“Are you brown all over?”
The innocence of the question did nothing to prevent me from being flabbergasted. As I stared into the almost cartoon-sized blue eyes of this 4-year-old boy, compassion filled my heart. I simply smiled and replied, “Why yes, of course!”
He nodded in understanding and continued playing with the toys that had previously occupied his attention. As I sat there watching his imagination create a world only he would understand, I wondered if this moment would be as memorable for him as I was sure it would be for me.
There’s a temptation to somehow prove my humanity, to validate my existence; especially because I live in a society that labels me a minority. The definition of “minority” is “a racial, ethnic, religious, or social subdivision of a society that is subordinate to the dominant group in political, financial, or social power without regard to the size of these groups.”
My nation, my homeland, defines me as a racial subordinate to the dominant group. It’s a label that follows me every time I check “Black/African-American” on any document. It’s a label that follows me any time I walk into a room and I’m the only one there who looks like me. I have a pre-disposition to believe that I am less than because it is what I’ve been told since I was born. It’s even printed on my birth certificate.
In indignation, I wear my hair natural. I comb through hundreds of photos on Instagram that have the “#BlackGirlMagic” marker. I recite Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” at any given opportunity. I go out of my way to compliment any black woman I meet.
I vote knowing what it cost my ancestors to grant me this right. I fight to prove that no quantifiable data could box me in and keep me from living the life I want to live.
It’s funny, all of that effort did nothing to quiet the comparison or stop the Caucasian woman from accosting me and my little cousins. It did nothing to abate the voice in my head that hurls insults every time I’m in front of a mirror. The only thing that has proven strong enough to rectify my identity is the Word of God.
I am black. I am a woman. I am southern. I am a millennial. I can come up with lots of ways to identify myself. I can make a list of a thousand superlatives. However, anything I fathom about who I am does not compare to who I am in Christ.
Society has a lot to say about who we are. In fact, we have a lot to say, ourselves, about who we are, and a lot of times we are better than anyone at putting ourselves down. Is it possible that when we say “yes” to Jesus, when we surrender our lives to Him, in doing so, we subject our idea of identity to Him as well? Identity then becomes more than a list of quantifiers.
If the Word of God created the world and all we see, how much more powerful then would it be to believe His words about us? We are children of the Most High God. We are His handiwork. In the same way He created the earth, He fashioned us together in our mothers’ womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We, the children of God, are His royal priesthood. We are the head and not the tail. We have every spiritual blessing made available to us through Christ. We are chosen.
We aren’t beautiful because of, or in spite of, being black. We are beautiful because we were created by Beauty Himself. My skin color becomes more than a sign of my socio-economic status; it is part of the hand-picked design as imagined by my Creator. We aren’t worthy because our society calls us worthy, but because Jesus thought us worthy enough to die for.
Our choice is this: To live subjected to societal labels or to allow this new identity to supersede what we once believed. My faith then doesn’t just inform my identity. It becomes the lens through which I’m even able to see who I really am. It doesn’t stop there.
When we are able to see ourselves through this lens, we are empowered, nay obligated, to see others the same way. It transforms a “me against the world” ideology into an understanding that it is “us under God.” The need for validation becomes obsolete and pure confidence flourishes as the love of Christ permeates the entirety of our beings.
Video Courtesy of Dr. Minnie Claiborne, Ph.D. LHD
A column by Dr. Minnie Claiborn, Ph.D., a licensed counselor, life coach and author.
There are seven basic areas wherein all human challenges lie. One of these is our relationship with self. We form many of our opinions of ourselves based on what others around us say to us and about us, or how we interpret what they say and do.
In some respects, we do come into the world with a “blank slate” and we write on it based on how we are treated. Some of us encounter rejection, abuse, abandonment, and many other hurtful experiences from our primary families or caregivers when we are young. From these experiences, which may be accompanied by ugly words, we often form unhealthy opinions of ourselves.
I had a young woman client once who in her mind and experience did not fit the societal standard of beauty. When she told me that she had been raped, she asked with incredulity, “Why would anyone rape me?” Her opinion of herself was so low, she felt so unattractive, that she was amazed that even a rapist would want her.
On the other hand, I observed a young lady whose body shape and physical features also did not meet the society standard of beauty, yet she exuded self-confidence. I discovered that she was a daddy’s girl, had a loving, doting mother and had married a man who also adored her.
Many young men who were not affirmed by their fathers suffer from a sense of insecurity, fear, rejection, lack of self-identity and a lack of belonging. Other people contributed to our being broken, but God can heal us (Luke 4:18). We can’t go back and change what was said or done to us or about us, but with new information and truth, we can change how if affects us.
