Chuckling here, but I mean this in all seriousness, my faith is deeply rooted in the faith of others who came before me, in the people I have crossed paths with who were deeply rooted in the black church.
In this article called, “80% of Americans Believe in God. Pew Found Out What They Mean,” Thabiti Anyabwile sums it up very well, “When all you have is God, his character ceases to be academic and your dependence on him becomes existential.”
Read that article by Kate Shellnutt, there is tons of sermon fodder all throughout it. We need like, 100 pastors to get right on that.
I was actually a street kid, a wharf rat, a child with two really dysfunctional parents I struggled to take care of. So, often homeless, dumpster diving poor, actually trying to break into juvenile hall to get a bed for a few days. Also, a huge chip on my shoulder. Angry, mean, definitely feral. It’s a bit funny, people see me today and they don’t know that, they have no idea where I come from, what brokenness lurks behind me. The Lord does good work. I like to call myself a cracked pot, fused together with gold.
I could spot a deception from 50 ft away, too. No sitting in your fancy car, looking down at me and preaching to me about “dependence on God” and how the “joy of the Lord is your strength.” You wouldn’t know the first thing about “strength” or “dependence.” Also, I spent some time on the streets in Hollywood. You know who you had to avoid, who was the most dangerous person on those streets? Preachers, mostly preachers looking for young, male prostitutes. That’s the truth! There went any idealism I may have ever had about “the church” in general.
It was mostly black women who actually saw me, who reached out their hand to me. Louisa now long gone, who cooked in a facility I was once in, a woman who taught me that when God is all you have, you really do learn God is all you need, and there’s nothing fake or phony about that. A lot of people say it but not many people actually have to live it.
Dependence on nothing but the Lord is not something I would wish on anyone and yet until you get to that place, it’s really hard to know Him well. I kind of laugh when people ask me, “how do you know God is real?” Well, because God got real, as in can you hear me now, kind of real. God is actually more real than I am.
Thabiti says, “Usually African-American Christians think about God’s attributes in highly relational terms.” Exactly. Jesus is a person, and much more too, but Jesus is a person who wants to love you, a relationship that will claim you as His own. We belong to Him, like children belong to their parents. He cares for us and He holds us in the palm of His hand.
Evangelicals could really benefit from learning some things from the black church, from delving in a bit deeper, from asking some questions. I don’t mean to sound critical, today I am a part of the white evangelical church, and while they too are very diverse, sometimes I begin to suffocate, sometimes the air is so thick I cannot breath. Sometimes God is so distant, so far away, so academic and intellectual, I just want to capsize the whole boat and wake people up.
Could you people be anymore bovine if you tried? My people, my people suffer from the bovine flu. Terribly unkind, but that’s what I call it. I’ll moo here with the bovine flu, too. I suffer from it too sometimes, the lack of energy, the routine, the emotional distance, the unwillingness to set myself on fire with the Lord.
Thabiti said, “When all you have is God, his character ceases to be academic and your dependence on him becomes existential.”
Exactly. About five years ago I started saying, Ack, the church sure could use a good existential crisis. As Nietzsche once said, “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” A big problem I see all about Western culture is an unwillingness to be seen. We keep God at a distance, we keep ourselves hidden from Him and from one another. We seem to not understand that He is right here, in the here and now, and He wants to be there for us, He wants to minister to our souls.
In “Miracles” CS Lewis once said, “There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?”
Supposing He had found us? It’s quite terrifying really, it’s nothing to sneeze at. I mean absolutely petrifying really, but when you run out of places to hide and there you are and there God is, looking right at you, then you start to catch a glimpse of what love and dependence is really all about.
Our unwillingness to do that once in a while is probably why we have the white church, the black church, the liberal church, the reformed church, the conservative church, even the vegan church. I’m not saying all those divisions are bad or that they don’t serve a vital purpose in the world or that we should dismantle them all. I’m just saying that at some point in time, I’d sure like to be able to point and simply say, Look over there, that’s Jesus Christ’s church.