We Are Worthy! A Theology of Liberation

Free Your Light

This post is a little more personal than my other posts, but I thought it was worth sharing because for the past several weeks I have been having a difficult time reconciling my past with my present.  It started when my Systematic Theology professor gave us an assignment to name our biggest influence on our personal theology i.e. how we approached our beliefs in God.  The rules of the assignment were that we could not use anyone from the Bible or anyone that lived in our lifetime even if it was for just one day.  At first I thought that the assignment was going to be difficult.  I kept trying to think of other Christians before my lifetime who influenced my theology and I could not think of any.  Not even Martin Luther King Jr., who I really respected for sticking by his non-violence message, really felt like he fit as the biggest influence.  After a while, I just cleared my head and trusted that the first person that came to my mind would be the person.  All of a sudden it hit me.  It was Malcolm X.  My first thought was how my teacher might feel about my strongest influence in my Christianity being a radical Black Muslim, but I dropped that thought when I started writing the paper.

Just writing the paper brought up a lot of stuff from my past that I won’t get into right now.  But if that wasn’t enough, in my next class, Liberation Theology, I found out the disheartening news that there were a number of black Christian scholars from the 60’s and 70’s onward that were teaching a theology that mirrored my own in that it acknowledged the black experience and saw Christ as a liberator.  At first I could not see how black churches missed this whole movement.  I wondered why I grew up still hearing sermons about not questioning God and being unworthy of God’s love. I never bought that.  And eventually I discovered that many of these sermons were passed down from slave master’s pastors who besides teaching us that we were unworthy, were also using the Bible to teach us that we should be happy as slaves.  To me that meant I had the right to ask questions if I was going to stay a Christian and keep trying to understand what God was trying to tell me by creating this situation for me.  Somewhere in my quest for answers, I was inspired to write this poem:

Twisted

Open up your ears and hear

The story that I’m telling you

When I was a little kid

I used to get dissed on the regular

I used to get picked on

Poked at and made fun of

Because I was a sensitive cat

Always talking about One Love

Other kids my age

Had multiple distractions

Where as I was more focused on

Putting words into action

So when I took it to the streets

I didn’t expect to get straight dissed

‘Cause my shoes had too many stripes for Adidas

But not enough for K-Swiss

My words were for nothing

I only evoked laughter

I tried to get them focused off my clothes

But it just didn’t matter

They called me church boy

They said I talked “white”

But they were living cartoon

While I was living real life

I wanted to show love

But all they knew was hating

Perpetually playing themselves

Because they were mentally masturbating

They believed the lie

It had been passed down from their mama

Generations infected by an attempt

To keep the black man in drama

So I took it to the adults

I thought they would understand

But they were too “whitewashed”

To see this burgeoning black man

So I took it to my history teacher

Then he said this to my face

“You’re a smart boy

And a credit to your race”

He thought it was a compliment

Only a white man could say that

If he understood anything about me

He’d have known I wouldn’t play that

But I knew he had good intentions

I could tell he didn’t know

He was caught up like everyone else

So I decided to let it go

I then took it to my Grandma

But what she said left me unsettled

She told me tell white people I was Portuguese

So that they would treat me better

What the hell was that?

Was this some conspiracy?

Everyone and their mama working together

To try to instill fear in me

They saw something I thought was impossible

While I saw something else

They were choosing to believe a lie

But I chose to believe in myself

I knew that God had made me

And I know He only makes the best

So I knew the fact that I was not white

In no way made me less

Someone had gotten it twisted

And I was going to find out who

There was no way I was letting these scared victims of society

Tell me what to do

So at first I examined the white man

Since everyone thought he was so smart

I discovered so many despicable deeds

It was as if he had no heart

Then I checked out the black man

I figured they were more like me

But I got pissed to find out some of them helped

When we were sold into slavery

My mind became consumed with anger

I had to let it out

So I decided to tell every black and white

What I was all about

Well both sides called me a racist

In that they agreed with each other

Whites said I was an uppity nigger

And blacks called me siddity brother

So I then turned to God

Well turned on Him is more accurate

Because I didn’t like the way He made this world

I told Him I wasn’t having it

I said “You better do something

Before I fix this world myself

If You are the One responsible for this

I might as well pray to someone else”

He responded, “While you’re sitting here pointing fingers

How about looking in the mirror

I am the One that made all you see

Call nothing I made inferior

Who are you to judge?

Are you the scale by which all things are measured?

Are all things imperfect as compared to you?

Did you put this world together?

