You Are Your Own God

Sometimes I’ll get asked to speak on issues of race and racism. A few years ago their was a series of workshops for Pride of Color Week (Celebration of Black and Brown LGBTQ Folks) in Seattle and I was asked to speak about my experience as a Black Man from the South. I struggled a bit because, as I saw it, what could I really say to people in the LGBTQ community. Especially, at the time, being a committed Christian. I felt, and continue to feel, that it’s been a group of people that continues to find it hard to be excepted by society at large. Again, that’s my feeling. However, I talked with the organizer and they felt that I would have something to add.

My approach has always been to emphasize commonality in the human emotional experience rather than a focus on unique circumstances. It’s an attempt to bring the audience together. In my talk I tried to focus on the mental skills I developed as a kid to overcome the challenges of my environment. I articulated my focus on things that I could control in order to overcome that which I couldn’t control. My thought being, if you are a gay woman of color, there is going to be bigotry/discrimination in the world that you can’t control and it’ll happen in a multitude of ways. In my mind, bigotry/discrimination are simply specific forms of adversity. Adversity is common to the human experience. How we should handle adversity is what I target.

The Language of Angry Blackness

In talking about The New Religion over the least three posts, I’ve laid out the symptoms of a lack of personal responsibility in one’s life (Resistance to Questions and Faulty Logic). Another symptom is the expectation that other people use certain language when describing the issue at hand. During my workshop for PRIDE of Color week I did what I do: I challenged people to take responsibility for themselves and overcome the challenges of their environment. The feedback I got was positive but there was criticism around the fact that I didn’t speak to the ‘black experience’ as explicitly as was hoped. I took the feedback and have continued to think on it.

About a year later a group of black high school students approached me about speaking at an event for their Black Student Union group. I had been to one of their meetings to check it out and the tone of the meeting was very angry. These young people had sincere emotions around what they felt was clearly institutionalized racism in their school and broad spread white supremacy. I kept quite and just listened. I knew I couldn’t speak at an event this group was hosting because we didn’t agree. I’m not an ‘angry black man’ and I don’t have the language/tone of an ‘angry black man’.

This sort of thing happened to me in church as well. Your rhetoric and banter have to fit the group’s ‘religious’ ideology. If not, people will correct you. At that time, In the case of The Church, PRIDE of Color, the High School Black Student Union, and a litany of other situations, I wasn’t able to give language to the resistance I was running into. Now I see. My ideas are often not what people expect:

  • I’m a Soldier so I must have PTSD and Agree with Everything America does
  • I’m Black so I must agree with Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel for the flag (To be clear I respect the man’s courage but I don’t think it was the right choice. A conversation with him might change my mind but with limited information that’s my stance and I have right to my stance. After all, I’m not just black. I’m also a veteran and I know people who died in service to this country.)
  • I’m fit and want to be an MMA fighter so I must be a Meat Head and have anger issues
  • I have an Engineering Degree so I must have a huge IQ
  • I’m a Green Beret so I must be obsessed with war and getting into gun fights
  • I’m Black so I must see white supremacy everywhere and be angry about it
  • Etc.

And I should have the expected language of all of these archetypes, right? The question is, who determines that language? This is what is so ironic about the church at times. The mandates are from God but human interpretation is what determines the proper language and tone around those ‘God Given’ mandates. Who’s God at that point? The truth is, in a psychological sense I’m my own God. I would say we all are. Why? People form the world in a certain way in their minds and they decide what language and actions are acceptable in that world. In other words, they have a story.

Again, My Greatest Hope for You

Like I said in the post, My Greatest Hope for You , my greatest hope is that you find the courage to be true to yourself and present to the world as such. It seems to be poetic justice that I continually find myself in environments where people expect me to be a certain thing and speak a certain way. I’m not a confrontational person by nature so it’s been a bit exhausting but everyday I realize that:

  • It’s good to model the moral courage to be who you are and speak as you believe, because people will certainly get angry with you, so it takes courage (hence my respect for Colin Kaepernick).
  • And, ideas should be challenged because ideas have consequences (I struggle with Kaepernick’s form of protest in relation to Police Brutality).

