I am, by nature, an eccentric person. I like to form sentences in my brain to reduce theological mole hills that have been made into mountains, I dislike schedules and structured meetings, and I like living alone out in the country. Those that know me know I dress quite differently as well.
And I have these thoughts of what others perceive and how free I really am. To be me.
Being me can be dangerous. Because I am often viewed through the eyes of discrimination.
It has always been this way. From the first day I walked out of my house unto a bus with Anglo children, insults and epithets have been thrown in my face. It colored my view of white people, and if the truth were told, I often am distrustful of those with fair complexions.
They haven't been kind to me. And when they haven't been hostile outright, oftentimes, they've sent subtle hints that I'm not one of their own. Even in church. Actually, there are many who won't even talk to me, and it's most often the case that I sit alone.
I have a distorted view of myself, white people, and they have a distorted view of me. Discrimination distorts people on the inside in the way a dry rot corrodes the walls of a home.
And so when they say to be yourself, I think it a luxury only for those who don't have to be on their best behavior. After all, our inspirational stories usually contain an exceptionally talented person of a discriminated class to show us why we shouldn't be so mean.
I am not allowed to fail, be different, difficult to categorize at first glance, or spend time 'experimenting'. I am tightly wound, high strung, and the question, 'what do you do for fun?' is hilarious. I don't even know what fun is.
I have been followed while shopping even though I was employed by my town's 9-1-1 center as the Addressing Project Manager. I have had clerks refuse to cash my checks even though I provided all the identification they had asked me for. In fact, the female teller said, 'signatures don't match, girl' to my face, as I was wearing my business suit on my way to work in Citibank's fraud department.
My signatures on my driver's license and the check matched perfectly.
I have been called dark skinned even though I am not. I have been told that my Spanish accent is thick even though I don't have a Spanish accent. I've been asked to speak 'Mexico Talk' for people.
Someone told me that many 'Hispanic' people were allowed to live in Baltimore, because the upwardly mobile needed a servant class. I was 9 months pregnant and thought I would blow a gasket.
I am afraid to drive into certain states alone, and I don't feel as if my voice is as welcome in Christianity as are the voices of others. I know full well that others of a variety of races and backgrounds feel the same way, as discrimination can happen to women, older people, younger people, poor people, those of different races, and too many others to mention.
It's funny, because a study done on eccentrics that found they see their doctors 20 times less than the average person and that they tend to be delightedly content, suffering less viruses and living slightly longer than the general population. Psychologists believe it is because they are comfortable with who they are and don't feel the need to hide it.
How amazing that must be.
In a letter written from a Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote of 'forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness' and how when a commercial for Funtown came on the screen, he had to tell his daughter, then a small child, that it wasn't for colored folks.
He observed the 'ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky', as it 'began to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people'. Tears welled up in her eyes, as he struggled to formulate a response as to why she couldn't go and enjoy the theme park.
I can only wonder how many opportunities have passed me by for not gaining entrance into the club. I can only wonder how my personality can possibly untwist itself from the restraints and conditions I put upon myself, knowing full well that 'being yourself' is a luxury for the privileged few.
Dr. King wrote these words that could have very well been written today.
'But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not capture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust'.
I went downtown to the African Methodist Episcopal Church one day. I went there, because on the telephone I could the hear the singing of a soul in prison when my husband called me from work, and I had to know the source of such worship for the Lord.
The keyboard player did not play songs, he played melodies of notes strung together, bled from hard tests of his faith in an environment harsher than most of us will ever face.
And the singing. Such singing.
As a gospel singer and musician, I know about much in the music world, and no recording that I have ever heard is as sincere as the joyful noise on the other end of that line.
I shushed my husband, so I could listen, mouth agape. Soul, testimony, truth, and depth dripped off the tongue of that incarcerated man, and the shouts of amen could be heard in the background.
I asked who these musicians were. They were AMEs. I had never heard of them before. Why hadn't I heard of them before?
And so, I went.
I took my toddler, my skinny white husband, and my ethnically-mixed self into a large building that clearly predated any building any other edifice in the area. We were unintentionally interrupting their order of things, being newcomers, as we couldn't even figure out what door to come in.
And I saw that in the midst of generations of black people, there were white people worshiping Jesus, too. But all of them had something obviously wrong with them. A serious limp, a walker, problems seeing. Something.
And why were they there? I can only assume it was because they were looking for acceptance. Because they were different.
Their church was built in 1837 by free black men, and it continued to this day, generation after generation. And honestly, it hurt my heart that there had to be an African Methodist church and not just a Methodist church. Also, why was our town still divided by color, meeting separately, unknown to one another?
And as we approached the main sanctuary, and that gorgeous music filled the room, I saw a choir of singers, black and a few white, and a room full of black and mixed people. And during the message, the pastor said something I will never forget. He addressed his congregation and told them that if when looking around the room, they saw somebody different than them to please be kind.
He said that if when you see somebody who doesn't have the same ebony skin as you, that you treat them as you would your own people. My skin color, being white, I felt my family, for the first time, was on the other side of the spectrum, and yet, he was telling them to not reject us.
I wondered if the discrimination in their lives had distorted them, too. Might they see me as a potential discriminator toward them as I do other people?
But also, as acceptance was being preached, perhaps there was an awareness than when white or mixed people come through their doors, we're reeling from the pain and need desperately to be accepted. My husband was the only white man there. All the other whites were women, and all of them were older.
After all, the limping white parishoners were in such need of help that they were helped, physically, by the able-bodied black men in their midst to get to and from their seats. I saw them step up to the needs of others, knowing full well we look like those who have kept them out.
And in the morning, they cook breakfast for anyone who wants it, because they know people go hungry who don't have enough food to eat. And there is a bus outside that brought a good number of people in, and a barrel of donated food was in the hallway.
They know something about those who darken their door.
They invited us to their 180th celebration as a church, and we went later that week and again the following Sunday.
Discrimination distorts the souls of those discriminated against and those doing the discriminating.
Discrimination twists us, it creates caricatures of real life and asks us to fit into tiny little boxes that have nothing to do with reality.
It creates vacuums in our heart that say I can never excel, because I am a woman, person of color, Hispanic, Jewish, Middle-Easterner, Asian, or any other qualifier.
It says I am somehow deficient or inferior in the way that God made me, and beneath any bitterness or anger, at its base, is an ocean of hurt.
A lifetime of slights creates a void, and anger protects us from being victimized again, but it begins to rob from us in a different way, making it hard to feel or let people get close to us.
Especially hurtful is when we are judged for our anger as if it was the cause and not the effect of our troubles.
Sometimes we judge others before they've had the chance to show us who they really are, and the cycle continues.
It isn't God's will to be distorted by the labels we've attached to others and that others have attached to ourselves. It is hard to trust others, but we need to try. We need to forgive lest our hearts stay disfigured.
The Bible says in Galatians 3:28:
'There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.'
And in John 13:34, Jesus said:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
And there you have it. We are all one in Jesus, and we are to love one another. The question now remains: are we willing?
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