Made up Belonging
and facades of imagination
Recently someone asked me if the 2016 election was the first time I realized the white evangelical church wasn’t for me or if it was the last straw. It was definitely the last straw, so I thought about the first time I let myself think that maybe the white evangelical church wasn’t for me, which was actually in 2013.
At the time I was part of a white evangelical young adult group and because I was so involved with the group I decided to go to the church the group was a part of. There were quite a bit of moments where I felt the unease, but this specific Sunday morning I remember thinking, “hhmm, I get a pass from today’s sermon, ‘cause it wasn’t for me”.
I think from a very young age I always wondered what belonging looked like. Where were the places I belonged fully? Even in Peru as an Afro-Peruvian I knew that I didn’t “belong” everywhere, so moving countries and experiencing displacement added multiple layers to what belonging looked like for me.
I believe so many of the things we do are because whether consciously or unconsciously we are looking for places to belong, where we can be our whole and full selves. At the time I thought this is what this young adult group was for me - a place of belonging. I of course didn’t know that I could only belong if I fit a certain mold, that is until I didn’t fit the mold. I would say the facade of belonging came crashing down, but that’s not true, it mostly felt like when your nice sweater gets caught on something and while it doesn’t fall apart on the spot, the unraveling of the thread has begun.
The reason why I thought the sermon wasn’t for me wasn’t because of that weird guilt trip where pastors say, “if you think this is for someone else, better look again, ‘cause it’s for you”. Well, no pastor guy, turns out most of the messages in the white evangelical church were ever for me, and it wasn’t my pride thinking I didn’t need the message, but I actually wasn’t the target audience.
This particular Sunday I had proof the message wasn’t for me though, because in the middle of the sermon the pastor teaching said, “Us, as middle class Americans should do…”, and continued to make his point.
I wish I could tell you what the message was about, but all I remember is that phrase and thinking, “wow, I get a pass from church today”. Whatever action items were shared were not for me. I didn’t have to report back.
Such a simple sentence pointed out that I simply didn’t belong. From my economic status to my citizenship - I did not belong. I wasn’t middle class and I wasn’t American. My nice sweater was caught on a nail with that statement.
“The nature of whiteness is to collapse the imagination.”, Erna Kim Hackett says and I believe this is true. In that moment, whatever the sermon was about it no longer was the Gospel of Jesus because it stopped being the good news for someone like me. Their lack of imagination couldn’t even begin to think that someone like me could be in the room.
I don’t know the story of all the people who were going to that church at the time, but at any given moment in time I know I am at the margins of society. I imagine this was the case there too. I don’t say this to victimize myself, because the reason why I’m at the margins is because of the evil systems put in place by white supremacy. Sadly so many of those systems are upheld by the white evangelical church. My identity is not in being marginalized, but my experience in the U.S is as someone who does live in the margins. I have to admit that.
The Gospel of Jesus should be good news to the folks experiencing poverty, grief, hunger, homelessness, and displacement. According to the Beatitudes in Luke, it should even make the rich a little (or a lot) scared.
This was the first time my made up belonging was forced to look in the mirror, but even then I wasn’t ready to give it all up yet. That moments was perhaps one of the first pieces of the puzzle for me. It took me 4 years and a whole bunch of life to get there.
A part of me is truly even annoyed that I have to write these things, not because they’re not important, but because in so many ways it still feels like centering whiteness. These stories are mine and they happened to me, to my body and my soul, so I want to tell them, but I am on the long road of recovering all the times I let my imagination collapse.
I think I talk a little bit about this on this episode with Kat Armas on The Protagonistas - Taking Up Space.
Luke 6: 20 - 26: My fave Beatitudes
If you’re a BIWOC or QBIWOC, check out QUNI. It’s a brand new co-creation space I’m a part of and would love for you to be a part of it too!
Do you follow Glocal Theology on IG? Juliany is one of my favorite friends and theologians. She’s bridging el Seminario & el Barrio.
On my TRL this week:
God is a Black Woman by Dr. Christena Cleveland