Truth trumps facts. Divine truth (truth from God’s perspective) is greater than the facts of our experiences and thoughts. If you were not told that you are beautiful, or handsome or valuable by anyone else, know that God made you and He thinks you’re all of that (Psalm 139).
How do you change a wrong or bad opinion of yourself? Put God’s Word in your mouth and speak it to yourself out loud. A good place to start is by saying, “God loves me.” The entire Bible bears witness to that truth. I have witnessed the power of Scripture-based affirmations. An affirmation simply means that you affirm and agree with what is being said. Here is an affirmation that you can use every day that will help you to begin to have a winning relationship with yourself. You might know it in your head, but you need to SAY it over and over so that your subconscious will receive truth and your conscious thoughts and behaviors will begin to change. God told young Joshua to meditate on His word day and night and he (Joshua) would have prosperity and good success (Joshua 1:8). I suggest that you say this out loud at least five times per day until you know in your soul that it is true.
AFFIRMATION: God loves me. God accepts me. I love and accept myself. I invite God to change the things that do not please Him and things that are detrimental to me.
READ: Psalm 139, Joshua 1:8, John 3:16
Nurse Annet Kojo feeds a 4-day-old baby girl in the maternity ward of the St. Daniel Comboni Catholic Hospital in Wau, South Sudan, April 16, 2018. We are all born innocent, loving and loveable, so when and where do children learn to decide who is the enemy? (CNS / Paul Jeffrey)
This article was originally posted on the Global Sisters Report
I was born and raised in a Catholic family, and am still proud to be a Catholic. Among all the things I have learned, two words really stand out for me: “unconditional love.” Words easy to say, but very difficult to put into practice — especially during “stormy weather”! As a religious person, I must not only teach the words verbally but must teach them by my actions.
As I get older, I am just realizing that I experienced unconditional love from my birth: from God, from my parents and even from strangers.
In 2004, I was invited to visit the U.S. by an American lady who paid my roundtrip airfare from Canada. Arriving in Wisconsin, I learned that she had already made some appointments for health care tests. The doctor discovered that I was about to go blind, and arranged for me to have surgery. The doctors did everything free, but the hospital charged about $7,000. Later, an unknown person paid the hospital. Unconditional love!
Today, there is no peace in the world: Pope Francis said there is “war in bits and pieces.” As a religious person and Christian, my core mission is to work for peace, but where should this peace start?
If we could only remember that we are made in the likeness of God and saved by Jesus Christ — who saw God’s image even in the very human beings who had failed his Father. Then we would be able to see God’s image in our brothers and sisters regardless of color or state, and understand our obligation to love them without condition — like what happened to me in Wisconsin.
Years later, I was able to attend the 49th Eucharistic Congress in Canada — my airfare paid by youths I did not even know. How can I cease to proclaim God’s loving kindness toward me?
While reflecting on the words “unconditional love,” I remembered a sister in my community with whom I was finding it difficult to talk. She had hurt me and I found it hard to forgive her, unless she would come and ask for forgiveness.
But as I reflected on the many good things that have happened to me for no reason, I realized that it is wrong for me to say the Our Father and approach the holy Eucharist unless I am willing to forgive. Deciding then to forgive and talk to her, I have since felt internal joy and freedom.
There is “war in bits and pieces” because we do not look upon one another as brother or sister but look on them as “somebody or someone.” We see the other person as our brother or sister only if we are born of the same mother and father.
But if we could only remember who we are — made in the likeness of God! And we are called to represent God wherever we may be: in our family, in class and even in the streets.
When I was in Haiti, our gardener reported that a mentally challenged woman had given birth three days before, and the baby had not been washed or fed. I decided to take the child.
Being a sister and a missionary, I was worried about the child’s future. Luckily, a man from Dawson Creek, Canada, who had come to check their project in Haiti, saw the baby sleeping on the table. Hearing what happened, he decided to adopt the child. There was nothing more that could better prove God’s love to me.
If we could understand that we are made in the image of God, we would not have to make money by building weapons. We would not plot against other people’s lives. The good that we would like to be done to us, we would freely do for our brothers and sisters.
Yes, there is “war in bits and pieces”: no freedom to walk in some places, no freedom of speech in some areas. Why? We are not able to see the image of God in the person in front of us; our eyes do not have loving hearts, so we can’t see the goodness in the fellow in front. Greed for money, greed for power makes one blind.
We are all born innocent, loving and loveable, so when and where do children learn to decide who is the enemy? When they start being ill-treated or seeing adults fight. A terrible civil war: Who started it, and why? It grew in bits and pieces: Did anybody win?
When did I forget that I am an image of God, called to love and serve as God has loved me? It was the day that my world echoed with “me, myself and I.” And what does one benefit from that? Nothing — for without God, we are nothing.
