(Hey Fam! I had the honor and invitation to be a guest blogger on our upcoming Faith and Culture Writers Conference blog this week. The post is below, but please stop by our website http://www.faithandculture.com and check it out. There is still time and space to sign up for our upcoming conference, March 7th & 8th at George Fox University. Hope to see you there).
I know faith. I accepted Jesus into my little heart at the tender age of eight. Grew up on turquoise pews, and church potlucks. I even bore the title “PK” (pastor’s kid).
I know culture. I’m African-American through and through. This is the wrapping God chose for housing my spirit.
But sometimes, my faith and my culture clash. At least that’s how it feels when I’m the only brown-skinned believer in the room.
Our doctrines say we are all Christians—that we all come from the same family. It’s true. We all have the same Heavenly Father. But do our pews, our platforms, and our publications reflect all God’s children?
No. Unfortunately we missed some folks when we snapped the “family of God” photo. I’ve got a problem with that. And to my surprise, I’m not alone.
My girlfriend Ashley Larkin and I had been coffee-meeting, text-praying and blog-inspiring for several months before she extended an invitation to me. I was apprehensive about going to Writers Connection meetings she kept encouraging me to go to during our soul-sister-sharing times together. I didn’t want to tell her that I knew I’d be the only chocolate chip in the room. Or that even though it was a “Christian” event, my faith experiences and religious palette would not be understood or met. I would be alone.
She agreed that I could very well be the only person of my skin complexion there. But she disagreed that I’d be alone. She said she’d be right by my side. She wanted me to share my journey and my story. Had Ashley not first shown she could be trusted by bravely attending my predominantly African-American congregated church first, I would have kept her invitation at a distance.
Ashley placed herself in my world, embracing the opportunity to hold and carry out publicly what we had been talking about privately: to become the change we needed to see in our own Christian worlds. Now it was time to share in this exchange of life, story, and depth of relationship in one another’s lives.
I was a little embarrassed that at forty-one, I was still struggling with a color complex. I should be over the shock of the lack of diversity in Portland, Oregon, right? My people only make up six percent of the population in the city. So why was this invitation bothering me so much? Being a native Oregonian, I knew the hand we’d been dealt.
Truth was, I was not excited about crossing the bridge to Lake Oswego and I wasn’t thrilled about being the “bridge” again.
“Why me, Lord? Why do I have to go and be the only sistah in the room?”
It took a while for me to pinpoint my struggle. This was a “see the speck in your own eye first” confession, but eventually I got to it. We don’t get to chose the family we are born into, but it’s still our family. As a member of the extended body of Christ, I’ve often felt adopted into, not tied-to-blood-related. It’s subtle. Christian radio, bookstores and platforms represent majority white Christian culture all the time.
Why aren’t we representing the entire family of God?
We all speak the same God-language, but our translations are as different as King James and The Message versions of the Bible. Yet this diversity of parallel texts brings out a more vivid, 3D-panoramic view of our lives and the God we serve, if we let it.
I think it’s because I want God’s people to act different, be different, and to look different. I want the world to stop and take notice of how we include and not exclude one another. I’d like them to see how Christians freely share our resources, our privileges, and our pews with each other on both sides of the rainbow and everything in between. But the truth is we don’t.
In my journey as a writer, I was told by a well-respected and profitable publishing house that my voice as an African-American writer was needed and desirable, but it probably wouldn’t sell well in mainstream Christian market because of my color.
So why go? Why keep putting myself out there only to be rejected by my “Christian family”?
Sarah Thebarge was the guest author the first night I attended the Writers Connection. I’d never met her before, but when she opened up her mouth to share her story, we had several things instantly in common: cancer and embracing others’ lives, stories, and cultures.
One of my best friends was right smack in the middle of battling cancer and I needed a tangible testimony of hope to pass on to her. Sarah was a cancer survivor, so I bought her book. And although I was the only chocolate-skinned Christian in the audience that night, when she began to share the story of her spiritually adopted Somalian family, I began to feel at home—right there, in Tualatin, Oregon.
God met me that night on the outside with what I was wrestling with on the inside. I needed a tangible story of culture, and the acceptance of being woven in, right where I was, in the color that I’m in. I needed to know I truly wasn’t alone and that where I’m from matters dearly to the Lord.
Cornelia Seigneur, the monthly Writers Connection leader, whom I also met for the first time that night, asked me to meet her for coffee a few weeks later. She shared with me the vision for the annual Faith & Culture Writers Conference and would soon extend to me a second invitation to serve on the conference leadership team, a position I have been humbly honored to hold. She asked me to be a part of constructing this year’s conference.
At this table of the conference leadership team, I am seen as an equal, as sister in my chocolate covering. I am embraced with a shared faith in our God who is committed to diversity, culture and community.
I extend the same invitation to you:
Come . . . have the courage to be yourself.
Come . . . share the story God is crafting in your life.
No matter what shade of the kingdom-rainbow you are wrapped in, come meet the rest of your family. Let your soul, your God-given creativity, and your unique purpose find a little bit of home.
Come join us at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference.
See you there!
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Philemon 1:6- NIV)