My uncle, Vernon Kitabu Turner, can’t be put in a box. And it is time that I thank God for him. He just loves God and has ceaselessly sought to understand the Spirit that he has witnessed as active his entire life by any means necessary. When I was younger, people told me that I was like him—inward, always reading, and interested in the things of our Creator. If he didn’t take so many hits from life before I came around, I’d probably be broken by now. Because of his love for his lineage and the generations that came after him, he’s taken on so much pain and not given it back to the world. He transmuted it and has always tried to give back better than he was given in the form of teachings and books, etc.
But this morning, I want to honor him as a living ancestor. As Black folks of the African Diaspora, we have held in our bodies the severed ties from the embodied wisdom of our ancestors and had it replaced with lies of our deficiency. I have battled with this from the day I became conscious of how Blackness is perceived in the world. But this man took the physical and metaphorical hits and always encouraged me not to let myself be defined by anyone other than the only One who truly knows me—the Creator.
I am embarrassed that I have not read all of his books or studied all of his other contributions. But when I was overwhelmed by incalculable soul wounds from a lifetime of trying not give back the pain I’ve experienced, I read one his books and discovered that part of my suffering came from my own resistance to accepting that I too am not made for boxes. Even though I have broken through many boxes in my life, it was never a choice. I wanted to fit in. But I also desire to be the person that is born out of loving God with all my heart and mind and soul and loving neighbor as myself. Time and time again those within the boxes I hung out in said there are limits to living this love. But my soul would not allow me to comply. And as a consequence, I was rendered boxless for a season.
Every time I found myself evicted from another box, I would swear off boxes for life. But everyone wants to belong. And over time, I’d succumb to the lure of the bigger box. Like a person who keeps upsizing their homes for more room, only to fill it with more stuff and roommates, etc, I would try to choose a the biggest box that I thought I could afford and might last a lifetime just to find that I again underestimated the amount of space I need.
So this morning as I was reflecting on the worship led by John Myers for our online Bethany Fellows retreat, I once again decided that I’m done with boxes. But for the first time, I’m deciding it before the boxes are done with me. I don’t hate any idea what that will look like. But, I know that living love’s commandments will require this. When the works is fighting over who has the best boxes, how can we authentically serve from unbounded love from within the confines of our own preferred boxes? That’s where I am right now. If I’m to live this love from a genuine place, I need a box as big as the Universe or no box at all.
As another ancestor, Maya Angelou said,
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”