It is an American writer by the name of Paul Auster who once said that “the truth of the story lies in the details”. Auster supposes that despite the best of intentions, when a story is told without all of its components, the narrative itself is ruined. The story is never a complete one, if the details are left out of it. Conversely, the story is at its best when all of the specifics are left intact and made visible.
As we find ourselves under the backdrop of another Black History month, I’m reminded of Auster’s words while thinking about a concerning trend in the culture of the contemporary church. In our present day, it is acceptable for many Christians to engage the Bible without acknowledging and affirming the role that Africa (and people of African descent) play in the story. Our descendants, our ancestors, even the principles fundamental to our culture are just as much a part of the Bible story as anyone, or anything, else. Churches, those who lead them, and those who occupy them have adopted a habit that has traveled across lines of time and tradition; a penchant for relaying the Biblical narrative while leaving out parts and perspectives in the text that affirm persons of color.
I don’t believe that this is completely accidental. While one certainly cannot be faulted for repeating a story the way that they heard it, there are those who profess belief in God, claim salvation in Jesus, that benefit from the telling (and retelling) of this story falsely. When the word of a God who loves everybody appears leave out a specific set of people, those left out of the story are passively made unimportant & useless. This oppressive omission compromises the ecclesiastical equality of our God and promotes a doctrine of division visible in congregations all over this nation and, indeed, the world.
When we talk of the Biblical narrative, and the importance of the Bible as it relates to our faith, we must be passionate enough , be committed enough….dare I say be Christian enough, to convey the Biblical narrative correctly; complete with all of the details, nuances, parts and players in their respective places. Regarding the Bible, our responsibility is to allow history & geography to accompany our sharing of these sacred scriptures. For in doing so, we embolden and empower those who may have been previously undervalued. The reality of Africa & people of color in the book that we believe to be holy must be held up as we tell the Bible story. Not for the purpose of creating arrogance but rather a sense of esteem through scriptural affirmation. From Eden’s Gihon river running through Ethiopia & Uganda to Hezekiah and Zephaniah being of African descent. From where Jesus’ family hid after He was born to the man who helped Him carry the cross before He died, people of color, our people, play significant roles in the Bible and need to be acknowledged as such.
What does it say of us when we lift up a Holy Bible that we reserve the right to cut contents out of? What does our faith look like when people who do not fit our preference can be quietly dismissed? Perhaps what is said of us is what the world negatively speaks of the Christian today. Perhaps the inaccurate picture that is painted of our faith (and the book that informs it) is a portrait we have instructed the world to illustrate.
The only way that we rectify this is through a re-introduction of the world to our God. We change this through a re-imagination of the Biblical record. One in which people and places of color are both noted and considered valuable. It is not enough for us to just tell the story we have learned. We must allow our passion for God’s will to prompt us to tell the story the right way.
Her name is Rachel Jeantel. At the time, 19 years young, Ms. Jeantel was called upon by state attorneys in Florida to testify on behalf of her childhood friend, Trayvon Martin, who had been viciously killed by a man by the name of George Zimmerman. The case had garnered national attention, and this young woman, armed only with a conviction to tell the truth and a devotion to right the wrong done to her friend, bravely and boldly took to the witness stand to testify. As she began to speak, her phrasing and word choice were made more relevant than the truth she lovingly attempted to express. Her units of language didn’t fit into the scope of what many would deem intelligent. After her testimony, suggestions were made about her acuteness, her family, her value, and whether or not she helped the prosecution or not. Rachel was left to deal with the question of whether or not her testimony was enough to change the situation for the better. Regardless of the decision to be herself, her testimony was devalued and deemed ineffective because it reflected who she was.
I think that one of the major benefits of Christianity is that you and I are not subject to this same type of derision from God as we attempt to testify to the actuality of Jesus. In Christ, we have license and liberty to testify to what we know Jesus to be within the framework of who we are at the time. We do not have to be what our hearers may desire us to be nor are we shackled by the preferences of those who are privy to our professions.
I would contend that part of our call, as Christians, is to make the existence of our Lord and Savior real to all whom we encounter. We do this through our testimonies; the moments where we share the certainty and concreteness of God with those who may not know Him for themselves. The Lord surely has been good to us all; opened doors, performed miracles, & delivered us from the dark places of our lives. And as God shows himself real to us, our testimonies ought make God real to others.
From how we carry ourselves, to the way we converse, to the company we keep, all that we involve ourselves with give testimony to the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. Its these testimonies that actual transform things around us.
Transformational testimony is needed in our present day. Our nation and world are in need those who have come to know Jesus to share Jesus. The reality of our God is in such question not because of how God is portrayed but how God is relayed.
We find an example of just how transformational our testimonies can be in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus, king of the Jews, has had interaction with a Samaritan woman at the well. Much like Rachel, her sex, ethnicity, and background were all considered marks against her by the empire she was living under. Regardless, this Jewish man and Samaritan woman find themselves in conversation. This interaction with the Messiah prompts her to go back to her community and share her personal experience with Christ. The experience has moved her in such a way that she now has to give a testimony.
Carrying the same commitment to truth that Rachel Jeantel would be left to lift centuries later, she goes back to Samaria to share of her experience with Jesus. She does not look for the right words or the perfect parlance to entice her audience. All she does is share what happened to her when she came in contact with Jesus. The Bible shows us that this woman’s testimony led to those in her community inviting Jesus into their lives and ultimately accepting Him for themselves.
We ought learn from the example of these two women. The type of courageous testimonies declared by these women are absent from our attempts at ministry. Perhaps, this is the reason why the renewal that Jesus desires to see in this world is also absent.
The qualifier for sharing your personal encounter with Jesus is a personal encounter with Jesus. As Christ changes us, our testimonies have the ability to change our world and those who live in it. Is your testimony an ineffective one or is your testimony one that transforms?