Tag Archives: African American

Rising From the Ashes

In Greek mythology there was a bird, the Phoenix, which was always reborn out of its own ashes. This image of rebirth, especially out of difficult circumstances, is not new in religion. Almost every major faith tradition shares this imagery of death and rebirth. However, the story of the Phoenix is particularly appropriate for the story of Ash Wednesday that I would ash-wednesday-usalike to share with you today.

Like the Phoenix, there are times when we need to be reborn out of our own ashes. There are situations and events in our lives that could feel like fire burning, destroying, razing with every part of who we are. Nothing can be done… unless you have the drive to be reborn.

The young man entered the sanctuary a few minutes before our Ash Wednesday service began. He came by himself. I was certain I had seen him before. As he found his way into the circle, something told me that this was a special visit for us.

I love planning the Ash Wednesday service, for it gives me the chance to use liturgies that I enjoy and share that with those who come to visit with us. It is also the one worship experience when we get the most visitors. This is always a challenge, as you want to let people know what the ministry is all about but also be true to my liturgical preferences. It is also an important time to acknowledge the truth that both light AND darkness are holy and good.

The young man’s reaction to my mentioning the goodness of darkness was my first clue. He nodded, smiled, and his whole self said that he was feeling comfortable in this space. As the service ended, many of us moved to the foyer to chat, drink some hot beverages, and share stories.

I noticed that the young man stayed looking at our ministry display intently. So I approached him to introduce myself. He immediately opened up. I mentioned that I recognized him, perhaps from last year. He said he had not been here last year, but had been to “other random event here.” Perhaps that’s where I had seen him before.

As he continued to talk, he mentioned that he knew some of the students featured in our display. We chatted about this and how all these other young people of color were involved in one way or another with our ministry. He smiled. He was feeling more and more at home. Then, we talked about the ministry and our lives. He had grown up in church, he said, but things turned bad. He had served in young people’s ministries, had served on the Board of Deacons, had taught Sunday school to children, and had been preaching since he was fifteen. But his was a conservative Baptist church. It is also an African American church, and there were cultural aspects of his culture that were more conservative than what he would like. At some point, he decided to be himself, not to hide anymore. This did not sit well with his congregation. Now, he was church-less. But he had heard about this place, this ministry and safe space for LGBT students. He gave us a chance.

It felt like a rebirth; to find a faith community that is rooted in his faith tradition, one that welcomes him, that offers others like him opportunities for growth and leadership. Like the Phoenix, the ashes brought him back to life.

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Filed under Black, Black History Month, Church, Culture, ethnicity, Gay, Heritage, justice, Lesbian, LGBTQ, Queer, race, racism, Theology, worship

Yes, I Am Mad as Hell!

A few years ago, while working on a predominantly white environment, I experience much racially and ethnically based discrimination. Some of this discrimination came in the form of what scholars now call “microaggressions”, while other was more overt such as questioning my abilities, my qualifications for the job or the like solely based on my ethnicity and accent. For some time I just shrugged it off as ignorance and lack of education on the part of the people who did it. At the same time, I would do an effort to educate.

fist-md However, the discrimination continued. Not only that, but I started to meet with other people of color who were also involved with this organization and heard their own stories of rejection, discrimination and paternalistic attitudes towards them because of their national origin, their accents, their skin color and the like. The pressure continued to mount inside me. I felt like a pressure cooker… until it exploded. The event that marked my anger explosion was the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Trayvon Martin’s untimely death and its circumstances touched me in a way that I was not expecting. However, many things coalesced at once. On the one hand, another young, unarmed, black human being was being gunned down for no reason. On the other hand, the murderer was a white, Hispanic man who had let his white-privilege rule his life and how he connected with the world around him. Listening and reading the reports of this tragic death, made me even angrier. The media outlets could not grasp the idea that a Hispanic person could possibly be the perpetrator of a racial crime. They also had troubles understanding the complexities of race within the Hispanic communities. But more than that, they totally misunderstood the intricate layers of relationships among the different minority groups in the United States. All of this was too much for me at the time; and I exploded in rage.

I was mad – still am. For years I had tried to understand the historical realities that have made the United States the dangerous place for people of color that this country is today. I had tried to understand that not all white people were responsible for racism. I had tried to justify many actions of racism as ignorance and lack of education on the perpetrators. I had tried to understand that my own Hispanic community was dealing with our own prejudices on top of being the target of discrimination. I had tried and tried and tried to understand and keep my composure. But I could not do it any longer.

At some point I shared my feelings with the community. I told them how it was tiring to be trying all the time to make people understand that we – people in the minority – were not the enemy. I was getting tired of being an educator at all times. I was getting tired of pretending that the words and the actions of white people didn’t hurt me. I was getting tired of pretending that I was going to understand their historical and sociological circumstance. I was getting tired… and this feeling was making me mad and angry.

As I look around and see that things have not changed a bit since the murder of Trayvon, and that black human beings continue to be murdered and their assassins walk free… As I look around and notice that other members of minority groups stay silent… As I look around and notice that the white “supporters” keep calling for what I call a “Kumbayah moment” without acknowledging the centuries of oppression that have brought us to this place… As I look around and see that even the President keeps silence when everyone is waiting for him to talk, to speak up, to raise his voice and use his power… As I look around and notice that the violence on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri are becoming just another excuse for the white majority to justify their oppression… As I look around and continue to notice all of this oppression… the only thing I can say is that I am fucking mad as hell!

Yes. Yes, I am mad. It is not a rage that started yesterday or the day before or the day I experienced racism at that institution I mentioned earlier. It is a rage that comes from a deeper, way deeper place. It is a rage that comes from fourteen years of living in a country that treats me as less than my white counterparts. It is a rage that comes the time that my country was invaded by a white, US navy that tried to impose on my ancestors their language, their religion, their way of life. It is a rage that comes from knowing that half of this country was built on lies and stealing from the natives peoples and when that was not enough, of the other settlers who lived there and spoke my language and shared my customs. It is a rage that comes from knowing that millions of my sisters and brothers’ ancestors – and I am sure mine too – were forced out of their Motherland to be brought here in chains and by force. It is a rage that comes from all the rage accumulated throughout the centuries… throughout the generations… throughout the ancestors who still live in me and within me… Yes, we are mad, and yes, we are going to continue being angry for as long as it takes for the systems to change. And yes, that anger is going to be at times violent and at times peaceful. But I do not care anymore about what the white majority thinks of my anger. I don’t care about what my Hispanic community thinks of the anger that makes me be in solidarity with my black sisters and brothers. I don’t care that my white friends – even those who are close to me and whom I love – hear me saying that I often doubt their good intentions.

I am mad as hell, and I am not going to apologize for it.

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Filed under Black, Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, Hispanics, History, justice, Latino, Peace, race, racism, Sociology, United States