“Not to put pressure on you but I really wish you had been in class the other day. We were talking about the article relating to the black feminist movement and no one was talking and it was awkward. We needed you there. You should have been there.”
Well. Hello to you too, Stranger.
Ok, the person who said that wasn’t really a stranger. They were from my class and they weren’t totally wrong. I probably would have said something if I had been in class…and if I had done the reading…but that’s besides the point. Though I replied back with a chuckle and a somewhat agreeing comment like, “Yeah, I guess I only do talk when the topic of black feminism comes up,” I really was surprised because of their comment. Not due to the implication of what they seemingly meant – that because I was black that I obviously had an opinion about anything black related – but by how much that sort of comment didn’t tick me off when it definitely would have a few months, even a few weeks ago.
“Why are you on the campus that you are on?”
Well in terms of percentage and I guess actual money compared to the other schools I applied to, the university I picked actually cost me the least amount of money after financial aid was awarded… Um, it’s also a pretty good school…And the fact that it looks like Hogwarts has to be a plus too, right?
“Are you there because you feel called?”
Yes? No? I plead the fifth! I mean, what does being “called” even mean?
The last two set of questions and responses were ones that I had this weekend at a black Christian student conference that I attended. I’ll be honest, I really did not want to go to this conference for several different reasons but after many “strong” suggestions from some of the Christian staff members I knew (black and non-black), I begrudgingly agreed to go. The conference itself wasn’t bad and I met a lot of new faces and saw a few old faces I hadn’t seen in awhile but if I’m being perfectly honest, I felt disconnected…
I just explained it to a friend that my experience this weekend, and even long before this conference, felt like a person very fluent in a second language who goes to live in the country of that language. Yes, that person understands the language being spoken by the natives and the natives understand their own language coming from the mouth of this foreigner as well. However, there’s still a disconnect because the foreigner is not a person of this country. Yes, they speak the language flawlessly and they respect the people and their heritage but there’s this thin but seemingly indestructible barrier that even being fluent in the language doesn’t get rid of and stops them from truly feeling like they belong.
I felt like a foreigner in a land that I thought should have been my homeland.
Now let me clarify. I had a really great time and at no point did anyone make me feel not welcomed. I mean I’m black and I was provided a very rare space where I was part of the majority, not the minority. And yet, though I was with “my people”, welcomed by “my people”, loved upon with the grace of God by “my people”, there was just a disconnect. And yet, I go back to my campus and the feeling of being a foreigner in a foreign land doesn’t go away either.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
~ 2 Corinthians 5:20
Francis Schaeffer, a Christian evangelical theologian, philosopher, and pastor said, “[A foreign missionary] must learn the language of the thought-forms of the people to whom one speaks.” Though this may be taken slightly out of context, it still very much relates to what I realize God is calling me to.
I am a drifter.
I have no homeland to call my own.
I am fluent in two different “languages” that neither feel like my mother tongue.
I am a drifter.
I am a translator fluent in two different “languages”.
I am a bridge builder.
I told a few staff members that I was close with that going to this conference felt like “home” which to a certain extent was true. Gospel music was actually Gospel music and not just songs that happened to be written by someone black but played like a Hillsong song gone wrong. My roommates didn’t ask me why I wrapped my hair before going to bed (though in reality I forgot my headscarf) because they were already wrapping their hair up for bed as well. I didn’t have to explain my desire for a praise break because it was already happening before I could think about it. Despite these things and many more, I really had to ask myself, that if this conference was supposed to represent “home” for me, why did I suddenly have this “homesickness” for my campus that never really felt completely like home? Why did I feel like I was chasing something that always felt within my grasp but not quite?
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” ~ 1 John 4:13
I am a bridge builder. I help two (maybe more) different “languages” learn to communicate with each other. Sometimes they mispronounce things and meaning is lost. Sometimes they say the wrong thing and feelings are unknowingly hurt. Sometimes I flub and incorrectly translate something or resonate with the lulling and comforting tonal sounds of one “language” more than the other.
I am not perfect.
I am fluent but miss the cultural nuances that make each “language” unique.
I am a drifter picking up new “words” and “phrases” every day.
I am called to be a bridge-builder, wanting to see two groups united by the universal language that is God’s grace.