with torches.
How can one respond to such blatant hate, especially when it hits so close to home? Jesus said his followers are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14). As campus ministers at the University of Virginia, we had to think about what carrying this "light" would mean for us. How would we bear the torch of God’s fire for the world?
So we came with prayer. In the aftermath of the violence on our campus and city, we decided to host a prayer walk along the same path the White Supremacists took at our university. We prayed for the reconciliation, healing, love, and truth of God to reclaim what the enemy sought to steal. At various locations, we stopped and prayed out loud specific prayers for God to intervene at UVA. Many of our students and members from other ministries joined us in a moment of Christian solidarity.
We came with conversations. As the forces of darkness sought to build a wall of division between people, we built a conversation wall, literally. It stood all of 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Across the top, where everyone could read, we wrote: “How can you address racism?” In just three hours, the wall filled with hundreds of written responses from students of diverse backgrounds expressing their frustrations, solutions, and hopes. We engaged these students with gospel-centered conversations, offering Jesus as the solution to a world in division. It was the boldest question we’ve ever asked publically at our university, but sometimes we need our strategies to match up against what we’re fighting.
We came with attentive ears. “Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render,” Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together. How many times have we been quick to speak, to assume, or to overlook because we fail to intentionally listen? During this time of heightened racial tension in our country, I’ve discovered how humbling and instructive it is to engage with the experiences of our ethnic minority students. We learn a great deal when we take the time to see our world through a different lens. Take Bonhoeffer’s advice: “listening can be a greater service than speaking.”
The task is far from over, and let’s be humble enough to admit we don’t always get things right. It is out of our necessity that we turn to our God for courage, peace, and wisdom as we seek to carry his torch of reconciliation.
No matter what campus you find yourself in, it is such a strategic time to be on university campuses. We all, as campus ministers, have so much exciting work to do! In Christ, we have the answer for what our country and the world is yearning for-- the ministry of reconciliation. Let us labor with love and unity to be His ambassadors on our campus.
As you process what all this means for you and your specific university campus, I encourage you to pray. Pray for the connections your students are making on your campus Pray for those on your campus who are hurting, angry, or fearful. Pray for unity in the community of believers at our universities. Together, as the body of Christ, we can make His light shine like a city on a hill which cannot be hidden! Together we can persevere to continue reconciling students to Christ!
Chi Alpha at the University of Virginia
Flags as symbols can evoke feelings of loyalty and passion, and the Confederate flag certainly does this. While there are those who defend it, many today see it as a symbol of hate, while still another group neither defend it nor calls for its annihilation. But what should the citizens of God’s Kingdom think about it?
I offer five Biblical thoughts for members of Chi Alpha regarding the Confederate flag. I suggest we think through these five points and use them to judge ourselves and make sure that we are living out our vision of being a “movement of college-age men and women earnestly following Jesus.”
What I have to say will be too much for some and too little for others. My desire is not to enter into a political conversation or even to offer my opinion, but to direct us to Biblical truths that have a bearing on this discussion. I invite you to prayerfully consider these:
1. DO MY ACTIONS GLORIFY GOD?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
If my brother or sister is offended by my actions, I am not bringing glory to God. If you ask an African American brother or sister if they are offended by the displaying of the Confederate flag the vast, vast majority will say, “yes”. If all truth were told, the flying of the Confederate flag from a vehicle often elicits fear in our African American brothers and sisters.
The proud display of the Confederate flag sends a message to our African American brothers and sisters, whether intended or not, and the message is offensive. If we are knowingly offending our brothers and sisters in Christ we are not glorifying God.
2. GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).
Americans love to talk about their rights. Don’t get me wrong. I am very thankful for the liberties we experience in this country. My family, like all American families (except Native Americans), immigrated to the United States of America. We immigrated here primarily because of a lack of liberty in our home country. Liberty is something all believers can be thankful for, support, and work to preserve, but it is not something we can allow to shape our perspective.
The truth is, as Christians, we have no rights. We have the privilege of worshiping Christ and participating in his mission. We are the salt of the earth. We are a city set on a hill. We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making his appeal through us. In other words, we don’t represent ourselves, but our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot glorify God if we do not first give up our rights, deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him. Follow him. That’s just another way of saying “get on his side.”
3. EMBRACE SIMPLE TRUTHS
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them (Gen 1:27).
From one man he made all the nations (Acts 17:26).
God’s perspective is clearly revealed in Scripture. Humanity is created in his image. We are sacred beings. Transgressing against any element of our sacred creation is sin. Racism in all forms from prejudice, to bigotry, to using our power to oppress or withhold opportunities from those we look down upon—is all sin.
All nations (Greek ethnos, i.e. ethnic groups) are biologically related. We are not separate species, but one humanity. Anything or anyone who teaches contrary these simple truths are not teaching the gospel or the Bible.
Here’s another simple truth that you may or may not like. One of the reasons the Confederacy was created to was preserve the owning of African slaves. Article I Section 9(4) of the Confederate Constitution states, “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” This is just one of several articles related to ensuring the enslavement of Africans continue in perpetuity. The flag that we commonly refer to the Confederate flag today was the second one adopted by the Confederacy was based on the battle flag that had become quite popular. To those held in slavery, this was most certainly a symbol of oppression, violence, helplessness, and an affirmation that they were subhuman.
