An Open Letter To Raven Symone

Dear Raven Symone,

I am sorry.

I confess that what I know about you entirely consists of that by which you do not want you to be known. I know that you are an actor, a black American, and after watching your recent interview I learned that you are a lesbian.

I am sorry.

In the past several days since you told Oprah Winfrey that you do not like being labeled, your preferences (both in lifestyle and semantics) have been analyzed, criticized and even applauded by those who don’t pretend to know you but assume to understand your responsibility as a celebrity, a person of color, and a woman in a homosexual relationship. That response has spread as wide as criticism from distinguished members of liberal academia to praise from perennial jackass Glenn Beck.

I am sorry.

Because I don’t think anybody is really listening to you. Very few people are talking about the struggles that you acknowledged just seconds before agreeing with the insinuation that you don’t like being labeled gay or African American. Nobody heard you say that as a 12 year-old, you did not have the language to locate yourself in terms of your sexual orientation and your most instinctual desires. Nobody seems to be talking about your lamentation that you don’t feel connected to any roots in Africa.

It is not my place to suggest to you whether or not you are responsible to the demographic identifiers such as “gay” or “African American” because my struggle with white privilege means that I do not often walk through stores, interact with my lover, or put myself in the sphere with the weight of having to represent an entire group of people.

However, what I am hearing from the words that you are not saying is that the labels that you have been given, the identifiers of certain traits that were endowed to you by the Creator, have been restrictive to you; and frankly, in disagreement with the majority of the Twittosphere, I don’t see where this speaks to you. These restrictive labels speak more to our failure to you as fellow Americans.

And with the understanding that each of us was created in the image of the Creator, I believe, that we as Christians have failed you too.

You see, I believe that our unique composition of various distinctions serves to illuminate more of the mysterious nature of God, and for any quality that shapes you to be restrictive is both a theological and syntax failure. I believe that the culture(s) that we choose to identify with enhance our communities and not to separate us.

As a result, I will be much more diligent to use adjectives with great sensitivity when working with young men and women are looking to understand, develop, and express themselves in the context of the many communities through which they may identify. And I pledge to be more sensitive to the language that each individual prefers as opposed to the language that is most comfortable to me. Further, I pledge to be patient to give the space that is sometimes needed to struggle with identity labels.

I see it as my responsibility to create environments where men and women are able to explore their own race and sexuality on their terms as they define them and I invite fellow Christians to join me in working for those environments., though I acknowledge we are not there yet.

And I am so sorry.

Scaraoke and Biblical Self-Defense

Scaraoke & Biblical Self-Defense

 I am afraid that liberal Christians may be relying too much on biblical understanding and not enough on their own biblical reading.

Further, when we rely only on a certain handful of “go-to” scriptures (Micah 6:8, anybody) as opposed to committing ourselves to know the bible more wholly, we are robbing ourselves of a full understanding of our scriptures.

It would be like listening to our favorite songs without the music, or the beat, or the lead-singer who had the emotion and intention behind her!

 

Though it would make my mother proud, I am almost afraid to ask.

Have you read the Bible lately?

I’m afraid to ask because of the connotation that is more than likely attached to any conversation you might have ever had with somebody who asked you a similar question.

When I was feeling anxious as a college freshman, when I was battling addictive “medicine” in the valleys of a confusing time, and when I was worried about the health of my wife and soon-to-be daughter, I have had people ask me some near-rendition of “So, have you read your Bible lately?”

The literal suggestion in those instances is that there is wisdom in the scriptures that can be quite applicable to someone who is feeling alone and abandoned, powerless and stuck, or fearful and ill-prepared. However, the implication is that the answer is simple and already known by the one asking the question.

I think this is a fair generalization: fundamentalists use their bible.

They might not know the, but they certainly use the bible.

Fundamentalists use the bible to oppress those who doubt or struggle, enact their political agendas, and keep women, minorities, GBLTQ folk, and many more “in their places.” So, what do you use the Bible for?

I feel comfortable with an understanding of a God of justice and mercy but I have not always been as willing to struggle with the scriptures that don’t readily lend themselves to that portrayal of God. I haven’t always been as willing to read texts less accessible to me such as Hosea, Deuteronomy, and That Book Which Shalt Not Be Named By Progressives (Leviticus).

So instead, I have relied on biblical understanding – theologians, preachers, strangers, agnostics, fellow pew-sitters, priests, and rabbis – to guide me through my faith. However, relying on other people’s understandings robs me of the opportunity to become fully invested. It leaves me vulnerable.

It allows me to be a Christian with all my head, but not with all my heart.

Further, minimizing the Hebrew Bible minimizes the very God that Jesus understood (as illustrated in this wonderful article by Pete Enns). To minimize the Hebrew Bible is to miss out on the love of God’s people and God’s pain over human suffering as expressed in Hosea. To minimize the Hebrew Bible is to fail to acknowledge the hunger for God and the quest for righteousness of the Deuteronomists.

Perhaps the Bible doesn’t specifically say much of everything.

Perhaps what makes the Bible more complete is the diversity that it represents. Sort of like humanity, isn’t it?

If you, like me, are tired of a narrow understanding of the Bible, what are you willing to do about it?

Let us not grow weary of the fight to struggle with our text, claim our text, and use our text in the struggle to prove that our God’s justice and mercy go together like ramma lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong.

Are You Angry or Irritated?

Do you know the story of John Crawford? John Crawford is yet another unarmed African American man shot and killed in our gun crazed society.

We have a major gun problem in our country and people of faith and values should be angry enough at all this needless death to change that.

God has given us the ability to create life and it is past time that we resist the temptation to end it.

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We must be angry enough to rid our world of gun violence.

The example of Mr. Crawford illustrates what happens when we continuously ignore our culture of gun death. He was a married man and a father of two who was shot by (white) police officers in an aisle of a Wal-Mart supercenter while swinging a toy BB gun as he was pacing while on the phone with his wife.

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This should make you angry but it shouldn’t surprise you.Most of us have heard the stories of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner.

To this point, there has been little reform to ensure black males or anybody else are any safer in the midst of law enforcement bullies.

In the face of this, I am shocked, saddened, and angry.

However, if I am willing to keep scrolling about my business without committing myself to ending this senseless violence, I must accept the fact that I am not yet angry, but simply irritated.

Nearly two years ago, 20 students and 6 adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We as a nation were shocked, saddened, and angry. Political promises were made, and seemingly, we have fatigued in our anger and simply stayed irritated. Meanwhile, out of the spotlight of the national media 15 major gun incidents have occurred at schools since Sandy Hook.

Are we angry? Or are we merely irritated?

Guns have done irreparable damage at the hands of children, young adults, grownups, criminals, and law enforcement alike. It is time to decide that the damage that has been done, to innocent minorities, to innocent children, to loved ones and to strangers, has made us angry.

I scroll through things that irritate me everyday – annoying status updates, an internet hoax with a three-breasted woman, and tons of political crap-talk that amounts to nothing. If I am not paying attention, the stories of Eric Garner, and John Crawford and the stories of more senseless gun violence blend right in with the other things that simply irritate me.

But it’s time to start paying attention. And it’s time to be angry.

Our children, our communities, and our safety are depending on us to connect with and act in the name of the Jesus who was not afraid to turn over the tables of the corrupted temple. Our system has become corrupted by gun violence and we need to flip this system upside down.

Let us follow that model and heed the call of Jeremiah (3:23) who warns us, “Do no wrong or violence” especially against vulnerable populations.

Make no mistake. Today, African American males are made vulnerable by racism, by militarized police forces, and by a lack of accountability in our political leaders.

Are you angry? Or merely irritated?