I am (not) my hair…

In 2006, Soul artist India.Arie released a song called “I Am Not My Hair”. I. LOVE. THIS. SONG. Check out some of the lyrics:

“I am not my hair,
I am not this skin.
I am not your expectations, no…
I am not my hair,
I am not this skin.
I am the soul that lives within.”

There were times when I felt the need to sing this song at the top of my lungs, to remind myself that I am more than what you see when you see me. My hair, my skin…they mean something, many things that I have never asked for them to mean. But beyond and beneath the exterior package is a real person who defies the simple definitions and stereotypes given to me. And so, this refrain is my soul song, proclaiming that “God don’t make no junk”. I am not an accident, and who and what I am is absolutely okay.

Hair – oh yes. The Black woman and her hair. That relationship is special. I had what was termed “good hair” – which basically means my hair was relatively easy to straighten. Or code for, “your hair is almost as good as White hair”. This, combined with my fair complexion was the bane of my existence. “A shy, nerdy Black chick with fair skin and “good hair” must be stuck up, must think she’s better than everyone else. And she ‘talks White’ too? Uh-huh, she think she White…”.

No, I think I’m just who God created me to be. No better, no worse. Just – me. But back then, I didn’t see it that way, couldn’t see it that way. Shame dwelled where contentment should have lived. And so, when this song hit the airwaves, it struck a chord in me (pardon the pun) that still rings in my heart. It gave voice to something I could feel but not articulate. And it made it okay for me to be confident in everything about who I am.

‘Fro Chronicles
Fast forward 10 years to the summer of 2016. That was the point at which I had reached the end of my patience with my hair. For most of my life, I had straightened my hair. Some of my earliest memories are of me sitting in front of a stove on a little wooden stool, while my mom worked through my hair with a pressing comb. As I got older, she transitioned to chemicals to straighten my hair. The natural coils were forced into submission by these chemicals. This was just the thing to do. Most of the Black girls and women I knew were either pressing or “relaxing” their hair.

But years of such abuse left my hair a hot mess. My hair was thinning, breaking off, and looking dry and lifeless. Something had to give. After years of debating back and forth, I decided to take the plunge. I went to my friend Valena’s home and let her do the “big chop”. All the processed hair fell to the floor and I was left with a little baby fro (picture on the left above) to start my journey. A journey into loving my hair just the way it was meant to be.

Loving My ‘Fro
I love my ‘fro! It is fantastic! My hair loves it too – I have not put heat or chemicals on my hair in two years, and my hair is thanking me for it. Breakage and thinning are no longer a problem, and it is growing like crazy! It has taken me most of these two years to really get to know my hair and how to treat it properly. I’ve learned that I have at least two different hair textures, which makes the curl pattern tighter in the back than in the front. I’ve spent crazy amounts of money trying to find the right mix of products that keep my hair and scalp healthy and keep my curls poppin’.

I have also developed a renewed and deepened respect for my mom and the drama and travail she went through taking care of this stuff when I was young. She should be sainted.

I’ve been asked a number of times if my decision to rock the natural is a political statement. It’s kind of sad to me that my hairstyle preferences must carry so much weight and meaning. It’s just hair! But it is a big deal. Back in the day, natural hair was looked down upon. Even with my so-called “good” hair, the idea of keeping my hair natural bothered my grandma so much she went behind my mother’s back and straightened my hair when I was two. Proper young ladies didn’t wear their hair like that, she said. She was the product of her generation, and many generations before her being told that what was intrinsic to our African heritage was ugly or wrong. Practically uncivilized.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the fro was a sign of Black pride. The image burned in my brain of Angela Davis with her beautiful coily crown and raised fist makes me stand a little taller. Yes, I do believe that ‘fro made a statement – I will not bow down to European standards of beauty or femininity. No doubt a political statement. No doubt a statement of identity, in a kind of pride in identity that makes no apologies for it.

My initial desires were not political in the least. They were practical – I didn’t want to be bald-headed! But as I have journeyed through this process, it has morphed into something more for me. Not a political statement so much as a spiritual one. Yes, a spiritual one.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God knit me in my mother’s womb. He gave me my physical features, my skin, my hair. Yes, even my hair. He knows how many hairs are on my head. And He knows how He created my hair. It’s no mistake. It’s not a defect. It is what it is. In all its glory. For His glory.