Bad things happen when we do not remember that we are God’s image, and our wars in bits and pieces against God’s image are actually against ourselves.
When we lose track of the road we were born to walk, where does our way lead then? As long as we are alive, it is never late to ask forgiveness for having lost the road, and ask for help finding the way.
There are times we cannot avoid fighting. Once when something very unjust was done to the poor, I tried to stop it, and paid the price. Life was very difficult for me in the community for some years, and I kept praying to bear the pain and not hate. I will not hurt others if I love them as I love myself. With God’s grace that time is now over. Unconditional love!
If there are still people sleeping in the street, seeking food in the dust bins, it means the world does not know that Jesus came 2,000 years ago to save it. If there are people who can raise weapons against each other, it means the world does not understand that he came to bring peace to the world. It does not understand what we mean when we say that he came to bring life to mankind.
In 1994, when soldiers were fighting among themselves in our country, some were threatening each other on our property. We couldn’t move freely, we couldn’t sleep, we were hungry, and some of our buildings were damaged. The memory is fresh in my mind. My nephew, who was 3 years old at time, was affected mentally.
Later, in 1998, at a time of political unrest, South African soldiers attacked our army. I can’t control my tears when I think about the people who lost family members and property. I hate this.
There is nothing more Jesus could have done to prove his love toward us. And there is nothing to proclaim if we are not proclaiming his love for us, and thanking him at all times. Hurray! We don’t have time for fighting with each other!
[Monica Moeketsi is a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec. She belongs to the Mosotho ethnic group, and lives in her home country of Lesotho, where she is currently working as secretary for the Lesotho Major Superiors.]
Loving bravely is risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may ridicule you for doing so. That’s the kind of love I want to give this Valentine’s Day.
This Valentine’s Day, I’m gonna try something different. Something brave.
Brave, as in, “this-year-I-will-forgo-typical-expressions-of-love-and-instead-donate-to-her-favorite-cause” bravery.
No, that’s not what I’m planning. I’m just offering that as an example. Eschewing a gift for a donation is the kind of thing that you only do when you really know somebody well, because if you’re wrong, you will pay for it. (All the married men should be nodding their heads right now.)
That’s what I mean by brave. Something unexpected that shows how much you care, something that might seem reckless, but is, in fact, very meaningful.
I have some work to do in the bravery department. Holly and I have been married for five years now, and unfortunately, I set the bar pretty high when we got engaged.
A friend of mine was the worship director at a megachurch in the area, and his band was planning on covering Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love,” for their worship service, since they were doing a series on relationships. So he asked me in advance to write another rap for it and bust it out during the service. So I upped the ante, and with their permission ahead of time, I wrote the rap verse as my will-you-marry-me speech, and during the middle of the song, I jumped off the stage and came down to where Holly was sitting, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me.
It was so romantic.
Afterwards, I got mad cool points for going to such a length to surprise her. Afterwards, everyone kept echoing the same sentiment: Man, that was so brave.
Far be it from me to revise, as my grandmother used to say, even a jot or a tittle from the Bible. However, if I were to bring any editorial changes to an iconic biblical passage, I would choose 1 Corinthians 13, and right after “love is patient, love is kind,” I would add a third clause: “Love is brave.”
‘Cause seriously … ladies dig bravery. And for good reason.
Think of great leading men in popular films:
• Cary Elwes throwing himself down the hill in The Princess Bride.
• Bruce Willis fighting the terrorists in Die Hard.
• Will Smith trying to express his feelings in Hitch.
These are characters who found themselves in unfamiliar territory, and against all odds, they chose to do something good to help someone else, and found themselves being stretched (or in Smith’s case, swollen and contorted) beyond capacity in the process.
These are universal themes, for sure, but the common element here is bravery: the massive chutzpah required to stare down adversity and do the right thing anyway. It’s the stuff heroes are made from.
It’s important, though, that we not get confused about what bravery is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. Being brave, for example, is not the same thing as simply going against the flow.
Awhile back, I avoided seeing the last huge James Cameron blockbuster, mostly because I figured I already had a pretty good handle on how it ended (the boat sank), but also because I got tired of the hype. I just decided at some point that I’m going to be The Guy Who Never Saw Titanic, just to show up everyone else who thought it was so great.
The sad part is, I’m tempted to do the same with Avatar, even though I’ve read countless reviews and articles (including this one by UF’s Todd Burkes) that suggest that it’s a film experience worth having. It’s like I’d rather be the guy who didn’t see it, even if it means I miss out on seeing a great film.
