The Joy of Blackness
This post has to do with the beauty of a sanctified appreciation of race and ethnicity. Recently I lost a friend, one Rev. Elward D. Ellis, with whom I had gone to high school and watched with interest and admiration for as long as we knew each other. More recently I have been at a meeting put on by some African American pastors and leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America. The meeting was held in Baltimore at a cross cultural church, Faith Christian Fellowship. There were wonderful speakers and enlightening seminars, mostly about race, urban culture, and cross cultural church issues. Some of the folks there had known my friend Elward when they were younger, and when he was younger. One of the observations made about Elward was that he loved being a black man, he was thrilled in his blackness and for it, and he celebrated black culture and history. One of the joyful things about that fact was that he did not find that appreciation for his own ethnicity by way of reacting against white people, or by seeing himself in opposition to racism. Elward was of course very conscious of racism, outspoken and articulate about injustice. His positive joy in being black was one of self conscious awareness of the beauty of his people and his own dramatic and artistic soul gave expression to the beauty of his people and their statement of legtimacy as a culture. I suppose his love and celebration of people as individuals helped him at times over the hurdle of simply seeing people as a race or as enemies. I know he mourned over what he once referred to as “Christian piss” being thrown in his face. By this he meant the real history of horrible things done in the name of Christianity. As Elward I love the Lord Jesus Christ and often see him in opposition to things done in his name. Obviously Christian apologists are stuck with unpleasant facts about the hypocrisy of Christendom. Thankfully there is none of that in Christ himself, or else he wouldn’t and couldn’t be the Christ. Elward was a Christian and a black man and found no contradiction in those two things, and rather in fact found the one to be redeeming of the other. Why should being black need redemption? Is it not a denial of the glory of race pride to admit it needs redemption? Yes, it is a denial of the glory of race pride because that left to itself does not elevate a people but brings it into such narcissistic self absorption that it not only becomes obnoxious to other people groups but deprives itself of the oxygen of a legitimate and objective standard of glory. That glory must come from the God of glory who made us in his own image, and refects that glory in various hues and colors, various languages and cultures, and exposes the corruption of sinfulness and how that corruption robs every people group of the power to be what God meant them to be. Redemption is a life set free, a deliverance from the bondage of guilt and the power of sin, and a restoration of what has been broken, either from the oppression from others or the oppression of our own weakness and proneness to evil. This is true for all people groups. Elward’s joy in who he was and in his people was not a starry eyed denial of the destructive power of racism or poverty or drugs or any other manifestation of generalized sin. For Elward those things were the great challenge and thus the great triumph once those things were overcome in a person’s life, by grace and by faith. Elward believed black folks were beautiful but more fully beautiful once they were in Christ and able to think beyond race without denying it. I enjoy Scottish people who revel in being Scottish, and the Dutch, the Irish too, and even the English. I am thrilled to be an American. What a mess we all are without Christ, and without living honestly and humbly in the love of Christ, and without needing to see ourselves standing on the necks or riding on the backs of any other people. I was glad to be among black folks at the recent revival who loved being black and being with other black folks, and who didn’t think that meant making any of us white folk feel like we had lost the right to be forgiven, or to be loved. Well, maybe we did lose that right, but that is what grace does, it gives you what you no longer have a right to have; mercy and reconciliation.