From Pigeonholes to Broad Places
I have been asking a lot of questions lately. I recently wrote a blog post about it. I think questions are everything because they move us from comfort, safety and the status quo into so much more. But only if we make space for them. I’m increasingly amazed by how many people and places don’t welcome questions. But that’s beside the point.
I have been asking a lot of questions lately, and the one that has been tugging at me the most is, “Does your interest in community development work stem from unresolved, unhealed and unreconciled pain from your racial identity journey?” When I say “your” I mean myself, as in this is a personal question. I have shared portions of my racial identity story a few times this week and in reflecting on the details of that narrative, I realized that asset-based community development was one of the first tangible responses to racial division that I encountered in early college. As such, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve clung to this specific expression of racial justice work because its all I’ve known.
If that is the case – if my interest in development work stems from this broken place – I think that’s okay. I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water and I truly believe that God wastes nothing. But if that is the case, I can’t help but wonder if there’s more for me on this journey of understanding who I am. What does it mean to be “bicultural?” What do I do with the pain of having never really felt at home in Black community outside of my immediate family? How do I intentionally displace myself racially and culturally to grow and experience life and faith from a new vantage point?
The greatest point of tension for me as I process these ideas has to do with church life. I am currently a part of a thriving, charismatic, young and predominately White church. And I love it. I have been a part of this community for nearly five years now and the people that I love from this church are like family to me. Not to mention that I feel so at home theologically in this community. But, there is also this longing in me to be a part of a Black church. I want to create real space in my life to explore this part of who I am. It’s something that I’ve wanted for a long time. However, due to the patriarchal nature of the Black southern theology I have encountered, I am terrified that I will join a black faith community that will not honor or make space for my leadership gifting because I’m a woman. It’s a painful thought.
So which oppression do I choose?
Do I stay in the predominately White church where I feel mostly at home theologically but isolated ethnically and culturally? Or do I leave and attempt to join a predominately Black church where I can explore my ethnic identity in community but run the risk of not being able to flourish in my gifts and theological identity?
I have no idea.
These questions call to mind for me Psalm 18:19 where the author says of God,
Many times over the years I avoided this call to ministry work because I was afraid that it would pigeonhole me. My heart, my passion and zeal felt too big for a career in vocational ministry. But as I turn the corner into my late-20s, I’m realizing that walking in my God-given identity isn’t a pigeonhole. It’s a broad place. It’s so big that I’m going to have to get out of my comfort zone to explore it all.
So even though I feel torn between the marginalization I experience as a Black person and the marginalization I experience as a woman, I look to my Father in heaven, and I recall the words of the Psalmist. I declare that He is bring me into a broad place. He is delivering me because he delights in me.