This summer has been one of the most trying in my life. Some of it is my own fault—who starts a business in the middle of summer?—and some of it seems to have fallen out of the sky—my spouse starting a new job, one of his dearest friends dying, and an incident at my church that could easily have been perceived as racial profiling.
The third thing—the event of my church—has been most difficult because church is where I go to escape negativity. I know people have lots of criticisms, fair and unfair, about the church as a whole, but over the course of my life, it has been better to me than bad (and I say that having had the father I had, a man my great-aunt called a “jackleg” preacher). But this time, it was a slip-up that was quite painful.
Two Sundays ago, while we sat listening to the senior pastor’s sermon, an older Black man came into the auditorium. He was clearly homeless, which isn’t an issue—lots of homeless people come to my church, and that’s part of why I love it. He walked with a cane in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He made his way down a side aisle, presumably to find a close seat. It was distracting, but I wasn’t bothered by it otherwise. But suddenly, three rather large dudes came into the auditorium and two of them spoke with the gentleman before walking out with him. There wasn’t any drama, no yelling or physicality, but it didn’t look good at all, especially since, maybe three minutes before, the [white] senior pastor had just spoken about how moved he was when he watched When They See Us.
Of course, I wanted to know what exactly had happened, but I couldn’t help but to be upset. It is 2019 and I live in Washington, DC—white supremacists have rallies to encourage each other (and their comrade in the White House) to continue perpetuating hate. I can’t help be a little on guard, you know?
My spouse and I were both shaken by it, so we sent emails to the pastor and a few other people in leadership. But the responses were hurtful. They didn’t insult us, but they’d basically said that we’d misunderstood the situation, which is the same as insulting me, if I’m honest. The explanation drove the point home—our church isn’t comfortable talking about uncomfortable things, but leadership went out of its way to avoid a warm, safe place to have this conversation. My church touts its position in the marketplace—we own a coffeeshop and a movie theater, both of which we use for community events, etc—but when it came to the people in that marketplace, the conversation was pushed into the woods.
Since the event in Charleston in 2015, when nine Black people lost their lives after opening their doors to a white psychopath, I’ve thought a lot about the place of fear in my religion. Countless scriptures—many out of Jesus’ mouth itself—tell us not to be afraid, fear not, have no fear. But we seem to be incapable of following these commands. Fear drove us to assume an old Black man with a cane and a cup of coffee would cause the pastor harm. Fear drives us to walk around uncomfortable conversations instead of being healed by them. Fear could have saved the lives of nine Black people, but look who actually obeyed the commandment. How ironic that we sing the song, “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”
What I’m saying is, this, one of the most difficult summers of my life, is showing me that I no longer have room in my life for fear. If I’m to build a successful business, continue writing to my heart’s content, expand my family at some point, I don’t have time to be afraid. I think the point of the commandment isn’t to make us feel inadequate, but to give our fears to God, who, once we do that, plows us through the crazy. I don’t know why terrible things happen, and I wish they did not at all, but until we’re in a place where they don’t, we have to go all in and listen, knowing that He’s got our backs as we do what He’s asked of us. Well, that’s the case for me, anyway.