My hair, my skin, my nose, my eyes, my forehead – my being carries the history of my family. There is beauty, toil, pain, joy, sorrow, violence, love, hate, bondage, and freedom written into the coils on my head and the hue of my skin. All that my ancestors lived and died for lives on in me. I am not ashamed of these things. That history combined with my experiences are knit together just as truly as my physical being and form the foundation of my life as “ministry”, my life as a witness and testimony to God’s infinite patience, grace, and love. I will not live out who I am supposed to be in my generation until I claim all that transpired in the generations before me.

So, I am (not) my hair. I am (not) my skin. The soul that lives in me is shaped by the way God made me. And I will not be ashamed of it anymore.

Don’t block your blessings…

That’s one of those clichés that I’ve heard more times than I care to think about. It is usually meant as a form of encouragement: Don’t resist or seek to avoid those things that may seem unpleasant or unwanted. A hidden blessing may lurk underneath.

Cue the eye roll…

But there seriously is some truth to that statement. At times, our blessings come to us in the most unexpected ways and from the most unexpected places. On the flip side, what we think are blessings can often turn out to be anything but.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am currently journeying through a process to decide what I think about this whole biblical womanhood thing. I’m thinking about this as a single, childless 40-something Christian woman who wants to faithfully live out my days for the glory of my Lord and Creator. During this process, I’ve spent an awful lot of time trying to determine who I should and shouldn’t listen to, what voices I should embrace, and which ones I should shut out. And to a certain degree, that is a good thing. Some folks just don’t know what they are talking about, bless their hearts. Or they are so far afield they are dangerous.

But even in seeking to understand those who may not have it right or with whom I do not agree, I can still have a charitable heart and listen, even if I don’t agree. My foundational beliefs are there – my God is there. Ultimately, He is what grounds me, keeps me steady, helps me discern truth. In fact, it is in those conversations or interactions with teaching that I don’t agree with or understand that my own beliefs and convictions are refined and sometimes redefined. I have to be open to the fact that I am wrong sometimes.

So, as I embark on this new adventure, I’m not going to block any of those blessings! I am ready to be challenged, to grow, to move. I have a starting point – my non-negotiables (which I will share tomorrow). And I have my foundation in Christ. He steadies me and tethers me to Himself. I can depend on Him.

More later; until then, grace and peace…

 

On with it…

At the risk of stating the obvious, I haven’t blogged in a while. I think about it a lot, but just never seem to have the gumption to do anything about it. I seem to have a love/hate relationship with this whole blogging endeavor. I wouldn’t call myself a great writer, but I do love to it. Words are so important to me, and I use writing to sift through the crazy in my head and make sense of it. My journals are filled with the innards of my thought process on all manner of subjects, and very little of it ever makes it to my blog anyway. But over the past five or so years, it has been less so.

As we near the end of one year and consider the new, I have been thinking a bit more about blogging. Notably: Is it worth it for me to maintain my blog going forward? Is it worth the money I spend to maintain my domain name for my blog? Plainly stated: Is it worth it at all? The answers to these questions depend on the day and my mood – and what I’ve read on my Twitter feed.

Blogging was my saving grace when I was in seminary. Back then (2004 – gosh, has it been that long?!), blogging was relatively new. I could blog in relative anonymity, knowing that only the few people I told about the blog would ever happen across it to read it. I used it primarily to help me organize my thoughts around what I was studying. It was an electronic record of my theological reflections as I grew in understanding as a seminary student. I loved it. There was no such thing as “Black Twitter” or “Christian Twitter” – or any kind of Twitter – back then. Facebook was not a “thing” at that point. Pre-social media was a peaceful time…such fond, fond memories.

But now, blogging, vlogging, tweeting, and all manner of social media expression are a way of life. Anyone can start a blog and write about whatever they wish. Facebook and Twitter have become public forums to express whatever you wish, however you wish, to whomever you wish. And if you don’t agree with the prevailing opinion of the day (sometimes the hour), you will be blasted, shamed, and otherwise humiliated for all the world to see.

It’s difficult to know when you’re going to offend someone. And some days it seems that no matter what you say, someone, somewhere is going to take offense. Social media has given us all the ability air our grievances for all to see, put the offender on “blast”, and blow up someone’s online life with 280-character bites and a Twitter thread. Normal people living their normal lives say one wrong thing and they go “viral” in 10 seconds or less, often with alarming results. We feel freer for whatever reason to spew venom on social media on people we don’t even know, and not care at all what the consequences of those words will have. It is our “right”, after all…

Even for Christians.