Those who practice Social Justice are not one homogeneous group by any means and I believe that people are wholeheartedly trying to solve problems in the world, but a modulation of language asserts a certain moral supremacy. “My religion (belief system) is better than yours and you should speak like me.” This oversimplifies people and, in certain scenarios, takes on the form of bullying. Something happens in the news and now people are expected to post a certain thing on their personal social media accounts and businesses are expected to chime in etc. Why? Moral Supremacy.

I’ll assert that certain ideas are moral softballs that can easily be hit out of the park. Don’t rape people, don’t take life or do physical harm to others out of malicious intent, don’t enslave people… these are pretty easy and, I would say, morally supreme ideas. I’m sure there are others but most of life is tricky and none of our decisions exists in a vacuum. Individual behavior is nuanced and interacts with context. Why is law a practice and why do we study ethics? I assume we do so because what is just and fair, is not always readily apparent or obvious. Ideas have consequences, so they should be challenged. Also, individuals should have the right to express their ideas authentically. But, Again, Ideas have consequences so they should be challenged.

The Great Commission

The feeling of not being able to be yourself has got to be one of the most stifling parts of the human experience. Why is something like slavery so egregious? The taking of a person’s agency to shape their own future is deplorable. To be forced to assimilate into someone else’s version of life and be a tool in the construction of their life without any prudence to your own… it’s crazy and extremely unjust.

Still, for me, the greatest lessons of the Bible are Jesus’s instruction to the disciples that the two greatest commandments are to Love God and Treat others the way you want to be treated. What I pointed to earlier is that we ourselves actually play the role of God in our own lives. Our tendency is to want to off load that responsibility to something we believe holds power over us. We should embrace the role of Creator in our own lives and, as Jesus teaches, we should first love ourselves completely and then treat others in the way we would want to be treated. The challenge here is that these things are not easy to do. These ideas are simply said, but complex in execution. Probably because humans are complex and nuanced creatures. We should treat ourselves and each other as such.

When we don’t actively take personal responsibility it seems like we take on axioms that we don’t want questioned and our logic fails. Ironically, not playing God actively in your own life can lead to fervor that seeks to play the role of God in another person’s life. As evidenced by insisting that people speak a certain way and do a certain thing. ‘Go to College’, ‘9 to 5 Monday to Friday is responsibility’, ‘Mature adults have a house of their own’, ‘White supremacy is everywhere’ , ‘Jesus is the one True God’ etc. We try to force the world to change rather than changing ourselves to be able to deal with the world as it is. We proselytize and sometimes we bully. I’m sorry folks. I know I’ve been on one for the past few weeks, but I have a deep visceral response when I see bullying.

Some people may argue that I’m encouraging people to be prideful and bootstrap their way to something better. I’m not. I’ve learned that trying to shape your own world is not easy. The challenge with any significant goal is the real potential for failure, pain, heartbreak , and disappointment. The danger of having no goals is being rudderless and susceptible to beliefs that encourage you to be a passive victim of some imagined oppressor (this can take on many forms). The other challenge with life is the ever present reality of suffering that we don’t ask for, in the midst of resources that we ourselves don’t create or earn. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is not real. No one bootstraps their way to being born in a country like America and that same person doesn’t ask to be abused, discriminated against, or ignored.

Looking at the Biblical Stories metaphorically, there’s a point in the New Testament where hundreds of people have gathered to hear Jesus teach. There’s a point when the crowd becomes hungry. Jesus takes a few loaves of bread and a few fish, enough to feed a very small number of people. Jesus prays and gives thanks for the food and, miraculously, the loaves of bread and fish multiply to feed the massive crowd. Maybe we can make the choice to be grateful for the little that we have and through focused action over time, maybe we can multiply those small beginnings into something more that can be good for others.

In Christian Theology, Jesus dies for the sins of the world. My interpretation was always that his death empowered his followers with a way to make peace with, and redeem, the experiences of suffering, failures, and mistakes made in this life. Maybe by taking up the burden of our own unique suffering in this world, we can redeem our experiences of pain and heartbreak in this life. Maybe we can chose to learn and grow from the uncontrollable adversity we experience. Maybe that can be an example of resilience and personal growth, to others. I can’t see how that’s a bad thing.

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