As a result of the Civil War the Confederate flag has almost always been displayed by those bent on intimidation or committing violence against African Americans. It is intrinsically linked to racism and white supremacy. From the Civil Rights movement to the Charlottesville marches, anyone spouting white supremacy, always seems to carry a Confederate flag. This is an association that cannot be denied. It is a simple truth. Neither white supremacy, black supremacy, nor Cuban supremacy is Biblical. The only supreme one for a Christian is Christ himself. The rest of us are all equal at the cross—equally lost and in need of redemption. Once we give up our rights and focus on glorifying God, it is much easier to embrace simple truths.
4. VALUE OTHERS ABOVE YOURSELVES
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:2-8).
Even if I could distance the Confederate flag from its bloody history of violence, intimidation, and enslavement, there are millions in our country and in the Body of Christ who cannot. These descendants of slaves have grown up all their lives hearing the story of the struggle for freedom and those who violently opposed them, often under the protection of the law and with the affirmation of the church. I have heard first-hand from dear friends traumatic events they themselves experienced.
Love is central to the Christian ethic. We cannot distance ourselves from the suffering of others, especially those within the body. So this flag cannot just be filed under, “everyone has the right to do what they want.” We must care, and our care should lead to action. The kind of action described in the Sermon on the Mount when it says, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Valuing others above ourselves requires dying to our rights, embracing simple truths, and choosing our Father’s glory. It means loving even those in error, but loving them enough to point out those errors. It means mourning with those who mourn and showing mercy to those who need it. It means engaging in justice, in a just way. It means being Christ’s ambassadors, not working our own agenda but his mission and living out the ethic of love at every turn.
5. BOAST IN THE LORD
Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord (I Corinthians 1:31).
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:4-8).
In writing this blog post, I read a good bit about the flag and people’s feelings about it. Many claim it has been hijacked by racists and is really only a symbol of Southern pride. Remember, I am speaking here exclusively to followers of Christ. Let us not take pride in symbols of men but in the Lord.
I love Paul’s words here in Philippians. He points to his ethnic heritage, his religious upbringing, and his zealous history, and then he says he considers them all loss for the sake of Christ. Notice how he shows the link between his ethnic pride and his religious zeal that led him to persecute the church. Pride and zeal are dangerous things. Better to boast in the Lord.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe our ethnic distinctives are washed away at the cross. Paul continued to be a Hebrew and to live like one. He prayed fervently for his own people and worked to bring them the gospel, though his primary calling was to Gentiles. But he was cautious to not let his ethnic pride to get in the way of knowing Christ.
I am a Cuban. I love being Cuban. I love the externals of my culture: the language, the food, the music. I love the internals: our love of fun, sense of humor, our generosity, and hospitality. I rejoice in the parts of my culture and heritage that bring glory to God, but am ashamed of those that don’t. We think too lightly of adultery. We worship idols, literally giving offerings of food to statues. We could be more meek and gentle. So while I love being who God made me, this is not where I boast. I boast in the Lord. I refuse to listen to adultery jokes (and we have a lot of them). They are not funny to God. He hates adultery. I have offended family members at refusing to hear their jokes, but I am more concerned about glorifying God.
Recently I moved to the South and I am glad to say, there is much I love about it. There are a lot of gospel values in Southern culture. I like the community feel, the hospitality, and the ingenuity. There is much to love here. But none of these erase the terrible history of slavery, Jim Crow, or racism. These are not just part of Southern history, but American history. Identifying these as sinful and shameful is not rewriting history. It is admitting that history needs to be looked at honestly, and it’s ok to say this part was bad and we want to do it differently now.
The church is not perfect. We do not and have not always done right. We cannot change the past, but we can change how we view it and the symbols it has left behind. We need to give up our rights, focus on bringing God’s glory, embrace simple truths, value others more than ourselves, and boast in the Lord. None of these are easily done, but all of them are in the business of citizens of God’s Kingdom.
As a campus pastor, one of my responsibilities is to lead core group/Bible study. Tell me why last year every single girl in my core group was an incredibly beautiful black woman.
As we shared tears and hugs when historical racial wounds flared to the forefront of campus, I saw their strength and resilience. As we laughed and joked, I saw their beauty, and it inspired me to see my own beauty in my blackness. For the first time, I began stepping into the realization that God made me black for a reason.
I am not black because God left me out in the sun too long and I got a bit too crispy. I am black because I have a powerful purpose that God desires to use in a way that is unique to my ethnicity. My blackness is a gift, not a burden. As a dear friend once told me, “You have the ability to affect change and to draw others into the body of christ because your story is unlike anyone else's. It’s not black girl magic, it is the God-given gift to be the representation of Christ as you are. You will always be and have always been black, and it will always be a part how God uses you in community.” Powerful words yo, powerful words.
And so that’s what brought me here. To the big chop. I realized I wanted to fully embrace all that God has created me to be. When God said I was created in his image, he didn’t mean every part EXCEPT my hair. Shoot, for all we know, God could be rocking a fro up there in Heaven. That would be LIT #justsayin.
So, I'm learning to embrace my curls. Though I have been entering into this deeper realization of and appreciation for the intersection between my faith and my ethnicity, I do not doubt I will have to keep coming back to this post. It’s taken me nearly a week to write this and already I’ve gone from feeling on top of the world with my hair to feeling as though I look like a 12 year-old boy. I already know as my hair grows it’s going to be a constant tug-of-war between love and hate as I struggle to understand it and learn best how to take care of my hair in it’s natural state. But I’m excited, ya’ll, and I’m going to do my best to document this process. May I continue to remember that I am beautiful not because of my hair, but because the joy of the Lord is my strength and God's glorious light shines through me!