My church experience began small. Literally. Until the age of almost five, my parents took us to a tiny Russian Baptist church with maybe a couple dozen members. My sister and I were the only children, and my parents were the youngest adults. Perhaps you are saying, “Russian Baptists are a thing?” Yes, it’s a thing, if an extremely small fringe thing, as Slavics are entirely too verbose and dramatic to embrace fundamentalism. Imagine reading War and Peace aloud from beginning to end with no breaks, and you’ll begin to understand the patience required to attend Russian Baptist prayer meeting.
When I was about to start kindergarten, we moved to a more traditional and American Baptist church, which provided my early religious training. I feel that both my best and worst qualities were sharpened by that church. After graduating from a Baptist college, I tiptoed away from fundamentalism very slowly. First, I attended a conservative Presbyterian church (EPC) that curiously seemed to serve as a refuge for both former Baptists and former Catholics. I then moved to a nondenominational church in the Reformed tradition. Finally with J, I joined a Presbyterian church (PCUSA) that is now my church home.
But one thing has been consistent in all of my church experience: It has been very, very white.
Church is both a tangible thing (a building you can visit, a group of people you regularly worship with) and an abstract notion (a body of believers all over the world, throughout all of history), but we tend to experience church as the people who surround us. To say that the American church is segregated is not a new observation. Both conservative and progressive churches acknowledge this as a truth and a deeply problematic one. “We’re all one body; it shouldn’t be like this,” we say and move on with our business.
I have no solutions to this very obvious problem, but I did identify one additional problem in my own life: Of all the books I have read on faith and Christianity, most were authored by white people. The church is big and diverse and beautiful. Why isn’t my bookshelf? We cannot separate loving God and loving others. We are the church when we see Christ in those around us, and we are unified.
Therefore, one of my new year’s resolutions is to read more books on faith from authors of color. My first selection is Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley. I don’t have the reading list for the year set, but the recent passing of Desmond Tutu has made me realize that I haven’t read him either, with the exception of The Book of Joy, which he coauthored with the Dalai Lama. If anyone has any books that you think I should add to my list, please let me know in the comments.
Happy new year to you all. I hope your year is full of joy, opportunity, and authentic connections.