There’s a point to all of this

Just listen to what I’m saying

Perhaps I created this entire world

Just to have you right here praying

In Me anything is possible

To all those who believe

This world is as beautiful or ugly as you see it

It depends on what you choose to perceive

I made this world out of perfection

But in your Ego you thought you could fix it

This world will change when you change your mind

You are the one that got it twisted

© Copyright 2004 Pedro S. Silva II

As I wrote for my class in light of what I maintained from the poem above, I felt all of these emotions rising.  Most of them were feelings of frustration, anger, and powerlessness.  I started thinking about growing up with Muslim cousins and constantly comparing my religion to theirs as a kid.  I thought about Brother George who had an Afrocentric book shop on the corner near my Aunt’s store, Shabazz Fashions, and the mosque and how I would go in there and read about black history from a black perspective.  I thought about marching with my mom for voter’s rights, Jesse Jackson running for president, and L. Douglas Wilder being elected as the first Black post Reconstruction  Governor.  That’s what I grew up around and yet when I started public school, I also remember my grandmother telling me to tell white people I was Portuguese so that they would treat me better, kids joking people for being “black as tar”, and the stupid belief that being lighter skinned somehow made a person smarter or better.  But the thing that really got me was the big picture of a white Jesus we had in our church.  That was the icing on the cake.  What message was that giving black kids?  While personally I don’t see Jesus’ race as important in and of itself, at some point, not questioning the psychological affects of this imagery borders on the irresponsible.

I had heard Muslims saying that we worshiped three Gods (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as we said at the time.) and that we followed a white Jesus.  Of course with that picture in a prominent position in the church and on our church fans, I really couldn’t say much about that.  All I could try to do was make sense of it, which was no easy task.  I took to reading and investigating Christianity and the history of slavery and Black people.  I used a lot of Malcolm’s criticism of Christianity and the state of this country in his time to inform me.  Of course as I read his autobiography and stories of other great minds of the Black consciousness, I went through a lot of emotions.  I got angry with white people and black people equally for slavery.  I was mad at white people for thinking it was okay and black people for not choosing to die or kill their oppressors.  I was also angry that other Africans helped in the slave trade.  Christianity became pretty suspect too during that time.

One of the only things that really kept me from going overboard was the realization that in the end Malcolm became a peacemaker and realized that he could work with white people for the freedom movement as well.  Still, I needed to make sense of how I was going to deal with this legacy for my own life.  I knew that there was still so much pain in our community that we needed to deal with.  I hated it that we were dividing ourselves by complexion and that most of the other black kids I knew didn’t know anything about people like Dr. Charles Drew or Madame CJ Walker.  They hadn’t read any slave narratives or had coloring books filled with great African Americans in history like I did.  When I would tell them that the modern traffic light was invented by an African American, Garrett Morgan, they just thought I was lying.  I was raised to be proud of who I was and to see myself as equal to anyone.  Even being a little guy like I am, my dad would remind me that, “you can’t judge a man by the size of his palms.”  Although I only really saw him in the summers, that advice really helped me to be confident in myself.  Still, all of that reinforcement seemed only to make things harder on me growing up, because to most of the other black kids it made it look like I thought I was better than them.

Now, I want to switch gears here because I don’t want to make this a “poor me story” because it’s not that.  I just want to use my personal experience to shine some light on a very real issue, that in my experience, it seems like this country has yet to come to terms with, which is the issues that slavery has had on this country–not just for black people, but for white people as well.  At our core, we are all going to stay messed up until we face our issues.  There is so much going on subconsciously that is effecting how our country makes decisions and until we get some help it’s just going to keep eating away at us until we have no choice.  Just look at this thought as an example.

This country was built on trying to pay as little for labor as possible and that is exactly what is taking it down.  Have we changed?  I say “we” because most of us have gotten caught up in the system too.  We can no longer point fingers because on some level, most of us know this.  I know I am a part of it frequently when I try to find the lowest price for something instead of the fairest price which would be more considerate of the people helping to make it in some poor country.  I don’t say this to make anyone feel guilty.  I am just saying it so that more of us can start trying to wake up.  At this stage, it doesn’t matter who started any of this mess.  What matters is what we can do as individuals to decrease our participation in it.

One thing that we all can agree on is that we are here and that we want a life of meaning.  Just like the poem says, our world will change when we change  our minds.  It’s time to wake up and take responsibility for our freedom and respect the freedom of others.  Instead of fixing others, we need to do the work on fixing ourselves as individuals.  To some extent Earth is like an insane asylum.  We have to be crazy to get caught up in a place that tries to convince us that we are separate from one another.  Even more insane is that thought that we are separate from God and unworthy of God’s love.  That is impossible!  God created an entire universe just to let you know that you are loved and worthy.  It’s time to receive it.  But more importantly it is time to give it.  In the end that’s why I remained Christian.  Besides telling us that our walk with God was our responsibility, Jesus taught the possibility of Oneness with God and neighbor.  Despite what my ego might want to see sometimes, I see that message as One that is, can, and will save this world if more of us work hard to live it.

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