I received a facebook message recently from a young woman who was in the youth group where I served just a few years ago. She was asking for some kind of hope that her faith wasn’t in vain. She was asking how she may follow God faithfully when she felt like she had so few examples of faithfulness. She saw family members serving in church leadership roles who wouldn’t even acknowledge their own family in the name of “God told him to focus on his faith and ministry.” She became involved in the campus ministry at her college and when she needed to get a job to stay in school, the campus ministry leader pulled her aside and said she had her priorities out of line and that she could no longer be in any leadership position if she couldn’t fully commit and wouldn’t be invited to the ministry conference. She began dating a young man who was also a person of color, just not her same color so there was concern from family and friends as she was no longer in high school and there was the potential for things to turn serious. These comments came from the same people who raised her and nurtured her to have a diverse community and to believe God created all people in His image.
So what’s a girl to do when it’s not the “world” around you raising questions and doubts but the very community that is supposed to nurture one another’s faith? I have asked this question more times than I could count. The irony for me has been that it is often the hopes of the world outside the church that reminds me of all Christ has called us to be and do.
I’ve been thinking, reading and writing on identity a lot lately. My colleague and friend Reggie Blount pointed me toward the writings of W.E. Du Bois and his thoughts on double consciousness. Du Bois’ position was focused around the two “voices” African Americans heard at the turn of the last century but the principle applies in many settings. And while this notion of double consciousness is present in many writings and thinkers, Du Bois offers a particularly clear take on how this impacts identity. It is the notion that as we seek to determine our own identity, we have more than one voice that has spoken into our lives and these voices compete for prominence and influence.
My two colleagues and friends on this blog share my interest in identity. We speak often of how to have an integrated identity, one where race, age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability and disability are all welcome at the table integrated with one another, not functioning in isolation or as compartmentalized elements to be brought out only when appropriate.
I think of the message I received from my young friend asking how she may follow God faithfully and realize what she is really asking is who am I as one trying to follow God? Is it possible for anyone to be who they truly are AND be a follower of Jesus? Is it possible to have this God following part of my life be integrated when so many of the examples I see around me are fractured and function in isolation at best?
Her question was much less about God than about why God’s people seem to act like God doesn’t impact them at all. Her question was about how she can choose a different path and live an integrated life where the double (and at times triple or quadruple) consciousness gives way to an integrated whole where she may become the young woman God created her to be.