Being contrarian is quite a marketable skill these days, because if you want to be a celebrity in today’s celebrity-saturated media marketplace, you have to do something to stand out from the rest of the pack. The quickest, easiest way to do that is to find a stance that is accepted as conventional wisdom, and then oppose it as vociferously as possible. This is why the Internet is full of people who oppose relatively normal things, like certain type faces, or even lowercase i’s next to capital letters.
(If you didn’t get that last reference, it’s ’cause you didn’t follow the link to the word “tittle” earlier. Go ahead, it’s not naughty or anything.)
This desire to stand out, in my opinion, is why former-NBA-journeyman-turned-culture-critic Paul Shirley recently penned a crude diatribe suggesting that Haitian citizens are culpable for their deplorable living conditions. Even though there are points he made that I agree with, I don’t think it was a particularly brave thing to say. He was looking to get a reaction, and he got one. People will accuse Shirley of many things, but loving too much is not one of them.
Loving bravely is not just taking an unpopular stance; it’s risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may, in fact, ridicule you for doing so. Obviously I’m not privy to all the details, but it seems to me that, by choosing to stand by her husband, Gayle Haggard chose to love bravely. It’s possible that Elin Nordegren Woods may be choosing similarly.
This is the truest essence of love, and as Christians we see it all over the Scriptures.
Consider this passage from 1 John 4:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This idea of sacrificial love, of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, is one of the foundational principles that underscore all the worldwide efforts at Christian evangelism. And evangelism, as we all know, takes on many form — some subtle, and some not so subtle. The best strategies are ones that require truth and vulnerability, but still are basic and doable.
I’m reminded of “The Best Stuff In the World Today Café,” a cool little ditty by Take 6 with a nifty analogy of evangelism imagined as a downtown restaurant:
Time for lunch, my stomach said
I left the office to get fed
I had dined at every place on Main
My appetite was ripe for change.
And there stood this old restaurant
I had never seen before
And a stranger in an apron
Came bursting through the door and said
‘Welcome to The Best Stuff In the World Today Cafe
We are all believers in a better way
We were served as customers not so long ago
Now we are all waiters, we thought you oughta know’
It’s a clever song, and given the abundance of vocal talent in Take 6, I could probably listen to them sing pages of HTML source code and still love it.
Still, I wonder … what would happen if we really tried this? What would happen if I really grabbed someone off the street on an average Sunday morning and told them, “I don’t care what you planned to do, you gotta try this Jesus thing?”
I don’t know what would happen.
And that’s why it’s such a scary proposition in real life. Maybe that person would undergo a dramatic, Paul-on-his-way-to-Damascus conversion to Christianity. Or, maybe that person would give me the stink eye and say, “Dude, get your hands off me.” That’s why it’s such an act of bravery to put yourself out there like that.
And whether we recognize it or not, this holiday that we celebrate every February 14th, the one that was seemingly invented by purveyors of greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and expensive chocolates … you know, Valentine’s Day?
Its origin is rooted not in empty sentiment, but in bravery.
Consider the following, courtesy of Wikipedia:
• The name “Valentine” is derived from the Latin valens which means “worthy,” and which bears etymological resemblance to our English words “valor” and “valiant.”
• The holiday itself has roots in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, where it was known for centuries as the feast day of Saint Valentine
• All the romantic sentiment related to love and courtship that has been traditionally associated with this feast originated with works of art like Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth century Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) and Chaucer’s fourteenth century poem “Parliament of Foules”
• The name St. Valentine is actually an umbrella name for a number of martyred figures throughout church history, many of whom were known for various acts of kindness and bravery
• These acts include marrying and otherwise providing aid to Christians persecuted under the reign of emporer Claudius, and restoring the sight and hearing to the daughter of the jailer who subsequently imprisoned him
You put all that together, and it becomes evident that all of the sentimentality on display every year is just our society’s misguided yearning for a purer, less self-centered version of love than what we see in the movies, on television, and in gossip magazines.
It’s misguided because, sadly, we as a society keep returning to those same movies, TV shows, and gossip mags to inform our ideas of what true love looks like.
That’s why it’s incumbent on us as Christians to show, as Paul said, a more excellent way.
So this Valentine’s Day, I say be brave.
I can’t tell you what that act of bravery should be, because it’ll be different for all of us. Maybe it’ll mean being honest and really sharing feelings and issues that you would rather keep buried. Maybe it’s going out of your way to show your spouse that you love them, and doing so in the way that they really appreciate, rather than the way you happen to be good at.
Maybe it’s just stopping, out of the blue, just to say, “I love you.”
But whatever you decide, step on out there and do it.
And if it involves rapping a marriage proposal in the middle of a Sunday-morning worship service, don’t tell them I sent you.