And I say “we” because I have been an active participant in this sort of thing more times than I would care to admit. It’s so easy to read, react, and then think, especially when your reactive vitriol gets a decent number of likes or retweets. But if it were ever to happen to me, I would be appalled and indignant. And so, I hesitate to show my cards, lay them out there for all to see and scrutinize. How utterly hypocritical, right? Shamefully, yes.

See, this is the thing: I’m no expert. Yes, I went to seminary. I know big theological words, and I’m not afraid to use them. I love big theological words – not because I feel special or superior for knowing them, but because I’m a nerd. I am a theology geek, and I love it. And since I often write about the Bible, I want to be as sure I can be that I’m not writing something crazy or heretical. But expert? I’m not. I’m just an ordinary Christian with a love for writing about Jesus and passion to share it with others.

But here I am, wondering if it is even worth it anymore. I have thoughts, lots of thoughts, about lots of things. Theological issues, social justice issues, race issues, gender issues…boy, do I have thoughts! And opinions! Lots and lots of opinions! But when I journal about those things, I hesitate to post them for a number of reasons: 1. because sometimes my thoughts and opinions are just plain over the top, rough around the edges and are better kept hidden away in my journal; and 2. because I know in the back of my mind that the possibility exists that something I say might trigger someone and take things where I don’t want them to go. Not because I’m some important somebody with a platform; but because that is the way of the Internet. It is way too easy to go “viral” these days for all the wrong reasons!

I also know that I will not be Black enough, liberal enough or woke enough for some – or conservative enough, demure enough, or proper enough for others. Someone will deem me extreme, while another will consider me a sellout or an oreo. And although I’ve heard all of these things more than a few times in my life, it is no less exhausting and dispiriting. I resist being labeled.

But we love our labels.

But I cannot live out these labels in ways that will please everyone all the time – no one can. So I will not try.

My task, my desire, my GOAL in blogging has been to share the love of Jesus and passion for the Word of God that points us to Him! I want to share the truth of God’s Word. I desire to be more biblically literate; and for me, that literacy must entail sharing what I’ve learned with others. I lament the biblical illiteracy that has infected the American Church. I want to play a part, however small, in reversing that trend. If I need or am compelled to approach touchy subjects like race or gender or the like, then so be it. But the goal here is to share words of life, not pick apart our current social or political situation.

Somehow that has gotten lost in all this other….stuff. And while this other stuff is important, it was not the original purpose of this blog. I just get caught up on these rabbit trails and one thing leads to another…you know how it is! But fruitful discourse on issues so weighty cannot be had in these settings, at least as far as I have seen. Or better put: There are those who are expressly called to such a ministry, but I am not one of those expressly called people. So, I stay in my lane. It comes down to this: I have been trying to be something I am not, and it is time to correct course. I am an ordinary Christian who loves God, loves His Word, and wants to share His Word with others. That’s it.

My thoughts and convictions on issues of social concern are largely born out of my local reality, the community in which I live, the local church family to which I belong, and the personal relationships I have with flesh and blood people in my sphere. This is not to say that I am not aware of or do not care about more global issues. Or that I won’t talk about these things as context and conviction require. But I think the difference is one of focus. My focus is considering how to know God through His Word and live a life that faithfully reflect that truth. That focus will require discussion of hard topics, but the limits of the medium will require some humble realism on my part. What I share on a public forum is only a snapshot of a much more complex life, too complex to truly express to people I cannot see and hear and hug and share coffee with (coffee is a must).

This is not a cop-out; it is a conviction I hold, a conviction that shapes how I desire to write and minister and love. Because a part of me is compelled to share in this very public way. But only as far as I deem that it is bearing fruit in my life and the life of whomever happens to read what I have to say.

It may seem unnecessary for me to go to these lengths to explain myself. After all, who am I? I am an unknown, I don’t have a public ministry to speak of, and my readership is relatively low. Chalk this one up to my trying to organize the jumbled mess of thoughts in my head into a coherent conviction. A re-calibration of sorts so I can start off this new year fresh and centered anew on why I began to write in the first place.

Now, on with it…